Owls future in Big East depends on wins and attendance

Posted: July 02, 2012

It's a warmer-than-normal November Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia.

The Temple Owls are gathered at beautiful Lincoln Financial Field to play Cincinnati in a game that could have huge Big East Conference implications.

But if averages hold up, there will be fewer than 24,000 fans inside a 69,000-seat stadium.

And what kind of scene is that for a team expecting different results in its second go-round in the Big East?

Sunday marks Temple's first official day back in the conference as a football member after five years as a football-only member of the Mid-American Conference.

The Owls were kicked out of the Big East in 2004 because of lack of success on the field and at the box office.

Since their last go-round, the Owls can boast about being a more competitive program. But they still aren't attracting large home crowds.

Temple's average home attendance of 28,060 last season ranked 81st in the Football Bowl Subdivision. And considering 57,323 were on hand for the Sept. 17 game against Penn State, that average is a little skewed.

The average home attendance for Big East teams last season was 43,766.

"I think you have to look at us as being in a very big market," Temple athletic director Bill Bradshaw said. "Philadelphia has everything. The one thing we are missing is a [following for] college football."

The Owls plan to change that through marketing and being more competitive this time in the Big East.

"If we start winning a little bit, you'll see our attendance go up," Bradshaw said.

Recruiting factor

It can be argued that stellar recruiting is the first phase of attracting larger crowds. Temple's $10 million expansion and renovations to Edberg-Olson Hall and plans for an indoor practice facility are also a start. But even with the update, the Owls arguably have the worst facilities in the conference.

So while recruits are blown away at Louisville, Connecticut, and Rutgers, Temple's coaching staff must sell them on being part of something on the rise.

"Pitt, Rutgers . . . those teams all built indoor facilities years ago, and you have another wave of teams - I think UConn is one of the newer ones the past few years to build them," said Bob Lichtenfels, East regional manager for the Scout.com recruiting service. "If you are trying to recruit against these teams, and they have indoor facilities, beautiful weight rooms, all these amenities, and you don't, why should a kid go there?

"So without alumni and everybody backing it fully and upgrading things at Temple, it's going to be tough."

But Lichtenfels believes that Temple coach Steve Addazio's commitment to building a Big East contender has caught the eye of program-changing recruits.

"The next step is just the alumni and administration stepping up and doing everything they need to do there," he said.

Follow the leader

Louisville might be the model for what Temple is trying to do.

Like the Owls', the Cardinals' campus is in an urban setting. And both schools operate in the shadow of another in-state university from a high-profile conference.

Louisville's launching point for being committed to football came after a 10-1-1 season under Howard Schnellenberger in 1990. Kevin Miller, Louisville's executive senior associate athletic director, told the Memphis Commercial Appeal that the athletic department's overall budget was $16 million to $17 million.

According to Miller, Louisville had a revenue of more than $76 million during the last fiscal year. That swallows Temple's current budget of $30 million.

The Cardinals also sold 41,000 seasons tickets, compared with fewer than 10,000 season tickets 30 years ago.

"You say, what's our goal? Our toughest challenge is to work hard," Bradshaw said. "Every day, we are going to have to sell tickets, raise money, and get our program at least to midlevel of budgets within the Big East [about $40 million, according to a source]. That would be our goal."

Prepared to invest

There's a thought among Big East athletic directors and coaches that the additions of Temple, Boise State (football only), San Diego State (football only), Memphis, Houston, Southern Methodist, Central Florida, and Navy (football only) were made to help secure a TV contract of around $2 billion.

Bradshaw is confident that his school's share as an all-sports member, beginning in 2013-14, will enable Temple to invest in its athletic programs. That's something the Owls weren't able to do while their football team played in the MAC and all other sports were members of the Atlantic Ten.

The men's basketball team recently generated annual checks of up to $550,000 because of its A-10 membership. However, the Owls lost around $600,000 playing football in the MAC.

A current full member of the Big East makes about $6 million a year. That allotment is expected to increase with the new television deal. And it doesn't include ticket sales.

"We couldn't be at a better place at a better time," Bradshaw said.

Owls must produce

There's a thought that Temple will automatically attract more fans based just on returning to the Big East. And that could be nothing more than wishful thinking by people who have forgotten what it was like when the Owls were previously in the conference.

By all accounts the new Big East is a watered-down version of what the league used to be in regard to must-see competition.

The Owls weren't exactly packing them in when national powers Miami and Virginia Tech came to town for conference tilts.

"The answer [to attracting crowds] is simply winning," said Houston coach Tony Levine, whose Cougars sold out every home game last season despite - like Temple - playing in a pro town. "You have the Texans, the Rockets, the Astros [in Houston]. There's a lot to do.

"If you win, they'll come."

Winning is something Temple traditionally doesn't do. The Owls won 26 games and made two bowl appearances over the last three years. But in their previous 18 seasons, they did not have a winning record.

The Owls were winless in 2005 and had one-win seasons in 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996, 2003, and 2006.

"If we perform and we win - and we just started to do that now - we are going to have something to play for on a national scale with the media rights," Bradshaw said. "I think that's going to cast a new light on college football in Philadelphia."

But even if the Owls do win, don't look for attendance figures to drastically increase overnight.

"If we can get [attendance] up to 32,000 a game, 33,000, that's not bad," Addazio said. "And then you build it over time. Eventually, you like to get it up to the 40,000s and 50,000s.

"I think you can do that."

Contact Keith Pompey at 215-854-2939 or kpompey@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @pompeysgridlock Read his blog at www.philly.com/OwlsInq


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