Despite a decrease in average home attendance for the Indiana University football team this season, the athletic director thinks the program is headed in the right direction.
“I feel really good about where we are,” said Fred Glass, who took the post in 2009. “We’re building momentum for this program.”
That’s not to say Glass feels good about the dip, but he is pleased with the progress the team is making under third-year head coach Kevin Wilson and what he sees as bubbling enthusiasm from a once-lackluster fan base.
To understand where Glass is coming from, a little historical perspective is helpful.
With just one home game left—Nov. 30 against Purdue—IU’s attendance at Memorial Stadium this season is averaging 44,277. That’s down from 44,802 last season.
But with eight home games this season compared to seven last year, IU easily will surpass last year’s total attendance. Glass noted that if attendance for the Old Oaken Bucket game is 49,000, this year’s average attendance will top last year’s, the program’s best since 1991.
With an added home football game this year, Glass admits he had concerns about fan “fatigue.”
“We’re clearly improving and I think our fan base has recognized that,” Glass said.
The year before Glass arrived, the football Hoosiers averaged 31,781 fans per home game. In 2009, attendance jumped to 41,833. The 32-percent increase was the third-highest percentage increase in college football that year.
Glass immediately increased the marketing muscle behind IU’s football program, appearing in some ads himself. Since taking over as head coach, Wilson has become a staple in ads for the program.
IU’s attendance also got a boost from stadium improvements—most notably to the north end zone—in 2009.
In 2010, attendance increased to 41,953 and then tapered to 41,380 in 2011 before jumping 8 percent in 2012, the third-highest percentage increase in the Big Ten.
Glass said he won’t be completely pleased until the 52,929-seat Memorial Stadium is filled every game.
“We think we’ve demonstrated we’re a very good family-friendly, affordable entertainment option,” Glass said, adding that Wilson’s high-powered offense is peaking fans’ interest.
After this year, Wilson has four more years on his contract, and Glass made it clear the head coach’s job is secure. With IU at 4-5 this year and likely to not make a bowl game, some IU supporters have begun to grumble about the slow progress.
“I think Coach Wilson is doing a great job,” Glass said. “He’s improving the academics and the whole culture of the team just the way Tom Crean did before his success came on the court.”
The average tenure of an IU football coach in the post-Bill Mallory era is just 3.5 years, and Glass said “that’s just not enough time to build a program.”
“A seven-year contract shows patience and faith,” Glass said. “I wanted to give him an adequate opportunity to build a program, and I think he’s doing that.”
Glass noted that in 2010—the year before Wilson took over—only five of IU’s 25 football recruits had scholarship offers from other BCS schools besides IU. This year, 20 of 25 of IU’s recruits had offers from other BCS schools, Glass said.
Bringing in more football fans, Glass said, is key to the athletic department’s financial fortunes. The men’s basketball team is a moneymaker, but with Assembly Hall filled for nearly every game, it has nearly maxed out in terms of what it can bring in financially.
Last year, IU brought in $4.5 million in football revenue. While IU will never rival Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan in football revenue, Glass said by increasing attendance another 11,000 per home game, annual football revenue can increase to between $10 million and $11 million annually.
That’s still a far cry behind the more than $145 million programs like those at OSU, Penn State and Michigan bring in.
Nevertheless, those gains would be critical, Glass said, because with most of the costs to operate a football team fixed, the added revenue would be largely profit.
“That’s key to supporting this department, the football program as well as the other 23 sports at IU,” Glass said.
Five years ago, the idea of IU packing the house for every home football game would have been a joke. Not anymore—not to Glass, anyway.
After all, season ticket sales have increased from less than 20,000 when Glass arrived to more than 31,000 this year. He’s confident that progress will continue.
“If we get this program where we want,” Glass said, “I see no reason why we can’t get 52,929 per game.”