Tar Heels' Fedora dreaming big - big crowds, that is

acarter@newsobserver.comSeptember 5, 2012 

UNC24-SP-090112-RTW

With a 41-0 halftime lead over Elon, many fans did not return for the second half of action on Saturday September 1, 2012 at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C.

ROBERT WILLETT — rwillett@newsobserver.com

  • More information UNC drew 50,500 Saturday, its smallest announced crowd for a home opener since 2006. 2011: 57,000 2010: 58,500 2009: 58,500 2008: 58,000 2007: 58,500 2006: 50,000

— Larry Fedora has a vision of what North Carolina football game days at Kenan Stadium will look like one day.

“Eventually, that thing is [full],” Fedora, the Tar Heels’ head coach, said of Kenan. “You’re waiting in line to get a ticket. And the people are having to beg, borrow and steal to get one. And [doing] whatever they’ve got to do to get one.

“And that’s hopefully where we’ll get this thing.”

Fedora’s vision is a long way from becoming reality. That was clear Saturday, when the Heels played in front of the smallest crowd to see a UNC home opener in six years, according to the university’s official attendance figures.

UNC announced 50,500 watched the Tar Heels’ 62-0 victory against Elon. That was the sparsest announced crowd for a UNC home opener since 2006, when 50,000 gathered to watch a 21-16 Rutgers defeat in the team’s final season under former coach John Bunting.

Worse yet, the crowd Saturday appeared far thinner than what was announced. Several sections in the lower deck were nearly empty 10 minutes before kickoff, and the stands cleared out in the second half thanks in part to an uncompetitive game and the uncomfortably hot weather.

Fedora said Monday that he thought the crowd was “good,” especially the student section.

“I thought the student section, they did a great job,” Fedora said. “You love seeing them all painted up and having fun and they stayed there until the end. And that was tough to do – that was tough for me to do.”

Fedora and his players stood in front of the student section and sang the alma mater after the final seconds melted away on Saturday. The heat and the lopsided score had already melted away most of the crowd.

Only a few thousand remained in Kenan Stadium in the final minutes of UNC’s most dominant victory since 1995.

Steve Kirschner, a UNC athletic department spokesman, said on Saturday that stadium personnel received more than 20 calls – a record number – related to spectators needing medical attention because of the heat. Temperatures rose into the 90s, and humidity hung over a game that began at 12:30 p.m.

The heat notwithstanding, some might have expected better home support for Fedora, who has undertaken the difficult task of moving the football program forward after the scandal-ridden Butch Davis era.

“I think we have more excitement, I do think we have more support,” UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham said.

“But it hasn’t been reflected in ticket sales yet.”

In the days leading into the season, Cunningham said season ticket sales were down by about 1,000 compared to where they were entering the 2011 season. But he noted that some of the losses in ticket revenue would be offset by the sale of ticket mini-packs, which he said UNC was selling for the first time.

Cunningham acknowledged that the postseason ban that the football team is serving this season might be having a negative effect on ticket sales. Because of NCAA sanctions, UNC is not eligible to compete this season in the ACC championship football game or in a bowl game.

“I think no postseason for some reason allows people to maybe take a pass,” Cunningham said.

“But I think if we win, I think the back end [of the schedule] will be really good.”

Carter: 919-829-8944

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