USC hype leads to ticket sales spike

At first, I couldn’t help but smirk.

Earlier this month, USC released a handful of promotional videos for the upcoming season, highlighted by the slogan: “We play for the 90,000 faithful. ”

Coming in droves · USC has already sold out home games against Hawai’i, Oregon and Notre Dame a week before the season begins. – Daily Trojan file photo

The implication, of course, is that the Trojans will be suiting up in front of sellout crowds at the 93,607-seat Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum this season, which begins Saturday against Hawai’i.

The only problem, though, is they don’t typically do so. As much as USC carries around the title of the West Coast’s premier college football program, its attendance numbers have never completely reflected its success.

In spite of 109 victories and two national championships, the Coliseum only averaged slightly more than 90,000 fans per game in two seasons in the past decade — 91,480 in 2006 and 90,812 in 2005.

And consider this: The Coliseum never averaged a sellout during a season in the last two years sold out a total of just two games, matchups against Stanford and UCLA last fall.

But on the eve of the 2012 season, it looks like my initial skepticism might be slightly off the mark, and of course, if it is, I can eat crow. By the look of things, USC’s going to play in front of 90,000 in just about every game.

Last week, USC announced the opener against Hawai’i is sold out, coming on the heels of news that the Nov. 3 contest against Oregon and the Nov. 24 meeting with Notre Dame are sold out as well. Not to mention only about 1,000-2,000 tickets, according to a school spokesman, are left for the three remaining games — California, Colorado and Arizona State.

So it’s certainly conceivable every game will be filled to maximum capacity. In fact, it’s more likely than not.

“It’s exciting,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “It goes with all the off-season hype that’s great for our university, that’s great for our fans. Our players will be excited to see that and that’s what should be happening at ‘SC.”

Of course they’re excited, but Kiffin and his staff have also made the conscious decision to downplay the hype this offseason.

They’ve muttered the now-clichéd phrase “it’s about the prep, not about the hype” almost ad nauseam for the last eight months. That’s part of the job description. Coaches want to coach and largely ignore the extra attention. Their foremost concern is game preparation and they want that mindset to reach their players.

But really, if we’re being realistic after all, the hype for this fall is unprecedented even by 2005 standards, when Matt Leinart and Co. were hobnobbing it in Hollywood with Nick Lachey and a host of other celebrities and A-listers.

Ticket prices weren’t adjusted for this season’s slate of games. Packages, by and large, remained the same.

But the interest has perked. Demand is up. USC’s atop a handful of preseason polls, most notably the one compiled by the Associated Press. It’s L.A. after all, and the Coliseum should be full.

“It’s our job to stay up there [in the rankings],” Kiffin reiterated last week. “It’s not the fans’ job to come. It’s our job to put the product on the field so they do come.”

He’s right.

In this market, in Southern California, you have to win, and a year after doing so 10 times, USC’s expected attendance figures finally appear to mirror the expectations.

The product, on the surface, appears healthy at last.

It wasn’t so long ago USC was in the top-five, but after about three seasons puttering around in relative mediocrity, it’s back so to speak, inching toward the top.

Three years is a long time by major college football standards and most are eager to witness the Trojans’ rise. So of course an attendance spike was to be expected.

But this is quite the jump, unlike anything in recent memory: at least three sellouts by August.

The fan base is hungry. And whether fair or unfair, there’s a lot for the Trojans to live up to come kickoff in four days.


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