50 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff: Fan Interest Thermometer

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Virginia fans cheer.
Virginia fans cheer on the Hoos. ~ Mike Ingalls

The Countdown to Kickoff clock clicked past 30 days and the Virginia football team opened practice as August days started falling off the calendar. The Cavaliers open the season with Pittsburgh on Saturday, August 31 at 7:30 p.m. They face Florida State in week three at Scott Stadium and travel to Notre Dame to end September.

In other words, the Hoos come out of the gates with a lot of interesting contests. The “50 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff” series keeps moving.

42 – Fan Interest Thermometer

UVA’s 2019 season should feature a lot of intrigue. Immediately. As noted in the introduction, the Hoos open the season with a shot at last year’s Coastal Division Champion Pittsburgh. The Cavaliers likely need a win at Pitt to truly be in the ACC Coastal race even though that’s the first week of the season. The first ACC home game of the year is a Saturday night kickoff at Scott Stadium against Florida State, the original bully of the conference. The program wraps up September with its first ever trip to Notre Dame with the Irish just nine months removed from an appearance in the College Football Playoff.

That’s a lot of significance in the first five weeks.

It comes on the heels of a lot of progress. The Hoos notched the program’s first bowl victory since 2005 in a 28-0 romp against South Carolina. That left the final record for 2018 at 8-5. They are considered an ACC Coastal Division favorite by the media for the first time since divisions arrived in the league. Bryce Perkins is a potential ACC Player of the Year quarterback and a candidate for national awards, Bryce Hall is a national standout at corner, and the depth across the roster continues to improve.

Long story short, you’ve got a team with some talent and star power coming off the most successful season in more than 10 years with a fairly interesting set of games early in the year.

During the ‘lost decade’ with dwindling attendance, I frequently said it would take back-to-back bowl years to first re-engage Virginia football fans again. Like nudging someone who is asleep when they asked you to wake them up, but them groaning about five more minutes, that really just felt like a starting point, though.

So when someone asked me last week if football interest had picked up with last year’s success and the media’s preseason prediction, I decided to look it up, at least purely from a numbers standpoint. It turns out, UVA fans might have hit the snooze bar even harder than expected.

Looking at a four-year window from 2016 through 2019 shows a summer slumber that might be considered surprising given last year’s success and the potential for this year’s team. Comparing June 1-August 4 each year shows that this has been the slowest summer on the football message board in that time frame. That includes the summer months of 2017 that followed the rough 2-10 debut in 2016 for coach Bronco Mendenhall. The football board traffic for that time period is down 26.7% in 2019 when compared to 2018.

For just the first five days of August, the start to this month produced the second fewest page views from the four-year window. Only August 1-5 in 2017 was slower. It’s actually on pace to be the slowest August overall from the four-year window, but each year the board traffic increases as kickoff gets closer so that’s unlikely to happen. Still, the football board traffic over the first five days of August is down 9.5% from 2018 to 2019 (that’s better than the full summer trend). At least one message board thread speculated about slower ticket sales as well.

So what gives?

There can be a variety of theories. More fans use phones and tablets to view the site for example, which cuts down on some page views. Let’s be honest, though, some of it (OK, a whole lot of it) could be the Virginia Tech thing. The Hokies have a 15-year winning streak going. That’s annoying and likely a barrier to some fans reinvesting interests in full again. Perhaps, some fans remain in show me mode about the progress overall (maybe even because of that streak?). The bowl win was nice, but Coastal Division contender … ; some fans remember the false starts of rebuilding efforts that failed and it could be the proverbial once bitten, twice shy deal.

The schedule intrigue might not be as powerful at a glance (and a glance might be what many fans are giving football even now). Pittsburgh doesn’t move the needle as an ACC opponent because the Panthers still feel like an old Big East club. Plus, they’ve had three losing records since 2012, though two of those were 6-6 regular season records before bowl losses. FSU isn’t where it once was either, at least not as interest goes. After ending the year ranked with 10 wins in 2016, the Seminoles went 7-6 and 5-7 the past two years.

Notre Dame still draws a lot of interest, but the other two games in the first five weeks are against in-state foes William & Mary and Old Dominion. Despite the W&M game marking Mike London’s return and ODU’s upset of VT last season, those two games are not headliners. So maybe the schedule doesn’t interest some fans.

There’s certainly the basketball factor. With UVA winning its first basketball National Championship in April, fans remain fixated on the title run and everything that surrounds the program. People are rewatching NCAA Tournament games over and over. They’ve dissected Kyle Guy’s NBA Summer League games. Speculation on the roster and recruiting are always going.

So some of the football board traffic in the summer months simply shifted locations; in fact, the men’s basketball message board nearly doubled in page views (up 83.9%) from the same time period (June 1-August 4) in 2019 vs. 2018. It’s even drawn approximately 33% more views than the previous three-year high from 2016-2019. Yes, Wahoos still have basketball on the brain.

What will it take to awaken Virginia football interest for fans again then? For this season, a victory against Pitt out of the gates is probably a must, while getting one win between FSU and Notre Dame would give a little name brand boost. Taking both would be a real wake-up call, especially if it comes as part of a 5-0 start.

A Coastal Division title and ACC Championship Game appearance would help for sure; taking the ACC crown in an upset … well obviously that would do it. If the Hoos don’t make it there, back-to-back bowl wins would still help interest because the program hasn’t done that since 2004 and 2005. But short of winning the ACC Championship, the one thing that might jolt interest more than anything else is beating Virginia Tech.

It will take time to see what unfolds. In the meantime, progress continues with roster building and improving the quality of football on the field. If wins continue to come as well for UVA, then fan interest eventually will follow.

50 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff
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7 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Sorry to read the lack of interest in this team. Bryce Perkins alone is worth the price of admission, but there are a number players on defense that may be playing in the NFL in the next few years. Bronco and his staff is doing a great job rebuilding the football team. Can’t wait for August 31st. Go Hoos.

  2. I think the success of the basketball program has definitely stolen a lot of attention away from the football team. The re-seating fiasco turned off a lot of multi-year loyal fans who supported the team in good years and bad. What you are left with is a fan base that only supports in the good years and only comes to the “prime time” games against ranked opponents. When you rely on corporate sponsors as your main fan base, you will get a fickle one. Why pay to sit in nosebleed seats (when you once had ones on the fifty yard line about 10 rows up), when you can watch from the comfort of your own home for practically nothing. Loyalty goes both ways and UVA did not hold up their end of the bargain. I feel bad for the young men and the coaching staff who appear to be turning the program around. The team was fun to watch at times last year but totally exasperating at others. UVA has never really been a football school and Charlottesville a football community and it will take a lot to change that. Maybe Ryan and Williams can. We’ll see. I will always be a UVA fan but I have my choice as to where I spend my dollars and it won’t be going to the three-named football complex.

    1. Agree 100 percent. My wife and I had season tickets for four years when we lost them to re-seating. That was the end of our attendance at football games. We still love the Hoos but we watch or listen from home.

  3. We can watch UVA games by streaming, cable TV, sports bar feeds, etc. so UVA is competing with itself for season ticket sales. Its non-conference “foes” are clearly intended as patsies. So we have weak home games and lots of ways to view them. And let’s not forget the great fan diaspora of 2008 from which ticket sales never recovered.

  4. Wahoos that live more than two hours away from Charlottesville are faced with several obstacles:

    1) Have to make a decision regarding spending the night. Highly recommended to spend the night if any tailgate participation is enjoyed.
    2) Spending the night means a two-night stay as all the hotels that I know require a two night minimum combined with the fact that hotel prices are almost doubled on “Football Weekends. Have to leave Friday night for a Saturday game. Traffic on I-64 and I-95 are horrible on Friday nights. Due to the 2-night hotel stay the price of a ticket just went up almost $400.
    3) Spending the night means meals for the family for two days. Add at least another $100 – $200 to the tickets.
    4) Who’s going to watch the dogs at home? Take them to a kennel or hire a dog sitter. Add another $75 – $100 to the tickets.
    5) Sit in the nose bleeds on very uncomfortable benches or buy much higer priced seats in the lower bowl. The lower bowl bench seats are much too narrow as I’ve sat watching games scrunched up by family members and strangers on either side.
    5) In past years, stew in the car all the way home after the ‘Hoos blow a close one. Hopefully this will change this year.

    I feel that in order to boost the attendance here are my recommendations:

    1) The local hotels have to remove the two-night minimum and not double their prices.

    2) The Scott Stadium seating has to be adjusted and provide seats not benches for the spectators. So what if the capacity is reduced by 2,000 – 4,000 seats. It would be better than looking at 20,000 empty seats every home game.

    Just my two cents.

  5. I have a theory that football (especially TV and media related) is an “inferior good,” much like lipstick and cigarettes. Whe incomes/productivity are lower, one will choose to consume more of that good, and as income or productivity rises, one will consume less of that good.

    How do numbers for board visits in 2010 compare to 2019? Obviously there are other factors, but when economic activity is low and people are twiddling their thumbs at their desk, I’d assume Sabre visits would be more frequent versus when they are extremely busy and economic activity is high as it is right now.

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