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Officials optimistic during challenges

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East Carolina baseball fans watch as UNC Wilmington’s Kep Brown jumps for the ball on an ECU home run during the NCAA Greenville Regional on June 1. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The success of a profitable NCAA baseball regional held at Clark-LeClair Stadium in June and positive vibes from fans at recent Pirate Club armada events had officials optimistic at Thursday’s Athletics and Advancement Committee portion of the East Carolina Board of Trustees meeting, but the Pirates are still behind pace in football season ticket sales.

While recognizing that ECU football ticket sales have declined significantly the past few years amid losing seasons, athletics acting chief operating officer Lee Workman said multiple factors led to some stabilization in May and June.

There is still ground to be made up to match the total of 16,130 season tickets at the start of the 2017 football season. On Thursday afternoon, the ECU ticket office reported 11,507 season tickets sold for this year.

That number remains approximately 3,000 behind what it was at this time a year ago.

“We saw positive growth (from mid-May through the end of June) and we have to continue to build on that in July and August with more promotions and more effort and more work,” Workman said. “We still have a lot of work to do, but April, May and June were good months for the Pirate Club as well, and if April, May and June were any indication then we’ve seen some signs of things starting to go in a positive direction for us.

“The support of our Pirate fans is the lifeblood of what we do in athletics.”

Thursday’s meeting included board members discussing strategies for continuing to increase ticket sales and fan enthusiasm, including targeting certain demographics within the Pirate Club and also fans who might have left the Pirate Club.

Workman said the week of the baseball regional held in June, the first time the Pirates hosted in Greenville since 2009, brought in 180 new Pirate Club members. After paying the NCAA its guaranteed cut, ECU profited approximately $70,000 from serving as a host.

The double-elimination tournament was sold out prior to the first game. No. 2 seed South Carolina ended up winning the regional, getting a boost from beating the Pirates during Day 2 action that was defined by multiple inclement weather delays.

South Carolina and UNC Wilmington played in the championship game after UNCW eliminated the Pirates.

“It’s a great compliment obviously to our fans and what they did to support that event,” Workman said. “They also created a tremendous atmosphere, even when it rained and they had to leave (the stadium) and come back and were still there at 1 o’clock in the morning.”

ECU special athletics adviser Dave Hart was at the meeting. He lives in Knoxville, Tenn., and during his update he said he is in the final stages of his “deep dive” into ECU athletics.

Hart backed up comments that keeping Pirate fans pleased and energized is important for this fall and beyond.

“The fan base will be back,” said Hart, a former athletics director at ECU, Florida State and Tennessee. “They have a passion for it and deserve for the ship to be righted, and it will.”

J.J. McLamb, the Pirates’ senior associate AD for internal operations, provided updates on the $60 million Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium southside renovation project that will continue through football season and alter the game day experience for some fans. He detailed changes to parking and concessions and that there will be a temporary, open-air press box used for this season as the new press box and suites structure is being built for 2019.

“We will have our full complement of game day operations and what it takes to put on a game,” McLamb said of this season, which begins Sept. 1 when the Pirates host North Carolina A&T.

McLamb also said the indoor baseball hitting facility and first-floor reconstruction of the Ward Sports Medicine building are on schedule to be completed by Aug. 1.

The Ward facility will be the new central area for athletic trainers and equipment, and featuring a nutrition/​fueling station for athletes. It will be available to all ECU sports teams while also featuring a football locker room and new lounge area.

“It has come a long way and every day you can see something different that has been added,” McLamb said.

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

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