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Duke's toughest problem: attendance

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Duke has come out of the tunnel to smaller home crowds than head coach David Cutcliffe would like. Credit: CHUCK LIDDY

DURHAM—When David Cutcliffe first came to Duke in Dec. 2007, the football team had many glaring issues, most notably that the players were out of shape and the practice facilities were in disarray. The toughest problem to solve, though, has been low attendance.

“I’m going to be brutally honest, I didn’t realize that attendance was as big of problem as what it would be,” Cutcliffe said. “When our buses came on campus for that James Madison game (Aug. 2008), there just wasn’t a lot of activity outside of the employee picnic that we had. It was like people didn’t know it was a football gameday. And I wasn’t quite ready for that initially.”

Because of Duke football’s long period of futility, an entire generation of Duke alumni passed through campus while football was not a priority. So, in Cutcliffe’s mind, that explains whey they don’t prioritize coming back to see a game. This was an unfamiliar concept to an Alabama graduate who had coached exclusively in the SEC before coming to Durham.

“And everything and everything I’ve ever done all my life, that’s all people did, six or seven Saturdays in the fall, they were coming back to campus and loving it,” he said.

Earlier this year, ahead of the Sept. 15 NC Central game, Cutcliffe said he hoped to see 35,000 fans in attendance (that would have been a sellout, as Wallace Wade officially holds 33,914). Instead, Duke drew 22,829.

Duke drew fewer fans for three games last season—Sept. 24 against Tulane, the homecoming game, Oct. 22 against Wake Forest and Nov. 19 against Georgia Tech. The 18,747 fans that came to see the Blue Devils against the Yellow Jackets was the smallest crowd of Cutcliffe’s five-year tenure.

Earlier this week, backup quarterback Anthony Boone said that home games and away games feel the same. Senior wide receiver Desmond Scott also said he doesn’t pay much attention to the crowd.

“Regardless, I’ve still got to play a game if fans are going to be there or not,” Scott said. “In the past, we haven’t had big crowds, but, the way we are winning, hopefully our crowd participation continues to grow.”

Duke drew 31,117 fans for the season-opener against FIU, which was the lowest figure of Cutcliffe’s tenure (32,571 in 2008 was the next lowest). The student section, though, was a 91 percent capacity with 2,715 in attendance. Nicole Jones, associate director of marketing and promotions, said the numbers from Memphis and NC Central were similiar. And after drawing 22,829 against NC Central, 23,658 came out for the Memphis homecoming game, which is 3,000 more than last year’s homecoming.

With the team at 4-1, and 1-0 in the ACC, heading into this weekend’s game against Virginia, Cutcliffe is hoping that the fans will come.

“It’s huge,” he said of the value of increased attendance. “It makes a difference.”

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Parking has always been a

Parking has always been a major issue at Duke football games.  I was wondering when new facelift at Wade stadium takes place, will they still use aluminum seats?  Most Duke fans who lives nearby Durham area are elderly and not able to sit on them comfortly.  I think in order for it to be fan friendly, they should use seats instead of bleachers.  Please paint it Duke Blue!!!

Good points

Route 66, you make a point that I think is a mjor factor: Duke does not have a large alumni base in this area. It's no secret that most Duke grads go to New York or Washington D.C. after graduation.

And, as someone who has a media parking pass, I didn't realize parking was such an issue. 

Thanks for your input everyone

Duke football attendance

I have tried to round up my son's friends and take a SUV load during the Cut era

to support the team's efforts to get competitive.  However, each year the parking

gets more restrictive.  It's frustrating to be pushed out to the fringes to park and walk

past acres of empty parking, to get to Wallace Wade, reserved for folks that aren't coming.  Why would Duke officals create another obstacle to fans?  Isn't one large, close lot enough for season ticketholders?  We had to park in a Duke Hospital garage for a game last year.  What a great environement for tailgating with a SUV load of 16 year olds.

If the stadium were overflowing and the reserved lots packed the parking situation would be understood.  That is not the case.  Maybe they should go back to first come first served for most parking lots.

^Completely agree about

^Completely agree about parking. I understand the need to keep traffic getting crazy on West, but with expansion that situation will have to get modified pretty quickly. Duke Forest will see some bulldozers or Duke will have to provide a shuttle to some isolated place down the road.

Attendance

Unless there's a big name OOC opponent that travels well then none of the Triangle schools are going to sell out in September. That's just the way it is when programs disappoint annually. Couple that with football futility and why would fans ( aside from the diehards like myself) are going to think twice about venturing to Wade. The crowds will definitely pick up with ACC play. It's funny that Cut talked about JMU. I attended that game and more people showed up for that opener than in recent memory--even the players appreciated the support. Students have done a much better job this year--but with sellouts then you have to get the Durham community jacked about seeing a good product--particularly with a small local alumni base. The crowd should pick up this weekend.

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About the blogger

Laura Keeley is the Duke beat writer for the News & Observer. Follow her on Twitter @laurakeeley
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