Old ACC rivals South Carolina and North Carolina will be playing in front of an expected 20,000 empty seats on Thursday night in the Belk College Kickoff at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
Despite the game opening the college football season and being a close drive for fans of both schools, the executive director of the Charlotte Sports Foundation, Will Webb, expects 50,000 to 55,000 tickets will be sold in the Carolina Panthers’ 73,298-seat stadium.
High ticket prices – which range from $70 for upper deck tickets to $258 for club level seats – have been blamed for the crowd size.
USC coach Steve Spurrier said on his call-in show last week that the ticket he was issued for his wife was priced at $257.
“That’s Super Bowl prices,” Spurrier said. “I think that’s a little too steep or else we could fill the ballpark.”
Ticket prices were set by the game’s organizing committee and not the participating universities.
South Carolina athletics director Ray Tanner told the school’s board this summer that he had been asked a lot about the prices and ‘we did not have anything to do with the ticket prices for that game.
“That is an expensive ticket,” he said.
Webb defended the prices, saying they are on par with other major neutral site college football kickoff games. But he said his group will consider lowering ticket prices for future games.
“The ticket prices were set a couple of years ago and we looked at the four major games this year, Atlanta, Charlotte, Houston and Dallas; we’re at the third highest for our club seats,” he said. “Our upper deck tickets are not out of line with what other major games are charging. It is what it is. We’re going to look at it and see if we need to re-evaluate those before we do another game.”
Webb also blamed the lagging attendance for the game being moved from Saturday to Thursday to accommodate ESPN.
“This is a learning curve for us,” he said. “There are challenges to having a game on Thursday – people are coming from work and have to go to work the next day. But ESPN asked if we’d move it, and we said let’s do it.”
Webb said both schools sold out their allotments of 12,500 tickets, with South Carolina asking for more. Webb said he expects a pro-USC crowd in Bank of America Stadium.
“I think Thursday night’s going to be a good crowd, very enthusiastic crowd,” he said. “It sounds like there’s going to be more garnet than blue in there but we’ll see what turns out.”
Even with a less-than-capacity crowd, South Carolina and North Carolina have each been guaranteed a $3.2 million payout for the game, which is more than the school clears from an average home game, Tanner said.
"That’s a great day for us," Tanner told the school’s Board of Trustees in June.
So lucrative that an agreement for two more games to be played in Charlotte between USC and UNC is close to being finalized, Webb confirmed to The State on Tuesday.
“This is a rivalry that ought to be. Will it ever be the stature of Clemson-Carolina? I don’t know, but these are two very prominent state institutions,” Webb said. “They have a long history. They share a long border. They share a lot of split rivalries and I think that for a lot of folks, this is a game that should have been happening all along.”
Spurrier agrees that the two teams playing routinely makes sense.
“It’s sort of a natural game,” he said. “They are our border state. It used to be a big game back when both were in the ACC. I think the fans like a game against somebody close by.”
UNC coach Larry Fedora said his players view South Carolina as a rival.
“I’m sure they do. They know where the state of South Carolina is compared to North Carolina. They know it’s a little bit south of us,” he said. “I think the guys are excited about playing in Charlotte, playing in Bank of America Stadium. It should be a lot of fun, and it ought to be a great, great game.”
The schools played regularly when South Carolina was a member of the ACC and continued to face each other throughout the 1970s and ’80s before USC joined the SEC. The Tar Heels and Gamecocks didn’t play between 1992 and 2006. They opened the 2013 season in Columbia, a 27-10 South Carolina victory.
Staff reporter Josh Kendall and The Charlotte Observer contributed to this story.