Fresno State has for the past few years been loading up on football games on the road that come with seven-figure guarantees, taking the quick money even if it comes with a potential loss in order to help balance athletic department budgets.
But new athletic director Terry Tumey said that he will be ditching that strategy, banking instead on coach Jeff Tedford and the football program to continue a winning run as well as their San Joaquin Valley fan base to fill Bulldog Stadium and help generate the revenues required to keep afloat a department loaded down by 21 sports programs.
To get there, Tumey said, the Bulldogs will look to secure more home-and-home series with Power Five conference opponents, starting with the Pac-12.
“I think that’s what the community wants to see,” he said. “As I look at the people that we serve, whether it’s the students here, whether it’s our alumni, whether it’s our immediate community, whether it’s the Valley, I think they want to see that and it’s our job to go out and try to make that a reality.”
More attractive opponents could lead to more fans in the seats and it obviously does not hurt if that opponent has a fan base that travels well – the last sellout at 41,031-seat Bulldog Stadium was the home opener in 2014 against Nebraska.
But there are challenges to it, first in scheduling those games and then in rousing a fan base that has not consistently filled Bulldog Stadium for more than a decade.
There also are no guarantees that fans will flock to Bulldog Stadium in passing up a seven-figure guarantee on the road.
“When you get a check for a large game, you still have to take into consideration the expenses that go along with that – the flight, the food, the hotel, the ground transportation. There are expenses,” Tumey said. “I would say there’s some equality, though, to playing a home contest to where not only are we receiving gate revenue from our tickets and then all of the ancillaries that go along with that, whether it’s concessions or tailgating and parking and all of those things. There’s a lot of benefit to that.
“There’s also some benefit of goodwill toward this community that you can’t put a price tag on. You can’t put a price tag on it in terms of what it really does for us moving forward, as we continue down the season.”
The Bulldogs’ scheduling windows for non-conference games start to open in 2023. Until then, Fresno State has a guarantee game with USC and plays Minnesota in the second game of a home-and-home series next season; has guarantee games at Colorado and at Texas A&M in 2020 and at Oregon and at UCLA in 2021; and has a guarantee game at USC and the start of a home-and-home with Oregon State in 2022.
That Minnesota game next season was supposed to be the first in a newly remodeled Bulldog Stadium, a hoped-for spark to the fan base.
In 24 home games since the 2014 game against Nebraska sold out, Fresno State has had less than 30,000 in attendance 12 times.
Only twice in that stretch has there been more than 35,000 in Bulldog Stadium – a 2014 victory over San Jose State and a 2017 opener against Incarnate Word that marked Tedford’s first game as coach at his alma mater and included a halftime ceremony to retire the No. 4 in honor of former Bulldogs quarterback Derek Carr.
This season, the Bulldogs drew only 31,170 for their home opener against Idaho despite coming off a 10-4 season that included a division championship in the Mountain West Conference and the Bulldogs’ first bowl victory since 2007.
The average in the last 24 home games is 28,230.
Tumey believes that can turn, and is confident the Red Wave will respond to a winning program playing Power Five opponents at Bulldog Stadium and reengage with the Bulldogs’ program. A point of reference: the 38-14 victory at UCLA last week that played out in front of a small but boisterous group of Bulldogs’ fans.
That win for the Bulldogs snapped a 10-game losing streak against opponents from Power Five conferences dating to the 2012 season.
“We want to garner those same feelings and that same appreciation that we saw at UCLA,” Tumey said. “UCLA was phenomenal. It was a small road trip, but the Red Wave, we definitely felt their presence, and we feel that is very indicative of what can be a weekly event here at Bulldog Stadium.”
Fresno State future nonconference schedules
at New Mexico State
at Texas A&M
New Mexico State
at Arizona State
at Oregon State