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Pirate Notebook No. 388
Monday, June 15, 2009

Denny O'Brien

Fans advancing ECUís cause

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

Something pretty significant is about to happen at East Carolina. For the second consecutive year, ECU will sell its entire allotment of season football tickets, an important milestone with strategic implications.

That, as much as a conference championship and three-consecutive bowl appearances, demonstrates how far the program has advanced since AD Terry Holland and head coach Skip Holtz first stepped on campus.

There is no question that a correlation can be made from the programís success on the field to its increased popularity at the box office. Itís really not too difficult to sell a quality product.

And you canít deny that the scheduling philosophy Holland unveiled several years ago is having a positive impact on ticket sales. When you have North Carolina, N.C. State, Virginia Tech, and West Virginia visiting on a semi-regular basis, it certainly grabs the attention of a fan base always eager to make a statement.

But as much as success and scheduling have made ECU a hot ticket in the fall, you canít overlook what perhaps is more important than big wins or attractive opponents. There seems to be a revived relationship between the Pirates and their fans, and much of it can be attributed to a younger generation that is quickly increasing in numbers.

This burgeoning armada of Pirates was a missing piece in the ECU support network for years. Though East Carolina has always been praised for its enthusiastic fans, much of the deep-seeded passion resided in a segment of diehards who witnessed the relentless work of former Chancellor Leo Jenkins on both the academic and athletic fronts.

Jenkins' vision instilled both pride and belief. Fans sacrificially supported that vision with generous donations, faithful attendance, and a 100 percent emotional investment in JenkinsĎ inspirational rhetoric.

You even got the sense that theyíd attend a bowl game in Anchorage if the Pirates were invited.

But for whatever reason, the intensity of their passion largely missed a generation. Though there have been isolated pockets of parallel fervor, the current climate has a more permanent feel.

Especially when East Carolina is posting sellouts for Conference USA opponents.

Itís one thing to have standing room only for a nationally televised game against West Virginia, but to have it against Houston or Marshall is a giant step forward for ECU.

Itís a strong sign that ECUís fans as a whole have made a major transition. Instead of trekking to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium to check out a high-profile opponent, the commitment is no longer contingent on who occupies the opposing sideline.

This has been most evident in the ECU student section, where the football game isnít just an after party to earlier tailgating festivities. It should be fairly obvious that this is the makings of a core group of faithful followers, who, together with Holtz and the players, form quite a chorus at the conclusion of every home win.

While itís hard to compare the traditions at East Carolina with Ohio State or Tennessee, you have to admit that the PiratesĎ postgame parade to the student section is pretty special.

Now as ECU approaches its second sellout season in as many years, you have to appreciate the timing of achieving such a milestone. With stadium expansion now in wait-and-see mode, fans can make a statement by displaying a true need for more seats overlooking Bagwell Field.

If there is weekly evidence that the supply of seats does not accommodate the demand, that should put expansion on a faster track. Thatís especially the case if the verbal demand for more seats is accompanied by open checkbooks.

Just as important is the fact that fans can make a strong statement in ECUís favor should the Big East ever decide to add a new football member. Of the potential candidates in such a scenario, East Carolina definitely holds the edge in fan support.

You canít overlook the importance of having that on the rťsumť. Schools with fans that travel are a valuable commodity when leagues negotiate bowl contracts.

And East Carolinaís fans are definitely a commodity. Their commitment to consistently fill Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium is another sign that ECU is marching forward.

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06/15/2009 12:50:28 AM

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