The ACC was put in a difficult position earlier this year, as the league’s membership elected to move the ACC Championship Game away from Charlotte in favor of Orlando, Florida. The decision to leave Charlotte was prompted by HB2, a controversial bill passed by North Carolina’s General Assembly and passed into law by outgoing state Governor Pat McCrory.
Though Clemson punched a return ticket to the College Football Playoff with its victory over Virginia Tech in this year’s ACC Championship Game, the officially-reported attendance of 50,628 was the lowest in the 12-year history of the contest.
Astoundingly, a game featuring two of the more passionate fanbases in the entire ACC — Clemson and Virginia Tech — sold fewer tickets than the 2006 ACC Championship Game between Wake Forest and Georgia Tech, two of the league’s smaller fanbases.
That 2006 game, held in Jacksonville, Florida, sold approximately 62,850 tickets — though estimates were that approximately 45,000 to 50,000 actual spectators sat through driving rain to see the Demon Deacons defeat the Yellow Jackets for Wake Forest’s lone ACC title in the post-expansion era.
After lackluster crowds highlighted the first five ACC Championship Games, held in Jacksonville (2005-2007) and Tampa (2008-2009), the ACC profited handsomely from moving the ACC Championship Game to Charlotte in 2010. The contest produced three sellouts in six years, with average crowds approaching 70,000 per game.
Tiger and Hokie fans mutually flocked to Bank of America Stadium in 2011 — the last time the two schools met in the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte — as more than 73,000 spectators jammed into the Carolina Panthers’ home stadium. The other two sellouts were 2010, when Virginia Tech and Florida State played the first ACC Championship Game in Charlotte, and last year’s Clemson-North Carolina matchup.
Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte is the type of centrally-located destination that both Clemson and Virginia Tech fans are capable of driving to, and then back to their homes, in a single day if they choose. At worst, a trip to Charlotte for those fanbases requires a one-night hotel stay.
Compare that to Camping World Stadium in Orlando, which would have required Tiger and Hokie fans living in South Carolina and Virginia to drive multiple days or fly down, purchase anywhere from one to three nights of hotel rooms, as well as putting gas in the car and food in the stomach.
Tens of thousands of Clemson fans, hopeful that they’d get a chance at seeing the Tigers in action in the College Football Playoff, elected to save their money and vacation time instead of making their way to Orlando. It was a smart move, as many of them were able to scoop up tickets on the cheap for the Fiesta Bowl, and will head to Arizona to see the Tigers take on Ohio State.
For the ACC, the lesson to be learned is pretty much the same one they learned a decade ago in both football and men’s basketball — the league’s marquee postseason events will always do better in North Carolina compared to Florida.