TAMPA — ACC and Tampa Bay area officials aren't making excuses, but they insist that a "perfect storm" of events led to the disappointing turnout for last year's league football title game at Raymond James Stadium.
A sagging economy stymied Virginia Tech and Boston College fans from traveling en masse, especially with less than a week's notice to book their trips. The matchup offered little pizzazz, as both teams played in the game the previous year. And local college football fans were more interested in the SEC finale in Atlanta between unbeaten No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Florida.
The ACC's title game on Dec. 6 drew 27,360 fans to Raymond James Stadium (53,927 tickets were sold or distributed).
"A lot of factors contributed to last year, and we can't get discouraged by it," ACC associate commissioner Michael Kelly said. "We can't just throw up our hands and not try things and not search for ways to be successful."
So what's to be done not to get hit again on Dec. 5, the last of a two-year stint in Tampa before the game moves to Charlotte, N.C., for 2010 and 2011?
• The league worked with ESPN to move the game to 8 p.m. from 1. Tampa Bay Sports Commission executive director Rob Higgins said the time change will allow for a youth football combine beginning at 3:30 p.m., before the FanFest will open.
• Higgins and his group also spent last football season compiling a list of names, phone numbers and e-mails of potential ticket buyers, data the league didn't have before that should allow for more direct-sales efforts. Tickets, which begin at $25, go on sale to the public Aug. 3. (Go to theroadtotampabay.com for information.)
"The priority right now is to get people in the seats; that's going to have to be the major consideration as we evaluate the next three years," said Kelly, adding the league likely won't begin looking at site possibilities for the 2012 game until Charlotte has had a year.
• Tampa officials won't do what their counterparts in Jacksonville tried in the third year of the game being played there — essentially telling their locals that the turnout would be a referendum on whether the game would return.
"We didn't hammer it, but we did lay it out there," said Rick Catlett, president of the Gator Bowl. "And I think that can come across being a desperate move."
One that didn't pay off.
"The reality is if we can't find some success there this year, it is highly unlikely that (a return to Tampa) would happen, at least in the foreseeable future," Kelly said. "But we do think there's conditions in Tampa that will allow us to be successful."
• The league promises a more aggressive campaign to excite football fans about the ACC and its evolving championship game. Of course, the best PR will come from the field, not from an office.
Some suggest that until the ACC champion is a BCS title-game contender, playing the league title game at any neutral site will be a tough sell.
Brian Landman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/ seminoles.