Pulling all the stops for a sellout

By Tyler Davis

With expectations rising for the football team, Athletic Director Mario Moccia hopes the number of attendees at Saluki football games is on the rise too.

In 2013, the average attendance at SIU football games was 8,554. That is just over half of the full capacity of Saluki Stadium, which holds 15,000. In 2012, an average of 9,550 attended each game.

While the team’s winning percentage has risen the last three seasons, 2013 was the third consecutive year of decline in attendance. To change this, when the Salukis kick off their season Thursday against Taylor University, a number of promotions for the community and student body will begin.

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Tom Weber, assistant athletic director of media services, said one of the things that changed for students was shifting the tailgating area.

“We did some things for other fans, but students wanted a different tailgating area that’s closer to the stadium so we did it,” Weber said.

Students will be allowed to tailgate in half of the parking lot directly south of the SIU Arena, an area unavailable to students previously.

Moccia said the “Saluki Sprint” is returning, as freshmen will again be allowed to storm the field before the game. He also said there will be five home night games and postgame fireworks.

“Our students told us, ‘hey, we might be going out on Friday so for us to be motivated at 10 a.m. to get up and get out to tailgating isn’t going to happen’,” Moccia said. “So we added night games.”

Moccia said he wants an atmosphere similar to the one men’s basketball experienced during its final home game last season. It was the first sellout since SIU Arena was remodeled as a part of the Saluki Way project.

Saluki Stadium, which was built in 2010, has not sold out since the first game of its debut season.

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Moccia said he listened to season ticket holders as well as community members when considering promotions. That led to the creation of Community Days, the “Four for $40” deal and a promotion for youth football leagues.

The “Four for $40” deal gives patrons four tickets, four drinks and four food items for $40. Moccia said the Community Days will rotate to different surrounding towns.

“We’re not doing this at Homecoming or Family Weekend but the other four home games, we’ve got Community Days,” he said. “The first game, the two communities are Carbondale and Murphysboro. People that have those driver’s license or [addresses] can buy tickets for $6.18 for the game.”

Moccia said the promotion will include Carterville, Marion, Harrisburg, West Frankfort, Benton, Anna, Jonesboro and Du Qoin at later home games. The promotion will be extended to high school students as well. Any Carbondale or Murphysboro student with a school ID will be admitted to the game free of charge.

Youth football players in the communities can also attend games free of charge if they attend in their jerseys. Their parents will receive tickets at a discounted price as well.

Moccia said he also considered alumni with the promotions. He said the school serves the students, so the alumni likes to see students getting involved.

“I think we can still accommodate the alumni,” Moccia said. “The alumni love it when the students are enthusiastic. They get a charge out of it, so I really do not think that there is going to be a whole lot of issues with them.”

Students still believe there are tools to help increase awareness about games. Storey Mayer, a freshman from Christopher studying journalism, said the school could send out emails to let students know about athletic events.

“I was not aware of the game tomorrow, but I don’t really follow sports,” Mayer said. “I think emails can help. For every class, professors use email often so every time I get an email, I read it.”

Mayer said she would be interested in attending the games and doing the “Saluki Sprint” but was not sure if she would go to Thursday’s game.

Scott Blackstone, a senior from Washington studying marketing, was more knowledgeable about the game against Taylor. He said the promotions could be effective but there were other ways to get students involved.

“The Saluki mascot could run through lecture halls on Fridays, throwing some Nerf Saluki footballs, reminding students to come to the game and bring a little excitement to the classroom,” Blackstone said.

He said he plans to attend most sports home games this season. Blackstone liked the idea of moving the tailgate and said students will appreciate being closer to the stadium and alumni.

Moccia said students are not always aware that they can get into any Saluki athletic event just by showing their ID at the gate. He said he wants students to be more cognizant of this since they pay an athletic fee within their student fees.

“The bottom line is this, not only are we here for the students, the students also pay a significant student fee as well,” he said. “So when we have a very diverse group of students saying ‘hey this is what we want’, its nice to be able to deliver for them and give them what they ask for.”

The promotions’ success will be tested starting 7 p.m. Thursday when the Salukis take on the Trojans at Saluki Stadium.

Tyler Davis can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @TDavis_DE or at 536-3311 ext. 254

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