East Carolina fans hold a sign that reads "No hurricane can stop the Pirates" after East Carolina beats Gardner-Webb a day after Hurricane Dorian hits North Carolina on Sept. 7, 2019.

A concern for East Carolina athletics officials as they are still trying to rejuvenate the Pirates' fan base and get fans back to fill Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium is a decline in Student Pirate Club membership.

Pirate Club executive director Phillip Wood presented numbers during last week's university Board of Trustees meetings that this year's SPC membership of 5,788 is down from 7,793 in 2018. It was 10,498 in 2016.

"The Boneyard (student seating section) was constructed in 2010, and the main benefit for a student to be a Student Pirate Club member was a guaranteed seat in the Boneyard," Wood said. "Here we are nine years later in 2019, and that has kind of dwindled with the demand, and there are some things internally we are looking at with how tickets are distributed.

"We have a board of directors of students here at East Carolina, and we've gone to them to help us define really what the benefits are to being a Student Pirate Club member. It can't just be tickets anymore, but we have to show them more value and have to have more events and get coaches in front of them and start educating our students a lot more."

SPC membership costs $50 annually. Students can still go to games for free without being a Pirate Club member.

A positive is that athletics director Jon Gilbert said he was pleased with the 8,300 students who were at the Pirates' home football game against Gardner-Webb on Sept. 7, a 48-9 victory for ECU and part of a 1-2 start to the season that included road losses to N.C. State and Navy.

With season ticket sales up about 1,000 from 2018, overall attendance for ECU's home opener was 34,118.

The Pirates are projecting more people to be at this Saturday's 6 p.m. kickoff at Dowdy-Ficklen against William & Mary for family weekend.

"I do think the advantage we have at East Carolina is we have a passionate fan base," Gilbert said. "While we are not at the top of the (American Athletic Conference) in a lot of categories, we are as it relates to fan support. ... When we had 8,300 students at the Gardner-Webb game, I was pretty fired up about that because they were not in class half of Thursday and all day Friday (because of Hurricane Dorian). I thought that was an exceptional turnout, and I do think our attendance will continue to rise as people watch the leadership of coach Mike Houston."

Houston was hired from James Madison in December and is tasked with turning around a Pirate program that hasn't had a winning season since 2014.

Filling the Boneyard is a vital part of creating an unfavorable atmosphere for opponents at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, but ECU also wants to see Student Pirate Club membership go back on the uptick.

Paying for SPC membership for this year includes a T-shirt, securing a Boneyard seat for football and priority benefits related to parking and for baseball and men's basketball games.

"We have to do a better job of branding the Student Pirate Club, and I think we have to refresh and do some amenities that our students want and care about," Gilbert said.

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