Varsity Notebook: PIAA feels sting of attendance fall
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Fewer people are attending state playoff and championship games, and the lack of fans is creating a fiscal concern for the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association.
At the PIAA Board of Control fall meetings last week, the organization released financial records that showed a loss of approximately $87,000 for the fiscal year ending June 30. Much of the reason for the shortfall was a big drop in revenue from playoff and championship tickets, primarily in football, basketball and wrestling.
PIAA championship revenue, which comes primarily from ticket sales, was approximately $192,000 less than budgeted.
"There is no question it's a concern," said PIAA executive director Brad Cashman. "Our revenues have dropped over the years, but last year was by far the worst. ... We're not going to be able to sustain many more years like last year in terms of excess decreases in our revenue.
"We don't have a very large reserve. We're certainly going to have to dip into that. We had to dip into it last year."
Championship revenue includes all PIAA playoff games, and not just championship contests. But the drop in ticket revenue is evident from attendance at championship events, especially basketball. The eight PIAA championship basketball games in 2009 (four boys' games and four girls' games) drew only 18,620 fans at Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center. The 2008 attendance was 22,539 and the 2007 attendance, 33,008.
From 2004 through 2006, attendance for the basketball championships was between 33,000 and 34,000 at the Giant Center in Hershey.
The four PIAA football championships at Hersheypark Stadium in 2008 drew only 12,418 fans. That was one of the lowest attendance figures in the history of the games. Only two years earlier, the games drew 21,228. From 2003 through 2005, the attendance figures were 13,140 (2003), 15,751 (2004) and 14,891 (2005).
Cashman said attendance at the individual wrestling championships also has been on the decline for the past few years.
"I think three things have affected attendance -- the economy, the fan base of the teams playing and the weather," Cashman said. "Certainly, the downturn in the economy recently was a big factor.
"Plus, a lot depends on the teams in the tournaments and how deep they go into the playoffs.
"The more some teams win, the better our revenues because their fans are just very, very loyal. Other schools and other teams just don't have the same following or fan base."
Basketball championship attendance in the past couple of years drastically has been affected by the addition of the Philadelphia Public and Catholic League to the PIAA.
Some schools from the Philadelphia Public League are charter schools and the PIAA is lucky if they bring 200 fans to the basketball championships.
"There is also some concern that we're losing fans to events that are on live TV," Cashman said.
The football and basketball championships, and the individual wrestling championships are televised live on PCN.
"There could certainly be an argument made about the TV," Cashman said. "People say, 'Why should I go to Hersheypark Stadium in a blizzard for a game when I can watch it in the comfort of my den?"
The PIAA Strategic Planning Committee meets before Board of Control meetings to discuss ideas that might be presented to the board.
Last week, Cashman presented a proposal to the planning committee that would give the 12 districts around the state the choice of starting football practice one week earlier than other fall sports. This idea would keep the football season at 16 weeks, but cut a week off at the end of the season, so football wouldn't interfere as much with winter sports.
This idea has been discussed before and the WPIAL (District 7) strongly favored the idea. But Cashman's proposal was defeated, 7-5.
The strange thing is a number of people on the Board of Control and the planning committee said this summer that something needed to be done to shorten the length of the football season. But, when given the chance to somewhat address the issue, the planning committee voted against it.
Franklin Regional offensive lineman Sean Hickey might not have a reputation as big as a few other WPIAL offensive linemen, but Hickey (6 feet 6, 280 pounds) is getting recruited fairly heavily. Over the past three weeks, he has visited Boston College and Illinois, which are his top choices.
"I'm still considering Syracuse as well," Hickey said. "As things are progressing, I might visit Syracuse after the season, but I could pick a school before that."
• Penn Hills receiver-defensive back Brandon Ifill had said this summer that Maryland was his top college choice, but he now says he has narrowed his list to Pitt and Maryland. He doesn't think he will decide for a few months.
• Hopewell is 6-0 for the first time since 2002, when Paul Posluszny was playing halfback for the Vikings and they went on to win a PIAA championship.
• Harrisburg Bishop McDevitt, which has been one of the top Class AAAA teams in the state over the past few years, is dropping to Class AAA next season.
• Jeff Cheatham is the new girls' basketball coach at Valley. Cheatham is the father of former Blackhawk High and Ohio State player Brandon Fuss-Cheatham.
First Published October 16, 2009 12:00 am