Posted: 9:00 a.m. Wednesday, July 24, 2013
By Dave Tucker
A few days ago, Alex wrote about why Maryland should continue moving games away from Byrd to NFL stadiums, such as Baltimore's M&T; Bank Stadium or FedEx Field in Landover. Occasionally having games, specifically non-conference ones, at NFL venues might be a worthwhile practice, but giving up one of your 6 or 7 home games on campus shouldn't continue on a regular basis, especially for conference games. I just want to emphasize that I'm not talking about neutral site games, where neither team is giving up a game from their home slate; I think those are great and should continue whenever possible.
Alex raised some very valid points in his piece about the benefits of relocating a home game to a place like M&T; Bank stadium in Baltimore; additional capacity, building Maryland's presence in the city, and the recruiting benefits are all benefits received from making such a move. But sacrificing a home game on campus, especially a conference game, doesn't come without costs and should be something that is avoided in the future.
One of the unique aspects of college football is the pageantry and camaraderie that surround a Saturday afternoon on campus. You know the people you sit and tailgate with; you know when the Mighty Sound of Maryland is going to march through Lot 1 playing the Victory song; you know the students are going to be packed into the shell end of the stadium, ramped up and ready to go. Its the overall experience, beyond the enjoyment of watching the game itself, that many get out of going to college football games. But a lot of that can be lost when a game is relocated off campus. When a game is moved, people don't sit with their normal group and often can't tailgate together. Students can't spend all day hanging out around campus before the game and be ready to go celebrate immediately after. The experience can be disappointing. That's not to say that games off campus can't still be fun or shouldn't occur at all; two of my favorite Maryland games where when the Terps beat Navy at M&T; Bank Stadium. But moving a home conference game out of Byrd to an NFL stadium, like what Maryland plans to do when they play Penn State in 2015, is something that should be avoided, for a number of reasons.
Games that are moved to NFL stadiums are often done to accommodate an increased demand for tickets, which results in a pretty decent revenue boost for the Athletic Department. Since Maryland won't be considered a "full" member in the B1G immediately, that means they could use some extra cash until they start receiving their entire conference revenue share (and since the ACC is withholding money from the University presently). As a result, I can understand why moving games to a place like M&T; is necessary. Byrd Stadium typically can hold 54,000 (and up to 60k or so if temporary seating is added), but M&T; can hold over 70,000, with FedEx Field holding over 91,000. Assuming you sell all of those seats, that's an additional 10-30k tickets sold, at $30 or more, plus concessions from the sale of beer, which isn't allowed on campus (and obviously is the biggest benefit of having a game off campus. That should have been Alex's entire thesis and I would have had no counterargument...but I digress...). But at what cost? When games are held off site, that additional ticket demand is frequently fulfilled by the opposing team's fan base. So while the game is technically a "home" game, when a larger than normal portion of your "home" stadium is filled with opposing fans, you're taking away a competitive advantage in order to make some additional revenue. On average, college football teams have won just over 63% of their home games between 2001-2010. Why? Most likely it's a result of the home team not having to travel, playing in a venue they're very familiar with, and having 90% or more of the crowd supporting you. If you move a game away from home, you're losing many of those advantages and shifting the competitive balance towards the visiting team. This is especially crucial during conference games, where one win can be the difference between playing in your conference's championship game and ended up in the Toilet Bowl presented by Mr. Clean. As a program, you need to take advantage of every home opportunity you have, maximizing on your opportunity to win those games. This is especially true for Maryland, who is going to have to build their football culture if they want to be competitive in the Big Ten. It's hard to do that if you're constantly playing games off campus, especially against some of your most marque conference foes, like Penn State. This is especially important as Maryland markets the leasing of their luxury suites. Yes, the excitement of playing B1G teams is a great selling point, but it's a lot harder to make that sales pitch if the best conference game each season is moved away from the very suite you're trying to sell.
Are their benefits to playing games at M&T;? Absolutely, especially when you consider that Byrd's capacity is about half of what other B1G stadiums. But Maryland needs to focus on how they can keep conference games on campus moving forward. While it would be nice to have a stadium on campus as nice and as large as M&T; Bank, Maryland needs to focus on revamping Byrd so that it has the same outstanding qualities rather than constantly shifting games away from there each time a marque match up appears on the schedule.