June 28, 2012


CHARLOTTESVILLE — In 2006, the University of Virginia sold 39,876 season tickets for football, still a school record. UVa won’t come close to matching that total this year, but support is growing for a football program that lost thousands of fans late in Al Groh’s tenure as head coach.

In 2011, the team’s second season under Groh’s successor, Mike London, Virginia sold 28,693 season tickets. UVa has already surpassed that figure this year. Through Tuesday, 28,785 season tickets had been sold, said Corbin Hunt, UVa’s associate athletics director of ticket sales and operations, and that number will grow as the season nears.

“I think close to 30,000 is realistic,” Hunt said.

Season tickets will remain on sale through the Sept. 1 opener against Richmond at Scott Stadium. The Cavaliers’ other home games this year: Penn State, Sept. 8; Louisiana Tech, Sept. 29; Maryland, Oct. 13; Wake Forest, Oct. 20; Miami, Nov. 10; and North Carolina, Nov. 15, a Thursday.

UVa sold about 600 season tickets in July and August last year.

The Wahoos are coming off a season in which they finished 8-5 and advanced to a bowl game for the first time since 2007. Returning starters include quarterback Michael Rocco, tailback Perry Jones, wide receiver Tim Smith, offensive tackles Morgan Moses and Oday Aboushi, defensive end Jake Snyder, linebackers Steve Greer and LaRoy Reynolds, and cornerback Demetrious Nicholson.

“We’re excited for the future,” said Jon Oliver, UVa’s executive associate athletics director. “Mike and his staff have been out in the community, and people are excited about football.”

That’s evident from the renewal rate on season tickets, which has increased each of the past two years. About 90 percent of the season-ticket holders from 2011 have purchased them again this year; about 85 percent renewed last year.

“That’s a good trend,” Hunt said. It’s no secret, he added, that single-game tickets are available for all of UVa’s home schedule, “so to have a high renewal rate under those circumstances, that says to me that people really see value in long-term support.”

“Fans are in tune with the direction the team is going,” said Zee French, UVa’s associate athletics director of strategic ticketing.

French and strategic ticketing manager Bobby Mengler oversee CavForce, a sales team made up of UVa students. Starting in March, about 40 students began contacting prospective ticket buyers. A dozen students are working for CavForce this summer.

If the response from many UVa fans has been positive this year, that’s partly because their options are better. French said the inventory of seats available in lower-level sideline sections has been strong.

A year ago, many of the new season-ticket holders purchased seats in Scott Stadium’s upper levels. Most of the growth this year, French said, has been in Sections 111, 121 and 129, on the lower level of the 61,500-seat stadium. A season ticket in one of those sections costs $285, plus a $50 donation to the Virginia Athletics Foundation.

The process for purchasing season tickets in those sections was not as simple last year, French said, and the new system has proven popular with fans.

Also, he said, “overall I think our season-ticket holder benefits are catching on a little.”

These benefits include a tool that allows season-ticket holders to improve their seats on-line, rewards for perfect attendance at home games, exclusive communication from London, and the savings that come from buying season tickets instead of single-game tickets.

“We’ve offered a number of options for fans to come out and support this team,” Oliver said. “That’s starting to click with people, and we hope more will take advantage of it.”

Fans also will have several opportunities this summer to interact with the football team.

On July 13, on UVa Night at Harbor Park, home of the Norfolk Tides, London will greet fans and throw out the first pitch.

Two more Movie Nights are scheduled at Scott Stadium this summer. “The Adventures of Tintin” will be shown July 14. On Aug. 4, the film is “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax.”

Admission is free both nights, and tours of the locker room are available.

Also, the annual Meet the Team Day will be Aug. 19 from 2 to 3:30 p.m. at John Paul Jones Arena. The Cavaliers’ practices Aug. 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 will be open to the public.

“We’re just looking for every way to get the team and the coaches in front of our fans,” French said.

For four straight years, starting in 2004, UVa sold at least 39,500 season tickets for football. But in 2008 the total dropped to 35,538, for reasons that included the struggling economy and UVa’s implementation of a controversial reseating policy. After the ‘Hoos finished 5-7 in 2008, the sales figure dipped again in ’09, to 30,507.

It’s likely to take several more years to get ticket sales back to where UVa officials want them, Hunt acknowledged, but the trends are encouraging, and the fans’ support is appreciated.

“There’s nothing better than a packed Scott Stadium on a football Saturday,” Oliver said.

For ticket information, call (800) 542-8821, visit VirginiaSports.com/tickets, or stop by the athletics ticket office at Bryant Hall.