Will a New Stadium Create New Fans For The Georgia State Panthers?
A new coach. A new stadium. But will we see the same old underachieving Panthers in 2017? We explore.
If you repurpose it, they will come. That’s what Georgia State is betting on, hoping that purchasing and repurposing old Turner Field will improve upon the Sun Belt’s second worse reported attendance in 2016. Last year, Panthers fans edged out flagging ULM by an average attendance total, 12,610 to 15,103.
Turner Field, now Parker H. Petit Field at Georgia State Stadium, is undisputedly an upgrade over the cavernous Georgia Dome, which made the Panthers’ streamlined fan base practically vanish on ESPN3 broadcasts. The new digs – an aggressive remodeling of a venue designed for baseball – has racked up a $28M price tag (or about a $1.10 in Power Five money). A bonus bragging point: Georgia State will reportedly feature the eighth largest video board in college football.
Though the old upper deck remains, the GSU athletic department will make only the estimated 25,000 lower and middle bowl seats available.Concentrating seating to the lower sections should help Panthers fans stand out. Despite the conversion from baseball only to football, the layout seems only slightly unorthodox when viewed from above.
Will “Dumping the Dome” bring in fans?
Well, so far, so good. According to the Georgia State athletic department, single game tickets sales are the highest since the program’s inaugural season in 2010. Better yet, season ticket sales are doubled over last year’s numbers. Actual numbers are still a Georgia State secret, but everyone seems positive. The schedule-maker chose wisely by opening the season at home with Tennessee State before later tackling Memphis, a more quality (and entertaining) opponent. Best of all, Georgia State gets to host two of the conference’s preseason frontrunners – Appalachian State and Troy. Who’d want to miss that?
But new venues are no substitute for winning football games. The Panthers haven’t enjoyed a winning season since their first year of football in 2010 (though at 6-6, they were invited to a bowl game in 2015). Fans can only endure so much futility.
Can the Panthers’ performance match the investment?
What Georgia State has in a new football facility it lacks in rich gridiron tradition. Having started as an FCS Independent in 2010, the Panthers fast-tracked its program and joined the Sun Belt in 2013. Results have been mostly painful, with Georgia State winning only seven Sun Belt games in four seasons. Last year’s “step back” 3-9 season cost head coach Trent Miles his job.
Enter former South Carolina co-offensive coordinator Shawn Elliot, tasked with creating a winning team from a roster that is tough on defense and has intriguing talent at quarterback and wide receiver.
- WR Robert Davis (3,394 yards, 17 TDs career)
- TE Keith Rucker (1,148, 10 TDs career)
- S Bobby Baker (156 tackles, 3 picks career)
- QB Connor Manning (2,684 yards, 16 TDs, 13 INTS)
- WR Penny Hart (SBC Freshman of the Year 2015)
- WR Todd Boyd (33 catches, 352 yds)
- DB Chandon Sullivan (3 Picks)
- DB B.J. Clay (3 Picks)
- DE Mackendy Cheridor (2.5 sacks, 6 TFL)
- LB Michael Shaw, JR. (76 tackles, 12 TFL)
Hart, who missed the entire season in 2016 due to injury, is a nice re-addition to the Panther offense. If Manning can reduce his picks, Hart and Boyd should see plenty of end zones this season. Georgia State’s defense, ranked 46th in the nation for Total D last year, will once again contend with the conference’s top ranked units at Arkansas State and Appalachian State. New defensive coordinator Nate Fuqua gives the unit a fresh perspective
The Panthers have all the pieces. But will Elliot develop the successful formula that eluded Miles?
The new stadium is very pretty, and it’s good for both the Panthers and the Sun Belt. But the Panthers need to compete in 2017 to win the hearts and wallets of Atlanta. (Imagine the goodwill had the Panthers managed to upend Wisconsin last year.) Entering into a new venue, and infused with fresh energy from a much needed coaching change, the Panthers have the momentum and talent to make teams nervous in the Sun Belt.
The fans will come for Georgia State Stadium. They’ll stay for the winning. It’s that hard.
(CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post failed to note Georgia State’s 6-5 season in 2010. We deeply regret this error and have summarily launched the responsible party into the Sun.)