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The secret to UVA Baseball success: The free tickets for kids filling up The Dish

Chris Graham
kids at the dish
Photo: UVA Athletics

I’ve been writing for years about an idea for putting butts in the empties at Scott Stadium, involving UVA Athletics giving out free tickets to kids – the notion being, the kids have to bring their parents, hopefully they all have a good time, and eventually, they’ll buy tickets when Tony Elliott gets the football program turned around.

It’s not like we haven’t seen that work with UVA Baseball.

“I think the initiative that our administrative administration decided to two years ago to let kids 18 and under and free you know, throughout the season, the last couple of years, our crowds have gotten better and better,” coach Brian O’Connor told reporters Sunday night, after his team had dispatched Mississippi State in front of a sellout crowd at Disharoon Park for the second straight night.

A sellout at The Dish means 5,919 fans. There were 5,919 on hand on Saturday and Sunday for the UVA-Mississippi State games, and 5,802 for the opening game on Friday, with a noon ET start, for UVA-Penn.

I’m going to have to do another FOIA request now, because I’m curious how much the effort to get the butts in seats is impacting the bottom line specific to baseball.

At the least, baseball, like soccer and lacrosse, two others lumped in as non-revenue sports with others that draw little or no fan interest, shouldn’t be losing as much as it does at places like, oh, let’s call out Duke.

I wandered into a Duke baseball game in early March when I was on campus there for the UVA-Duke basketball game at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

I just looked up the official capacity for the stadium there, and I’m shocked that it’s supposedly 2,000.

No way there’s anywhere near the ability to get 2,000 people into that stadium, and I’m even doubting their official attendance figures that have them getting 1,400-plus a lot of weekend days.

The day I was there, March 2, when Duke hosted Akron, the official attendance was 1,418, which, that’s a joke.

There were, at best, a couple hundred people in seats, and a couple dozen kids playing hotbox behind the third-base dugout.

I digress.

UVA Football struggles to get 40,000 into Scott Stadium on fall Saturdays, the effect of years of decline in performance – three winning seasons in the last 16 years – and blowback from the dumb move in 2008 to push long-time season-ticket holders out of their seats in favor of bigger-money donors who, surprise, turned out to be more of the fair-weather-fan variety, and didn’t hang around all that long.

I do get blowback from those who remain in the dwindled season-ticket base about the push for giving out freebies, along the lines of, if we’re paying, why should we be subsidizing free tickets for other people, that I think is misguided.

I’m not advocating for freebies forever and ever amen, just for the time being, while Elliott, the fourth guy tasked with trying to work within the long shadow of George Welsh, works to get things going in the right direction on the field.

Getting more people in the stands will help on gamedays – maybe we get a false-start penalty on a key third down in the fourth quarter in a big game that turns things in our direction – and it will help sell the school and the program to recruits.

It’s gotta be hard to lure kids to play at UVA when we have recruits in the stadium looking at entire sections of empties across the expanse of the upper deck and in spots the lower bowl.

I’ll concede to being a bit selfish with this push of mine. It’s more fun for me to be at football games with energy in the stadium from fans in the seats.

I can cover the games from TV and get about 85, 90 percent of the story without having to be in the stadium.

What you’re there for as a writer is the feel of it.

The feel of a full-house baseball regional was worth the drive over, having to fight for a parking space, spending seven hours of my day to watch a three-hour baseball game.

I don’t even remember what it feels like to have a full house in Scott Stadium, which, that’s sad.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].