State Now

What was the deal with all those empty seats at NC State’s football opener?

N.C. State quarterback Ryan Finley (15), left, and Tyler Jones (53) congratulate Jakobi Meyers (11) after Meyers scored on a four-yard touchdown reception in the first half of the Wolfpack's game against South Carolina in the Belk College Kickoff at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte on Sept. 2, 2017.
N.C. State quarterback Ryan Finley (15), left, and Tyler Jones (53) congratulate Jakobi Meyers (11) after Meyers scored on a four-yard touchdown reception in the first half of the Wolfpack's game against South Carolina in the Belk College Kickoff at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte on Sept. 2, 2017. ehyman@newsobserver.com

There was too much blue in Bank of America Stadium on Saturday for Will Webb.

There were whole sections in the upper deck, the shade of the Carolina Panthers blue, unoccupied for South Carolina’s 35-28 win over N.C. State this past Saturday afternoon.

The announced attendance for the season-opening game was 50,367. The NFL stadium in uptown Charlotte has a capacity of 75,412.

“We’re happy with what we had, but we wish we had more,” said Webb, who is the executive director of the Charlotte Sports Foundation, which annually runs the Belk College Kickoff and Belk Bowl and will host the ACC football championship in December.

For an anticipated opener, between the two largest state universities in North and South Carolina, there were a lot of empty seats.

The upper-deck sections in the West end zone were particularly empty. If not for the school’s bands, there would have been more open real estate in the lower bowl, too.

The attendance was in line with last year’s Belk Bowl between Virginia Tech and Arkansas (46,902), the 2015 Belk Bowl between N.C. State and Mississippi State (46,423) and the kickoff game between UNC and the Gamecocks in 2015 (51,664).

Atlanta had a pair of showcase games, between SEC and ACC schools, on Saturday and Monday and both — Alabama-Florida State on Saturday and Georgia Tech-Tennessee on Monday — sold out with similar ticket prices.

There is a general downward trend in attendance in college football, with more fans content to save money and watch on their own big screens with access to their own refrigerators, but Webb said his group has already started to take a look at the ticket pricing and other ways to get more fans in the seats.

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Roped off sections of empty seats during Wolfpack's game against South Carolina in the Belk College Kickoff at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte on Sept. 2, 2017. Luke DeCock

The least expensive ticket, face value through either school or Panthers box office, for an individual to Saturday’s game was $85. There was a group rate to buy three tickets and get one free – which worked out to $55 per ticket – Webb said.

A good portion of the lower-level tickets, which cost more than $200, actually sold very well, Webb said.

“The expensive seats sold out,” Webb said. “We’ll tweak the prices and learn from it.”

Webb said his group had studied the cost of tickets for other neutral-site games in Atlanta, Washington, Dallas and Houston and that the prices for the upper-deck tickets in Charlotte were competitive, if not cheaper, than the other sites.

Webb said he hopes to be able to get the attendance closer to the 2015 ACC championship, which was 74,514 for a UNC-Clemson matchup.

N.C. State and South Carolina were each guaranteed a $2 million payout for the game. The schools could make more, Webb said, depending on the final ticket revenue.

This was the Charlotte Sports Foundation’s second kickoff game. Webb has five more scheduled over the next five years including two more rounds of UNC and South Carolina (2019 and ’22) and East Carolina vs. Appalachian State (in 2021).

“The concept is right,” Webb said. “Our job is to make it work for everybody: the schools, the fans and us.”

Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio

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