For all the inside access football coach James Franklin has offered in his short time at Vanderbilt, the folks in the Commodores ticket office prefer to keep things close to the vest.
Vanderbilt’s sales and marketing director, Steve Walsh, wouldn’t disclose the exact number of season tickets sold in fear of discouraging fans from buying those that are still available. But with the’ season opener against South Carolina just eight days away, he is optimistic that Vanderbilt is on pace to sell out season tickets for the first time since 1996.
“There is a sense of urgency in people’s minds,” Walsh said on Tuesday. “No longer can you wait the day before the season starts and call in and get the best seat in the house. Hopefully those days are long gone. With that said, there are still tickets to sell and we want to make sure we turn over every stone to sell them.
“These last nine, 10 days we really want to make a push to move as many tickets as possible.”
Only sideline seats ($35 for non-conference games; $50 per SEC game; $261 for season tickets) remain for the six home games. Both the south end zone seating and the new berm hillside seating in the north end zone sold out last week.
In fact, in a Vanderbilt release sent out in May, the Commodores already had sold 12,700 season tickets for 2012. Only 12,489 were sold in 2011. Vanderbilt’s average attendance for seven home games last year was 32,783 — actually down from the year before. In 2010, despite winning just two games, having Florida, LSU, South Carolina and Tennessee on the schedule helped Vanderbilt draw 33,269 a game.
“We are optimistic if we start the season hot we have season tickets we can sell through the first couple of games,” Walsh said. “We want to make sure we maximize those sales as much as possible.”
Walsh credits the encouraging early ticket sales to not only last year’s Liberty Bowl appearance but says Franklin, who has aggressively promoted the program, has been a huge advocate. Walsh also said his sales team has reached out into the community more than at any point he can remember in his seven years.
But he admits a favorable home schedule shouldn’t be overlooked.
Not only does South Carolina come to town ranked ninth in the preseason poll, but the Commodores also host perennial SEC East power Florida, in-state rival Tennessee — both have fans willing to travel — and SEC West foe Auburn. All four schools requested the maximum allotment of 6,000 tickets. So far, only South Carolina has returned tickets, handing back 2,000.
While there is no exact science to determining if Vanderbilt fans or the opposition are gobbling up a majority of the tickets, Walsh believes there is a heavy black and gold presence.
“We feel really confident that these are Vanderbilt fans purchasing these tickets,” Walsh said. “Just the excitement that our sales staff hears on the phone every day makes us believe these are Vanderbilt fans. Coming off last year and the excitement that has been generated this offseason, these are Vanderbilt folks excited to see us. We feel pretty strongly about that.”
With the new berm hillside seating adding 300 seats, capacity at 31-year-old Vanderbilt Stadium is now 40,350.
The Commodores haven’t filled up and sold out the stadium since fifth-ranked Florida and Tim Tebow came to town on Nov. 8, 2008. The last time they sold out season tickets, in 1996, there also was an appealing draw — sixth-ranked Notre Dame.
Athletic officials took advantage of the opportunity, requiring fans to purchase an entire season-ticket package if they wanted to see the Fighting Irish. And they did.
In addition to the 41,523 who watched Notre Dame edge Vanderbilt 14-7, more than 40,000 also showed up for games against Florida, Ole Miss and Tennessee. Games against South Carolina (36,583) and Alabama-Birmingham (30,153) drew the lowest crowds.
“That’s really the true high-water mark,” Walsh said of the 1996 season. “We’re within the next two best sales years from there and we still have nine days to sell. So we really think we can make a big impact.”