My family have been avid sport supporters of The University of South Alabama for more than 40 years. My parents, in-laws, wife and myself all attended USA and a few have served on the Alumni Board as presidents.
We have held season tickets in baseball, basketball and every season of football. Throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, USA basketball was played at the Mobile Civic Center. These games provided the largest crowds I have ever seen at USA basketball. The student attendance made up approximately 5 percent of total attendance.
In 1998, the Mitchell family provided funding to build a new basketball arena on campus. This was hyped as great for recruiting, students and enticing the local community to attend. The average attendance posted last year was slightly over 2,000.
I personally never went to a single game last year that had more than 1,000 fans in attendance. Also, there are numerous giveaways to lure fans in with hopes of return visits.
Recruiting has not improved as a result of the on-campus facility as the Jaguars are ranked as one of the worst teams in the Sun Belt Conference every year. Finally, student attendance is nonexistent. With homecoming occurring during football games now, the students never turn out for a single game.
From 1996 until 2005, the baseball program received generous donations from both Jon Lieber and Luis Gonzales in order to enhance the facilities and entice recruits while impressing baseball fans and enticing crowds. The baseball program has always been a middle-of-the-pack team, and these improvements, while needed, have not enhanced the level of play or recruiting.
The attendance for typical USA baseball games is right around 1,000 fans. The student attendance, as in basketball, is dismal. Again, the on-campus experience does not seem to make a difference in recruiting, attendance, or student participation.
Turning to football, in the five seasons the Jaguars have been in Football Bowl Subdivision, we’ve played 31 home games and have only drawn 20,000-plus fans four times while drawing fewer than 12,000 fans another four times. The only times attendance surpassed 20,000 since joining FBS were at our two home games against North Carolina State and Mississippi State and in two of their three home games against our biggest rival, Troy, which always travels well.
Two of our four sub-12,000-fan games came in the weekend following those large crowds. Actually, the fifth-best-attended regular season football game at Ladd-Peebles Stadium during USA’s FBS tenure has been the 5th Quarter Classic, an HBCU matchup between Tuskegee and Florida A&M in front of a paid attendance of 19,223.
This is a clear sign that Mobilians are interested in supporting football, and not just USA football. Also, note that the student attendance, while considerably larger for football than any other sport, is roughly less than 10 percent of the ticket sales. The student involvement will not increase with an on-campus facility, but could with other options.
I would prefer USA utilize the existing land where Gulf Pines golf course once stood (the USA Foundation’s “Brookley by the Bay” property). This area would afford the city of Mobile and USA to jointly build a beautiful facility that would entice bowl games, all-star games, keep the senior bowl and provide USA with a unique experience of a waterfront stadium with ample room for tailgating and parking.
Locating a stadium on Old Bayfront Drive affords a great location in proximity to the Eastern Shore as well as West Mobile. It is seconds from I-10 and has entrances on Michigan Avenue as well as Broad Street. This location would allow USA to showcase a stadium that is like no other in the Sun Belt Conference.
Keep in mind that schools in other conferences, including the power five, do not have on-campus stadiums. These schools are the universities of Pittsburgh, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Miami (Florida), UCLA, Texas-San Antonio, Hawaii, South Florida, UNLV, Temple, Washington, Colorado State, North Carolina State, San Diego State, Tulane, Alabama-Birmingham, Baylor, Kent State, Memphis, South Carolina, Navy, Northwestern, Oregon and San Jose State. Seven of these school’s stadiums are a farther distance from campus than Ladd Stadium.