Penn State Football: What Franklin’s #107kStrong Really Means
Look, James Franklin is a smart guy.
He really can’t believe that Penn State is going to get 107,000 fans for all seven of its home games in Beaver Stadium in 2014. Maybe a few, but not all.
That would be an average increase of 10,413 fans per game. In cash money, that would be worth about an additional $8 million overall, counting tickets, concessions, parking and the like. Which Penn State would very much like.
Franklin, no matter how much the salesman – and, based on his recruiting success, he’s part-Ron Popeil and part-Steve Jobs – can’t get six years of declining attendance totally turned around in nine months, especially by himself. At its apex in 2007, Beaver Stadium had an average attendance of 108,917 fans per game.
That was 12,330 fans, the introduction of seat licenses, Joe Paterno, $50 million in football profits and a scandal ago. Since 2007, Beaver Stadium attendance has gone from 101.52% of capacity to 90.16% in 2013.
Still, Franklin may come closer than people think. Take the Blue-White Game. The crowd of 72,000 was third-largest in PSU scrimmage history, trailing only 76,500 in 2009 and 73,000 in 2008. In the succeeding ’08-09 regular seasons, Penn State averaged 107,916 fans per game.
Franklin, more than anyone (until Penn State's new A.D.comes in, anyway), knows why those numbers are so essential.
“That’s going to be very important for us to continue to build in terms of recruiting,” he said after the Blue-White Game. “It's going to be important for us to show these players the support that they have, the advantage that our defense is going to have. Having a third-down advantage with crowd noise, the(ir) offense is going to have to use a silent way. All of these things are invaluable. And then obviously from a financial implication, it will be important to us as well.”
So Franklin does get it. There are a lot of reasons he’s pushing the #107kStrong so much. And they begin with money.
Football, along with the Big Ten Network, generates the bulk of the revenue for Penn State athletics. High tide financially for the Nittany Lion football program was the 2010-11 fiscal year, according to the U.S. Dept. of Education (all numbers here are based on Penn State’s annual filing with the DoED, required annually by Title IX).
Let's take a look at the change in numbers from 2010-11 (the 2010 football season) and 2012-13 (the 2012 football season). Figures are in millions:
2010-11 – Football: $72.7 revenue, $19.5 expenses, $53.2 net income (a whopping 75% profit margin). Athletics: $116 revenue, $84.5 expenses, $31.5 net income (doesn’t include $34.6 for debt service and capital expenditures).
2012-13 – Football: $58.7 revenue, $28.6 expenses, $30.1 net income (51% profit margin, but a drop of $20.1 million in profits). Athletics: $104.7 expenses, $100.5 expenses, $4.2 net income (doesn’t include $10.2 debt service). Then there’s the matter of Athletics – not the overall university – absorbing the NCAA’s five-year, $60 million fine.
The 2013-14 numbers could be worse. (Penn State’s fiscal year ends June 30, 2014.) The expenses will include the 2013 football season, as well as Bill O’Brien’s big boost in pay and the even larger paycheck for Franklin. Plus that annual $12 million fine. And no bowl money from the Big Ten. Again.
“I think I’m a football coach that understands there’s a business aspect to this as well,” Franklin said in Washington, D.C., on the Coaches Caravan in May. “That’s why you hear me so much talking about selling the stadium out. Everybody thinks that is for football. That’s not for football. That’s for everybody because, like it or not, football has the ability to bring in income that is going to support all the sports.
“I’ve been out to dinner with the coaches (of other Penn State sports teams), we’ve had a lot of conversations. You look at Penn State, when they were rolling, it created health for the entire athletic department and for the university as a whole. We’re not like that right now. That’s why we need everybody’s help. We need everybody’s help to get us back where we deserve to be.”
Franklin added to that a week later in Williamsport.
“There’s financial implications to it,” he said. “We’ve got some challenges and issues right now. For a long time, Penn State football was able to bring in enough revenue not only to support Penn State football, but the other sports (as well) and also be able to give money back to the university. We’re not there right now, so it’s magnified even more. I think it’s so important in so many different areas for us. And, again, that’s just another example (of how) every aspect is important.
A key reason that Franklin and Co. has snagged so many four-star recruits is the atmosphere at Beaver Stadium. Some recruits saw it in the fall, others at the spring scrimmage, still more on TV. A WhiteOut can certainly color an 18-year-old’s decision on where to go to college. (Which is true for football players and non-football players alike; more high school students send their SAT scores to Penn State than anywhere else.)
“Our players walking in and seeing the type of support that they get, the recruits walking in and seeing an environment that very few places have is important,” Franklin said this spring. “It helps all of our other sports with recruiting when they can bring prospects to the spring game and there’s 72,000 people there.
“I know for us, this December and January, taking recruits to the hockey games was big for us. It gets them a feel and a sense of the type of support that they’re going to get when maybe I can’t provide that in my own season.”
3. HOMEFIELD ADVANTAGE
On the field and off, there was a big difference in 2014 between #107,855 against Michigan and consecutive #92,000s against Eastern Michigan, Central Florida and Kent State.
“First of all, I’ve been in this business long enough to know what a homefield advantage can do for your team,” Franklin said near the tail end of the Caravan. “When your defense is on the field and their offense has to use a silent cadence the entire game because they can’t communicate, it’s a huge advantage, a huge advantage.”
4. PENN STATE PRIDE
Penn State fans and alumni have taken a pounding the past few years. And yet they have, for the most part, responded like champs. While Penn State’s home game numbers have dwindled, it still ranked No. 5 in overall attendance in all of college football in 2013. Only Michigan, Ohio State, Alabama and Texas averaged more fans per home game. The last time Penn State was No. 5 on the field was Sept. 26, 2009, when it took the field at Beaver Stadium before its 21-10 loss to Iowa (attendance: 109,316).
By making #107kStrong part of his never-ending mantra, one of Franklin’s messages is that he believes Penn State’s fans will answer the bell. Just like they did this spring. J. Dale Carnegie Franklin wants to influence as many of his new friends to feel welcome back in The House Joe Built as he can. That's why he wants Penn State’s 600,000-plus alumni and 45,000-plus students to know that he gives a Tweet:
June 9: Can’t wait for #PSUFBFamilyReunion to start next season! Nothing like the game to bring a community & people together
June 8: Nothing like showing up to work & seeing 107k of my closest friends & family members there to support us! #WeAre
June 6: Want 2 make sure all the fans & supporters know how much WE (Coaches & Players) appreciate YOU! Together we can build something really special
June 4: Sometimes it is not enough to do our best; we must do what is required. - Winston Churchill #107kStrong #PSUunrivaled #PSUFBFamilyReunions
June 3: Wanted 2 take a minute & say thank YOU! Beaver Stadium is on its way 2 #107kStrong. Over 4000 new season tickets sold.
You get the idea.
5. SALAMI TACTICS
Although he won’t say it, Franklin has to know that Beaver Stadium will not be #107kStrong for the likes of Akron on Sept. 6 or UMass on Sept. 20. But maybe he can get close vs. Northwestern for the Sept. 27 Homecoming game, or Nov. 1 for new Big Ten bro Maryland in its first Beaver Stadium appearance since 1992, or even Michigan State, despite the students being home for Thanksgiving beak. (Until their parents get a call from Franklin, a la Vanderbilt.
Speaking of which: Over Franklin’s three-year reign at Vanderbilt and its archaic 40,330-seat stadium, Vandy’s attendance actually dropped. Attendance fell by 57 people -- from an average of 35,526 in 2008-10 to 35,469 in 2011,13.
But there’s a big and important but. But …
In the three seasons prior to his arrival, Vanderbilt did not have a single sellout in 18 home games. That’s despite hosting No. 5 Florida, No. 11 Georgia Tech, No. 13 Alabama, No. 16 LSU, No. 21 Ole Miss and No. 24 South Carolina, as well as additional home contests against Northwestern and in-state rival Tennessee (twice).
In 2011, his first season at Vandy, Franklin’s teams did not have a single home game sellout. But in 2012, they had three sellouts and in 2013 they had two.
Vandy faced a capacity challenge of just below 90%. Penn State’s is now at 90%. Beaver Stadium holds #67,000 more fans. But Franklin is still a builder, no matter which side of the Mason-Dixon line he is on. “Obviously, we have (more) history and traditions and things like that; we don’t have to create those things,” Franklin said. “But we still have similar challenges (as Vanderbilt). I mean, we’re trying to sell out a 107,000-seat stadium, so that’s still an emphasis.”
6. AND ONE…
Given all that, Franklin’s goal is no longer 107,000. He’s doing that one better:
“I can’t tell you how important it’s going to be that we sell out every single game,” he said after the 2014 Blue-White Game.
“107,001 at every single game. We’re actually going to up it up: we’re going to add one more.”