MISSOULA – Montana led the entire FCS in attendance at football games in 2017, topping the list for a fourth year in a row.
But for the first time, the regular-season numbers took a noticeable dip. UM averaged 23,500 fans last season, down from nine consecutive years with an average regular-season mark more than 25,000.
UM administrators admit they needed to address the decline, because season tickets in particular are vital for the athletic department’s budget. But making one decision seems to have made a huge difference.
The return of former head coach Bobby Hauck has clearly created a new buzz around the program, and Montana has already seen proof in the box office. The Griz have sold more than 500 season tickets ahead of last year’s pace, and that number could climb even higher by Saturday.
“It’s just a little bit different tone in the voice almost,” said assistant athletic director for premium ticketing Nick Jutila. “People are excited. They want to talk about Griz football. Even renewals, sometimes people wait until the last minute to renew their tickets, but this year you saw quickly that we sent those forms out and they came right back.”
Athletic director Kent Haslam said he didn’t think about ticket sales at all when going through the extensive head coaching search in November, but he quickly realized afterward that his decision had created a buzz.
“Football always brings back a level of excitement, but I think there is a renewed fever pitch out there,” noticed Haslam. “It really is the culmination of a lot, but certainly the return of Coach Hauck has contributed to that excitement.”
After Hauck was hired, UM sold more than 300 new season tickets in the first week alone.
A few seats still remain available for the opening game under the lights versus Northern Iowa. The Griz are hoping to pack in a near-record crowd at 7 p.m. Saturday night.