Virginia Tech has sold out of tickets to Lane Stadium for every home football game since Nov. 21, 1998, and that’s all about to change on Saturday.
When the Hokies take the field against the Western Carolina Catamounts for their home opener this weekend, they’ll likely be doing it in front of a stadium that isn’t filled to its typical capacity of 66,233 screaming fans.
Athletic director Jim Weaver freely admitted that the sellout streak was about to come to an end during his appearance on the “Tech Talk Live” radio show on Monday, bringing a 93 game sellout run to a close.
Ticket sales have lagged all season, as the program has offered season tickets to freshmen and is still struggling to sell out alumni tickets, but no one is entirely sure why fans aren’t engaged for this opener or for the season as a whole.
The quality of the opponent surely isn’t drawing anyone to the game, as the Catamounts managed to win just one game in FCS last season. The level of competition is surely different from last week’s matchup against Alabama.
Yet, the game is still Tech’s home opener, and this isn’t the first time the Hokies have opened with a subpar opponent.
Just two years ago, the team played FCS school Appalachian State in its home opener, and the sellout streak was never in jeopardy for that game.
Granted, that game immediately followed Tech’s Orange Bowl appearance against Stanford so there was plenty of hope surrounding the season.
But the team was still breaking in some new players after losing stars like Tyrod Taylor, players which included a complete unknown at quarterback: Logan Thomas.
If fans were truly disheartened by a recent blowout loss to a quality opponent like the Crimson Tide, then the Cardinal’s 40-12 dismantling of the Hokies in primetime should’ve scared away some fans when the team faced the lowly Mountaineers.
Instead, fans packed Lane to watch the squad win in a thoroughly enjoyable 66-13 blowout. While the offense might’ve struggled against the Tide’s dominant defense, there is a certain attraction to seeing what offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler’s new scheme can do to a less talented defense, especially at home.
However, that attraction doesn’t seem to be at play here. Fans just don’t seem willing to come sit in the Blacksburg heat for a glorified scrimmage, whether it opens the season or not.
A common gripe among fans this offseason is the poor quality of the home schedule, and that’s also often been pointed to as a factor in Tech’s ticket woes.
There’s little doubt that the home slate is underwhelming this year: hosting ACC doormats like Maryland, Duke and Pittsburgh in games that likely won’t excite anyone.
Weaver has also frequently been blasted for turning down a chance to host the program’s traditional Thursday night game, causing a negative reaction from the student population in particular.
But the argument that the schedule is scaring away fans just doesn’t hold water.
Last year, Tech hosted marquee games like a Monday night matchup against Georgia Tech to open the season and a Thursday night tilt with ACC powerhouse Florida State, yet the program still struggled to sell tickets.
The team preserved its home sellout streak throughout the depressing 7-6 season, but had to open ticket sales beyond athletics donors to do so.
If two prime night games and a home matchup with hated rival Virginia weren’t enough to attract fan interest in 2012, then clearly this problem isn’t related to the schedule.
No, this lack of fan engagement can be laid squarely at the feet of the coaching staff and athletics department.