Aaron Schoonmaker

ACC tourney schedule favors Triangle fans for good reason

Posted May 17, 2015

— The 2015 ACC Baseball Championships get underway at Durham Bulls Athletic Park Tuesday. The venue that has hosted three of the last five years, and will be the backdrop for each of the next four, has been lauded as “centrally located” by coaches and even ACC commissioner John Swofford.

That central location, however, seems to be more of a home field advantage for the Triangle teams and a money-making opportunity for the ACC when it comes to scheduling. Not that either one is bad for the sport that has fallen well below the revenue line and is struggling to maintain large-scale relevance in college athletics.

“I think Durham is the logical place for this tournament to be,” said Duke head coach Chris Pollard a couple weeks ago. “It’s a central location geographically. Certainly we have great fan bases here in this area that are going to sustain this tournament year-after-year.”

This year, Notre Dame – whose 705 miles of separation from Durham is only exceeded by the 825 miles that Miami faces – is one of two teams in the field that is not scheduled to play a primetime, 7 p.m. game during pool play. The other is No. 5 Clemson who drew the short end of the stick by potentially being in the same pool as North Carolina.

Meanwhile, Triangle fans will get treated to their local teams in primetime starts every night of the event.

If UNC can get past Virginia Tech in the play-in game, a likely but not forgone conclusion, the Tar Heels will play at 7 p.m. in each of their first two pool play games. Of course the opponents help too. UNC will play No. 1 seed Louisville Wednesday night and No. 4 Florida State Thursday. Their lone non-primetime game is against the aforementioned Clemson on Friday at 3 p.m.

NC State’s draw is similar as they will be featured in the 7 p.m. Friday night game against No. 2 Miami. And for good measure, the Wolfpack will wrap up the pool play slate on Saturday night against either 2014 ACC champion Georgia Tech or the well-traveled Virginia Cavaliers. The only early start for NC State this week will come Thursday morning at 11 a.m. against the Irish.

The ACC is not stupid. They know what games will draw fans to the ticket window and have them in their seats for a better picture on TV. Sunday's championship game on ESPN2 aside, the post-work crowd that flips to Fox Sports South at 7 p.m. next week will see a fuller stadium than the 11 a.m. sneak-a-peek-at-lunch crowd.

Similar scheduling patterns have happened in years past. Look no further than the much-anticipated UNC-NC State game in 2013. A 7 p.m. start on Saturday that drew a record crowd of better than 11,000. The same thing happened in the 2014 tournament in Greensboro when Maryland and Georgia Tech were denied a primetime game but No. 7 seed UNC played twice at 7p, as did nearby No. 3 Virginia.

In 2013 at DBAP, primetime games involving either UNC or NC State drew an average of 7,224 fans. The lone 7 p.m. game that week that did not feature a Triangle school barely cracked 3,000 (3,020). That same year, the Triangle duo played just two non-primetime games and drew an average of 3,432 – and neither game was on Saturday. That average was almost identical to the 3,438 that the two other non-Triangle weekend games drew and better than the 3,033 fans that averaged in attendance for non-Triangle games for the week.

In 2014, even with Duke replacing NC State as the Triangle compliment to UNC, games involving area teams drew nearly 1,000 fans better per game. The 7 p.m. time slot saw UNC play twice – drawing an average of 5,260. It also saw two primetime games not involving a Triangle team – and had the benefit of Virginia vs. Florida State on Saturday – and still averaged to draw just 4,357.

Attendance numbers from past tournaments in Jacksonville and other cities is not easily accessible, but suffice it to saw there is a reason the event has been played in either Durham or Greensboro every year since 2009.

This year, the ACC has the luxury of placing a high-demand game on Saturday morning – No. 1 Louisville vs. No. 4 Florida State at 11 a.m. -- against No. 6 NC State vs. a play-in winner at 7 p.m. That will be a good barometer game in terms of attendance going forward for the ACC. Will they begin to value the best match-up against the Triangle representative? What attendance margin would it take to make the swap in the future?

It is not at all surprising that the closer in proximity to the tournament a fan base is, the greater support that team will have. It should also not be shocking that in an effort to make money on a broad level – ticket sales, national television exposure, etc. – that the ACC would feature their best in primetime.

The ACC has this figured out and overall it is for the better. I am positive they have reviewed the same numbers I have – and in much, much more detail.

The one thing I think everybody can agree on is that the next week at DBAP will be fun and filled with high-quality baseball. The next step for the conference will be to have the last team standing in Omaha.

Tickets for the six-day, 15-game baseball tournament can be purchased by calling 919-956-BULL or visiting durhambulls.com

2015 ACC Baseball Championships Schedule
At Durham Bulls Athletic Park
Tuesday (Play-in Round)

11 a.m. – Virginia vs. Georgia Tech
3 p.m. – North Carolina vs. Virginia Tech (Buzz Sports Radio (99.3/96.5 FM))
Wednesday
11 a.m. – No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 5 Clemson
3 p.m. – No. 2 Miami vs. No. 7/Virginia/No. 10 Georgia Tech
7 p.m. – No. 1 Louisville vs. No. 8/UNC/No. 9 Virginia Tech (99.9 The Fan ESPN Radio)
Thursday
11 a.m. – No. 3 Notre Dame vs. No. 6 NC State (Buzz Sports Radio (99.3/96.5 FM))
3 p.m. – No. 5 Clemson vs. no. 1 Louisville
7 p.m. – No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 8 UNC/No. 9 Virginia Tech (99.9 The Fan ESPN Radio)
Friday
11 a.m. – No. 3 Notre Dame vs. No. 7 Virginia/No. 10 Georgia Tech
3 p.m. – No. 5 Clemson vs. No. 8 UNC/No. 9 Virginia Tech (Buzz Sports Radio (99.3/96.5 FM))
7 p.m. – No. 2 Miami vs. No. 2 NC State (99.9 The Fan ESPN Radio)
Saturday
11 a.m. – No. 1 Louisville vs. No. 4 Florida State (99.9 The Fan ESPN Radio)
3 p.m. – No. 2 Miami vs. No. 3 Notre Dame (99.9 The Fan ESPN Radio)
7 p.m. – No. 6 NC State vs. No. 7 Virginia/No. 10 Georgia Tech (99.9 The Fan ESPN Radio)
Sunday
Championship Game

1 p.m. – Teams TBD (99.9 The Fan ESPN Radio)

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