Duke Now: Cutcliffe says toughest problem is football attendance

lkeeley@newsobserver.comOctober 4, 2012 

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 similar. 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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