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Lack Of “Sidewalk Alums” Hurts Vandy At The Ticket Office

dudley-field-emptyWe’ve said it before and we’ll say it again — Vanderbilt’s fanbase can’t rival those of other Southeastern Conference schools due to a lack of “sidewalk alumni.”  That fact is becoming clear once more as the school’s season-ticket sales are actually down despite back-to-back bowl trips and an amazing nine-win campaign last season.

Across the SEC, college football is a year-round passion.  Kids pull for the local school and remain fans throughout their lives… whether they actually wind up attending Alabama or Georgia or Tennessee or LSU or not.  The big, public state schools of the SEC boast a great many fans who have no real ties to the school other than a passion that began in childhood.

Vanderbilt — the league’s only small, private school — simply doesn’t have that type of following.  To build that type of following, the Commodores will have to start winning football games with even more regularity over a much longer stretch of time.  Think Duke basketball type of winning.

The Blue Devils have fans all across the country.  That’s because it’s been — arguably — the most dominant program in the country over the past quarter-century.  But when it comes to Duke football, good luck finding a Blue Devil fan outside of Durham.

And for a century, Vanderbilt football has looked a lot more like Duke football than Duke basketball.

There are other excuses that can be tossed out — there’s more competition for the entertainment dollar in a city like Nashville, etc — but head coach James Franklin isn’t interested in hearing them:


“(The number of season-tickets sold is) going to get up to where it was last year.  I would have thought we would have been sold out by now.  We’ve still go some time to do it.

I really don’t want to hear about excuses about we’re in a city and we have other things to compete with.  I don’t want to hear about nationally how the trend is that people are struggling to get people to go to games, because that’s not the fact in the SEC, and we’re in the SEC.  So I think the excuses are over and it’s time for us to get out and support our team.”


One must wonder if Franklin will continue to show loyalty to Vanderbilt if fans don’t begin to show more loyalty to his program.

According to The Tennessean, ticket sales would only need to reach the mid-20,000s for Vanderbilt to achieve “sold out” status.  But VU hasn’t sold out its season tickets since way back in 1996 and even that number was aided by Notre Dame fans who bought Vandy season tickets in order to see their Irish play in Nashville.

Currently, Vanderbilt fans have bought just 16,200 season tickets.  All told, the Commodores averaged just 37,860 fans per game last season in 40,000-seat Dudley Field (which is easily the smallest venue in the SEC).

Vanderbilt’s football program doesn’t rank as the worst in the SEC for nothing, folks.  VU has no track record of high achievement on the gridiron.  That fact makes the turnaround orchestrated so far by Franklin all the more impressive.

But until the school begins to win even more games and some Middle Tennesseans who didn’t attend Vandy start to pull for the Dores, the ticket sales in Nashville will likely remain disappointing.



"VU has no track record of high achievement on the gridiron."  Depends on your definition of high achievement, I guess.  They do have more undefeated seasons and conference championships than many SEC teams but it was a 100 years ago and few remember or care.

I'm close enough I wouldn't mind going to their games occasionally but they're too hard to like with all the UT hatred.


There is nothing wrong with Vandy making a commitment to football. But they are never going to have a SEC fanbase that is devoted to them like a public state university. If I was the AD, I would put resources into football, but make basketball (men's and women's) and baseball my primary focus. Nashville has a pro football team, plus UT, Bama, and UGA all have more fans in Nashville than Vandy. However there should not be any reason why Vandy could not shine in the basketballs and baseball and be a dominate team in the conference and nationally. Nashville will never have a NBA team with the Grizzles in Memphis. So there is no fear of being trumped by the NBA in your home market. It is a lot easier to find 12 smart top athletes than 85, just ask Duke.


It's even harder to build a big fan base at a small private school for football than it is for basketball.  It's easier to build a successful bball program over a long period of time in the first place...recruiting a solid 12 players versus a solid 85.  You add to that the financial commitment a school needs to make in order to play good football...coaches salaries, facilities, and recruiting.  

The only small private school I can think of that has really achieved this is Notre Dame.  That comes from their affiliation with the Catholic church as well as a century of consistent success.  Miami is private and has had success in the last 30 years, but they really don't draw big crowds except for FSU and other huge games.  It's a tough road to hoe.


vandy should probably approach football the same way duke does, as an afterthought.  two years from now, franklin will be history and the dores settled into their usual spot in the sec hierarchy.


Vandy also has the smallest Alumni base of the SEC schools. Which factor into ticket sales. The closest schools to look for comparison are Stanford and Northwestern. Both of those schools have issues selling tickets. Even with the success and top 10 rankings, Stanford still does not sell out. Even being located within a larger metro area does not help those two schools. So Vandy's fans will never compete with any other school in terms of numbers. If they keep winning, they will pick up some sidewalk fans just out of defiance to the other t-shirt fans in the Nashville area. But it will take a long time to undo 80 years of non-success before people start jumping on the bandwagon. There is no 00's, 90's or 80's dream season to point to a previous ray of hope like most schools.  


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