May 9—University of Toledo fans are ready for some football.
Their purse strings have done the talking.
Despite lingering uncertainty regarding stadium capacity and coronavirus protocols, season ticket renewals are at 53 percent, only 2 percent lower at the same point in 2019 when the Rockets had a marquee opponent in Brigham Young on the home schedule.
The 2021 slate doesn't have the same pizzazz. There is no rivalry game against Bowling Green. The season-finale versus Akron is scheduled for the same day as the Ohio State-Michigan game.
None of that matters. The midnight blue and gold faithful are eager to fill the Glass Bowl.
"People are excited to see sports," Toledo coach Jason Candle said. "This has been a long haul and a grueling process. People want to cheer on the home team. You're starting to see that in Major League Baseball. I saw the Rangers game had 36,000 people. It's, proceed with caution, but people are excited about sports and getting back to normal life as best they can."
UT has acquired about 300 new season-ticket holders this year, nearly double the amount in 2019. They average about 10,000 season tickets per year, with an annual renewal rate between 85 and 90 percent.
The athletic department believes that figure is still attainable. A second surge of renewals typically takes place in July and August as Mid-American Conference media day, the start of fall camp, and increased news coverage get football on the mind.
"If you have Miami of Florida and BG, [the renewal rate] is going to be really high," UT deputy director of athletics David Nottke said. "If you have bigger games on weeknights, it won't be. There are a lot of things that can play with those numbers. If we're able to get to 100 percent capacity, we could get to 85 to 90 percent."
Toledo has six home games in 2021, with five falling on Saturday. A time for the Sept. 4 season opener against Norfolk State hasn't been announced, but it will presumably be at night because of the Solheim Cup. Colorado State, which has gone 8-20 the past three seasons, is the premier nonconference game. Northern Illinois on Oct. 9 is homecoming.
Western Michigan (Oct. 23), Eastern Michigan (Nov. 2), and Akron (Nov. 27) round out the schedule.
"We're hoping that there won't be as much uncertainty as maybe there is now in the fall," Toledo athletic director Mike O'Brien said. "Since early spring, we've been planning on things returning to — if there is such a thing now — normal. That's been our plan for fall of 2021.
"Our Rocket fans are terrific. I'm not surprised [at the renewal rate]. We're all so excited about getting back into the Glass Bowl and cheering on the Rockets. Our schedule is attractive, and we feel that our team is going to be very competitive. Jason has a great product. I think everybody is ready to go."
So, what will the capacity be at the Glass Bowl? To be determined.
The state of Ohio does not currently have capacity limitations for outdoor events, although there is a social-distancing guideline that doesn't allow more than 10 people to sit together in a single pod. In 2020, it was the Big Ten and the MAC that set fan restrictions, not states.
Gov. Mike DeWine is confident that stadiums across Ohio will be full when the season begins in September.
"Ohio has set a benchmark that we will remove COVID mitigation protocols when we drop below high case levels," DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney told The Blade. "This will happen when our two-week case rate drops below 50 cases per 100,000 residents. We believe this is likely to happen well before the start of football season, and the CDC echoed that optimism in statements this week."
Ohio's current coronavirus rate is 141 cases per 100,000 people, down from 187 two weeks ago and 201 the week before that.
"There's no manual on the shelf on how to deal with this," Nottke said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing folks are dealing with. Ideally, I'd love to have things wrapped up by the first of August. We have to get all of the ticketing done. If we have to shuffle seats for distancing, we need a little bit of time to do that. Our hope is that we're back to something very close to normal. But, ultimately, we want to do everything safe. Our Rocket fans are family to us."
Even if UT is only permitted to have 50 percent capacity, it would be able to accommodate season-ticket holders and students.
Candle refuses to daydream about Sept. 4 and what it might be like running out of the tunnel into a full Glass Bowl. By then, 22 months will have passed since Toledo played a football game under normal conditions. Those days will return sooner or later.
"All of this is still out of everybody's control," Candle said. "We're still in an unclear situation and one that might not provide any clarity soon.
"Let's not worry about it, keep getting better, and do what we can do to give ourselves an opportunity to play in front of our fans and put a great product on the field."
First Published May 8, 2021, 9:37am