YOUNSGTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – Just six months ago, Youngstown State’s drive for a fifth National Championship was in full swing — ending in a title game loss to James Madison in January.
Now less than two months away from the 2017 football campaign, the Penguins are hoping the excitement picks up right where it left off.
“Well, it should carry over,” YSU head football coach Bo Pelini said. “We have a number of guys coming back that should have some confidence of what this team can be — the culture and really what it takes to have success.”
And the school’s athletic department isn’t standing pat, currently hard at work finding ways to draw even more fans into Stambaugh Stadium.
“You always look at any facility enhancements that you can make,” YSU Executive Director of Athletics Ron Strollo said. “Whether they’re getting people into the stadium or the type of entertainment you’re providing them on the scoreboard or in the tailgate lot. So, we’re trying to enhance all those type of things that we look at every year.”
The Penguins aren’t just hoping for fans to fill Stambaugh Stadium to create a home field advantage this fall.Financially, each home game is worth a quarter of a million dollars — accounting for half of the department’s total external revenue.
“We probably generate $1.5 to $2 million on football a year,” Strollo said. ” And, obviously we need to generate as much revenue as we can to kinda take the pressure or the heat off the university, and what it needs to support us. So, it’s critical that this community gets behind this football program.”
It’s that revenue that helps support all of the other sports in the department, including baseball, softball and track & field.
According to the NCAA, YSU ranked 17th among the FCS home attendance leaders last season. That’s down from 13th in 2015.
According to that report, the Penguins average attendance of less than 13,000 per game dropped more than 2,400 fans per game from the year before.
Bob Cammardo and Frank Nolasco are die-hard YSU fans. They’ve both been attending Penguins football games for more than 40 years and have noticed a decline in the number of fans in the stands.
“Obviously, the age of the population of the city has aged,” Nolasco said. “A lot of the students are leaving the area as they find other jobs. It’s not the only attraction in town at times — we’ve got the hockey, we’ve got other things going on at the same time — and it’s not the final destination.”
“I think there’s also a kind of ‘been there, done that’ thing,” Cammardo said. “The people that were there in the 90’s, and went to all the championship games like I did, there’s a little bit of it’s old-hat. You’re trying to get some new people involved, but students don’t really participate much.
“I don’t think you’ll ever get back to the days of the ’90s. But sustained winning will certainly enhance the attendance and what people think about the program.”
Strollo doesn’t agree that Stambaugh Stadium can’t be filled consistently like in the 1990s.
“I think we can get back there — and I think we can get back there really quick,” he said. “I think we have struggled a little bit with weather at some of our home games. I definitely think we can get there and I think people realize what they missed out on a little bit towards the end of last football season. So I think they’ll be here at kickoff.”
YSU’s first game is Sept. 2 at Pittsburgh. The Penguins’ home-opener is set for Sept. 9 against Robert Morris.