In Duke football coach David Cutcliffe’s most notable season-opening win since taking over in 2008, the fewest fans of any of his season openers were there to see it. Although fans were lacking, student attendance was a bright spot at Wallace Wade Saturday.
When the Blue Devils defeated Florida International 46-26, 31,117 fans were in attendance—including 2,715 students—which represents 91 percent capacity for the student section, Mike Forman, the football team’s director of marketing and promotions, wrote in an email Monday.
“Seven football Saturdays can be great for a university, not just a football program,” Cutcliffe said. “That’s what I would like to see grow.”
Duke has opened its season at home in each of Cutcliffe’s five seasons with the team, averaging 32,676 attendees. The home openers have been the most highly attended games in three of Cutcliffe’s four full seasons. The lone exception was during a mid-season game in 2010, when 39,042 fans crammed into Wallace Wade to witness the Blue Devils fall 62-13 at the hands of then-No. 1 Alabama.
The game against the Golden Panthers represents the 10th home crowd of more than 30,000 fans in 28 games under Cutcliffe, a feat the team achieved just four times in its previous 47 games.
This offseason, the Duke marketing staff unrolled several new campaigns to sell more tickets and raise awareness about the team, including advertising on the popular internet radio website Pandora.
“There’s a lot of people talking about it. Whether they love or hate Duke, it’s good to get the brand name out there,” Forman said. “The number one goal is ticket sales and putting people in the stands at Wallace Wade, but if it’s not going to achieve that, at the very least we’re getting our brand out there.”
The campaign on Pandora has caught the eyes of fans, as seen in responses on Twitter. Although the team saw a spike in sales after launching the campaign in August, a boost is typical around that time, Forman said.
Duke targeted the ads to people within a 50-mile radius based on their IP-addresses.
The Blue Devils are not the first team to advertise on Pandora, Francisca Fanucchi, a spokeswoman for Pandora, which has 54.9 million active monthly users, wrote in an email to The Chronicle.
“Pandora allows campaigns to target based on the registration data listeners give to us—age, gender and zip code—which is very appealing to local advertisers,” Fanucchi said.
The team began its ticket sales earlier than previous years, selling season tickets in December for a holiday push and making another offer near the National Signing Day on Feb. 1. But the marketing team is cognizant that Duke has a “basketball-centric” culture, Forman said, so some of the biggest efforts came in April and May after the conclusion of the Duke basketball season.
In addition to the team’s traditional marketing on the radio and in newspapers, the football team’s presence is difficult to miss while driving around the Triangle. Duke bought large billboards on I-85 and 15-501, the latter of which was made in conjunction with Coke Zero.
“We want to make sure that we hit every possible avenue because we have such a wide demographic of fans,” Forman said. “If people are choosing not to buy tickets, it’s not for a lack of advertising, season ticket information or promotional information.”
During the game, the team entertained fans with fireworks during halftime. The stadium was at its loudest between the first and second quarters, however, when injured wide receiver Blair Holliday addressed the crowd in a video message.
Holliday suffered serious head injuries in a July 4 boating accident with fellow wide receiver Jamison Crowder. Holliday is now receiving treatment at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta.
“One of the most pleasing things was how many [fans] were there before kickoff. That atmosphere does make a difference,” Cutcliffe said. “That meant something to our players.”