Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
The Rio Grande Rivalry on Saturday isn’t just a big deal for the Lobos and Aggies football teams.
The afternoon game at Dreamstyle Stadium is certainly just as huge for the University of New Mexico’s athletic department when it comes to attendance and meeting NCAA requirements for Football Bowl Subdivision programs.
UNM must average 15,000 in attendance over its six home games this season to qualify for the NCAA requirement to average 15,000 once in a two-year period, and this means 2018 and 2019. If the Lobos fail to meet the NCAA’s minimum requirement, they can fall into noncompliance, UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez said, and could potentially be ruled ineligible for postseason football competition in 2020.
“I didn’t need that for motivation,” Nuñez said. “My motivation started after the first game I attended here at UNM.”
Last year, when UNM didn’t enjoy the benefit of having the Aggies play at Dreamstyle Stadium, did not go so well for Lobo football attendance.
UNM football averaged just 10,962 in attendance last year, per reports that UNM handed into the NCAA.
That’s not the figure UNM gave the public and put in its statistics for 2018, which remain on golobos.com. That listed number is 16,587 per home game.
Why the whopping difference of 5,625 per home game?
UNM says the attendance figure it releases publicly includes complimentary tickets in sponsor trades, as well as media members and service staff. Those numbers do not apply to the NCAA requirement.
The Lobos took a hit in the 2019 home and season opener, Aug. 31 vs. Sam Houston State. It was reported to the media that 13,749 were in attendance.
The actual attendance numbers for that game haven’t been calculated for the NCAA, but UNM deputy athletic director Dave Williams estimated “just under 10,000” showed up on an afternoon the temperature was 97 degrees at the 4 p.m. opening kickoff.
Saturday’s game begins at 2:30 p.m., a time scheduled by AT&T Sports Network. Williams said 15,200 tickets had been sold as of Thursday afternoon.
“The main reason we chose the 4 p.m. start time was for people to stay longer into the game,” Williams said. “Some of the families were tending to leave when games started at 6 and ended later at night. I think we got unlucky with how hot it was. We knew it was going to be warm. Record warm was unlucky.”
However, hosting the Aggies gives hope for this season.
In 2017, when New Mexico State played at UNM, 27,334 showed up. That helped Lobo football average 16,583 in attendance, which was submitted to the NCAA for that year.
Thus another reason Saturday’s game is so crucial for UNM.
“It’s big because we need at least 18,000,” said Williams. “That then gives us wiggle room in games that we are below that number. Why I think it’s a bigger game than most? This gives us an opportunity to prove ourselves. Our hope is that we show fans a great time that they make the decision to come back for another game or more games. We want to turn individual-game buyers into multiple-game buyers.”
The Lobos will try to draw more fans by offering special deals, including a two-game package of UNM against the Aggies and New Mexico’s homecoming game against Hawaii on Oct. 26, for as low as $20.
In addition, fans that go to Saturday’s game will get $5 off for a ticket to a future game in the 2019 season.
UNM is encouraging fans to purchase tickets to Saturday’s game online, which will include a $5 discount. The Lobos hope that will cut down the long lines that show up at the ticket office on game day, Williams said.
Meanwhile, Bob Davie, in his eighth season as Lobos’ head coach, says he’s waiting for more work to be done with marketing football.
“There was less marketing this year than ever before,” Davie, who has a 34-55 record at UNM, said Wednesday.
“It’s crazy to have football and spend the amount of money you spend on football and not market football to generate revenue for the entire athletic department,” he said. “We are doing ourselves a disservice, quite honestly, to spend these kind of resources on football but not market. I’ve been consistent with that from Day One.”
Nuñez would like for the Lobos to average up to 25,000 fans per game and believes that’s a realistic goal.
UNM experienced heavy transition with a new media rights deal with Outfront Media Sports Inc., as well as new employees in its marketing department.
UNM also signed a five-year contract with Paciolan this year to design a new ticketing, fundraising and marketing software system that will allow for online ticket purchases for athletic venues and Popejoy Hall.
Davie led the Lobos to the New Mexico Bowl in 2015 and 2016, the latter a victory, yet UNM has gone 3-9 the past two seasons. His team was picked to finish last this year in the Mountain Division of the Mountain West Conference. The Lobos are 1-1, beating Sam Houston State 39-31 before losing 66-14 last week at Notre Dame.
“I’m not making excuses,” Davie said. “I own 3-9. I know what the attendance is across the country. I understand the complexity of this place. But why do you invest money at this level if you’re not going to market football?”
Davie used the Albuquerque Isotopes baseball team and the New Mexico United soccer team as examples of building a successful brand by finding a niche that goes beyond the team’s record. He calls the ‘win-and-they-will-come’ philosophy a “copout.”
“I think we have something here that can be tremendously unique,” Davie said. “But it takes marketing organization, marketing commitment, marketing dollars, and alignment.”