UAlbany football building momentum on field, in stands

Attendance, season tickets surging
Head coach Greg Gattuso speaks to this team during the University at Albany football team's practice Tuesday,
Head coach Greg Gattuso speaks to this team during the University at Albany football team's practice Tuesday,

The University at Albany football team hits Bob Ford Field Saturday with momentum.

The UAlbany athletic department wants to carry that over to the rest of Tom & Mary Casey Stadium.

“Our goal,” UAlbany athletic director Mark Benson said, “is to fill the stadium every Saturday.”

Since debuting its 8,500-seat stadium in 2013, UAlbany has pulled off that feat four times. After averaging 5,887 fans per home game a year ago, the nationally-ranked Great Danes appear on track to a solid start in 2016 with 1,101 season tickets sold through Thursday for this year’s home slate which starts with today’s 7 p.m. kickoff against Holy Cross.

“To put that number into perspective, the largest number of season tickets the school sold before moving into Casey Stadium was around 150,” said Benson, who added that approximately 5,000 advance tickets were sold for today’s game through Thursday.

Fostering fan support for the Great Danes’ growing football program has been a top priority. UAlbany debuted its “Great Dane Game Day” program last year, a free-admission tailgate-style party with music, food and games that starts two hours before each home game. This year, UAlbany has used more resources to promote its home games — and ticket sales — with increased social media campaigns and large, vibrant billboards in places such as Crossgates Mall.

“We’ve had a greater push,” UAlbany associate athletic director of external affairs Charlie Voelker said. “We feel like we’re the community’s football team, and we want to let people know that.”

In the winter, Voelker said, the Capital Region’s local allegiances are going to remain splintered when it comes to college hoops. In the months before that, though, UAlbany wants to take advantage of its FCS program to help build the school’s overall brand.

“There’s Siena [basketball] fans, there’s UAlbany [basketball] fans — it’s split,” Voelker said. “But everyone can kind of unite around Great Danes football.”

Third-year head coach Greg Gattuso is on board with all that. Community support, the Penn State alumnus said, is the lifeblood of college football. He can recruit better players to a filled stadium than a half-filled one.

“Great fans,” he said, “build programs.”

In its first two games, Gattuso’s squad has done its part to generate excitement for its season. After a bleak 3-8 campaign last year, UAlbany (1-0 Colonial Athletic Association, 2-0 overall) entered both the STATS FCS Top 25 and the FCS Coaches Poll this week at No. 25. Heading into today’s non-conference game against Holy Cross (1-1), redshirt junior tight end Nic Ketter said the Great Danes know earning a third consecutive win means a lot both on and off the field.

“It’s great to have a buzz around the program [because] that’s something that comes with winning,” Ketter said. “But at the end of the day, what happens between the white lines is what matters for us. That’s what we’re focused on.”

In 2015, Holy Cross dominated UAlbany 37-0 in the game Gattuso remembers as the one where last year’s “season fell apart.” Redshirt junior offensive lineman Tim Wade said using today’s game to make up for that poor showing, though, is not on the Great Danes’ radar.

“We’re not thinking about that one. That was against last year’s team and this is this year’s team. We have a different culture,” Wade said. “It’s not a revenge game or anything like that. This is just our third game of the season.”

But it is the first home game, making it UAlbany’s first chance to make an in-person impression this season in front of its hometown fans. Free T-shirts and halftime fireworks are planned for the evening, and the program’s hope is that the on- and off-field entertainment provides enough reason for spectators to give UAlbany football their next Saturday night, too, when it plays host to Saint Francis. Wins are one way to measure the Great Danes’ improvement, but attendance is another.

“We’re happy with the progress we’ve made,” Benson said of the team’s fan support, “but we’re not where we want to be yet.”

Categories: College Sports, Sports

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