Its record-setting attendance figure of 49,212 has loomed over the football team since the program’s opening game Sept. 6, 1997.
Eleven years later, after USF has achieved its first ranking in both national polls, the athletic department has announced the first comprehensive change in its student ticket policy.
Now, for the first time in school history, student tickets are available prior to game day.
Beginning today, the first 8,000 students to present a valid USF ID will receive a wristband ensuring a seat in the south end zone, the traditional student section.
A new student section at Raymond James Stadium will have an additional 4,000 seats available on a first-come, first-served basis.
“The season opener against Elon was an indication that 8,000 seats won’t be enough for the future,” Associate Athletic Director Bill McGillis said. “We want to accommodate every student that we can possibly can. We bumped it for that reason, and the demand is at least 12,000.”
Around 8,600 students attended the Bulls home opener against Elon. The athletic department estimates 40,000 fans will show up for Saturday’s game against North Carolina.
With increasing attendance, the wristband program was developed to help alleviate congestion at Gate B, the student entrance at the stadium. If students pick up wristbands at the Sun Dome ticket office (Entry 3) prior to the game, they may enter through any gate.
Fans can enter the stadium an hour and a half before kickoff.
The additional student seating, along with the record sale of 20,046 season tickets, has the athletic department believing the 11-year-old attendance record from the Kentucky Wesleyan game will fall this season.
“I think there’s a buzz right now about USF athletics in the community,” Athletic Director Doug Woolard said. “You have a certain segment of fans that are real committed, and I think we’re getting more of those. The casual fans are becoming less casual and are trying to become more involved all the time.”
McGillis said the upper deck may be opened for the game against North Carolina and that the final decision will be made Friday.
If the upper deck is not opened, additional student seating will be made available throughout the lower bowl.
USF has received additional recognition since defeating then-ranked No. 17 Auburn 26-23 in overtime Sept. 8. The victory led ESPN to pick up the broadcasting rights for the North Carolina game in addition to the network showing the Bulls game against West Virginia on Friday, Sept. 28.
Every year a goal has been set to try to surpass the mark of 49,212 set in the old Tampa Stadium. If the mark isn’t surpassed against North Carolina, Woolard believes the record will be shattered against the Mountaineers.
“There used to be talk about getting into the upper deck,” Woolard said. “Now we’re trying to get to 65,675 (a capacity crowd). That’s now become our goal. All indications point to us being able to do that.”
Nine sections of the upper deck have already sold out for the contest with West Virginia, and according to McGillis “new sections are opening up and filling quickly.”
Tickets for the West Virginia game will become available Monday morning at 6 a.m., allowing students to camp overnight to obtain wristbands. Security and bathrooms will be open at the Sun Dome.
“We want the students to come early, camp and we’ll open up early to get them off to class,” McGillis said. “We’ll open up early every day for the rest of the week to accommodate students.”
The Sun Dome ticket office will be open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday and 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday.
The final day to purchase season tickets is Saturday, and McGillis said “without question” individual seats available for remaining games in the lower bowl will sell quickly.
The athletic department is struggling to comprehend the high attendance figures.
“That’s been very rewarding, to have the community and students to respond the way they have,” Woolard said. “As the program has developed and risen, people come along with it, that certainly is an important piece for us.”