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Football a hot ticket at ECU

From Staff Reports
All Rights Reserved.

Updated 05.04.11 to correct date of
Central Florida game in fifth paragraph.

If the Big East or another automatic-qualifying Bowl Championship Series conference is perusing the landscape for a potential new member, East Carolina's profile continues to become more visible.

The Pirates, guided by first-year head coach Ruffin McNeill, led Conference USA in football attendance for the third straight year in 2010 and appear to be on pace to continue the trend.

With the 2011 kickoff still four months away, ECU's flagship athletic program has passed the 20,000 mark in season ticket sales for the fifth year in a row, the school announced.

The Pirates' average attendance over the course of six home games last season was 49,665, an increase of more than 7,500 over the previous average home attendance record of 42,016 set in 2008.

With a lineup of 2011 visitors to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium that includes prominent out-of-conference opponents Virginia Tech (Sept. 10)and North Carolina (Oct. 1) and four C-USA rivals, the impetus is in place for ECU to contend for an even higher attendance benchmark. The league contests include marquee matchups with Southern Miss (Nov. 5) and Central Florida (Nov. 19).

The 20,000 threshold in season ticket sales was surpassed by May 1, according to school's athletic department, the first time the milestone had been achieved by that date.

East Carolina's momentum at the box office and on the field could have wider implications as the jockeying among non-automatic qualifier schools for membership in leagues with guaranteed berths in BCS bowls unfolds over the near to intermediate terms.

The Pirates have landed in bowls each of the past five seasons and captured two of the last three C-USA championships. But the program's most impressive credentials for a potential invitation to an AQ conference have more to do with the wallop of its fans' wallets.

ECU's mammoth and rapidly-growing alumni base, the program's proclivity for filling its ever-expanding stadium's seats, and the propensity of a sizable contingent of the Pirates' most rabid, free-spending fans to accompany the team to road and postseason contests are factors potential suitors will notice.

The team's high-flying, TV-friendly offense could be another plus as network executives huddle with league big wigs over potential team migrations.

If hoops becomes a consideration in league realignment moves, even East Carolina's traditional albatross around the neck, men's basketball, is on the upswing and generating conspicuous fan enthusiasm. Jeff Lebo, entering his second year as coach of the Pirates, steered the team to its first winning season in 14 years and its first postseason bid since 1994 in his inaugural campaign.

Given the reputation of the school's students, alumni and regional partisans for wholeheartedly expressing their appreciation of winning teams at the turnstiles and on the tube, ECU basketball could, in fact, be a sleeping giant about to awaken in grand fashion.

Notes and statistics of interest:

— Football attendance information published by the NCAA casts East Carolina in a markedly favorable light in comparison to its C-USA brethren. The Pirates' 2010 average home attendance of 49,665 surpassed by more than 10,000 their closest league challenger and far eclipsed C-USA's overall average home attendance of 28,454.


RANK   TEAM               GAMES  TOTAL     AVG
 1.    East Carolina        6   297,987   49,665
 2.    Central Florida      7   277,301   39,614
 3.    Houston              6   190,366   31,728
 4.    Southern Miss        6   176,400   29,400
 5.    Texas-El Paso        6   176,097   29,350
 6.    Marshall             6   162,276   27,046
 7.    Rice                 7   178,994   25,571
 8.    Memphis              6   143,509   23,918
 9.    Southern Methodist   7   164,602   23,515
10.    Tulane               7   162,543   23,220
11.    Tulsa                6   122,272   20,379
12.    Alabama-Birmingham   6   110,162   18,360

•  •  •  •  •

— East Carolina compiled the nation's eighth largest increase in home attendance among the 120 Football Bowl Subdivision schools in 2010.


RANK  TEAM                  GAMES  AVG     PREV  INCREASE
 1.   Louisville              7   50,648  32,450  18,198
 2.   Northwestern            6   36,449  24,190  12,259
 3.   Rice                    7   25,571  13,552  12,019
 4.   Eastern Michigan        5   15,885   5,016  10,869
 5.   Alabama                 7  101,821  92,012   9,809
 6.   San Diego State         7   34,133  24,464   9,669
 7.   Florida International   6   19,808  10,204   9,604
 8.   East Carolina           6   49,665  41,742   7,923
 9.   Louisiana-Monroe        6   20,934  13,889   7,045
10.   Texas Tech              6   57,108  50,249   6,859

•  •  •  •  •

— East Carolina's 2010 home attendance average of 49,665 exceeded the averages of all but three of the nine current and pending football-playing members of the automatic-qualifying Big East Conference.


 1.   West Virginia     7  394,274  56,325
 2.   Pittsburgh        6  312,991  52,165
 3.   Louisville        7  354,537  50,648
 4.   Rutgers           7  323,368  46,195
 5.   Texas Christian*  6  254,797  42,466
 6.   South Florida     7  285,946  40,849
 7.   Syracuse          6  240,385  40,064
 8.   Connecticut       6  229,488  38,248
 9.   Cincinnati        7  245,472  35,067

*Texas Christian will become a member of the Big East in 2012.

Danny Whitford contributed to this story.

05/04/2011 12:05 PM


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