There are good reasons East Carolina is still being prominently mentioned among the candidates for Big East Conference expansion in football.

In fact, if average home attendance were the deciding factor, East Carolina would be the most logical choice, having averaged 49,665 fans per game last season in its 50,000-seat stadium in Greenville, N.C.

  • ECU football averaged 10,000 more fans per game than Central Florida and 18,000 more than Houston — two other leading candidates for Big East membership.
  • ECU probably would be competitive right away, having captured two of the last three C-USA championships and making five bowl games over the last five seasons.
  • East Carolina also says it would join as a football-only member, making it much easier for the conference to absorb than other candidates that have been mentioned.

The anti-East Carolina critics would say it’s all about TV sets. Houston is the 10th biggest television market in the country, Orlando 20th, and Charlotte the 24th largest market, and Raleigh-Durham comes in at No. 27, according to Station Index.

I’ll take actual attendance as a more accurate barometer of fan interest and support over the number of TV sets any day. The larger the market, the more sophisticated the cable systems, the more viewing options for viewers. Has anyone ever asked how numbers of actual fans at games would translate into TV viewers? For example, if there are 10 to 20 viewers for every fan actually attending a game, East Carolina wins this test in a runaway.

One of these days, a light is going turn on for the expansion analysts or, more likely, the advertisers. If fans aren’t attending games in Houston and Orlando, why would they bother watching them on TV?

Share this

By Charlie Springer

Charlie Springer is a former Louisville editor and sportswriter, a public affairs consultant, a UofL grad and longtime fan.

39 thoughts on “East Carolina remains option for Big East expansion”
  1. That is such a great observation!! And one I do not think those enamored with UCF and Houston have taken into account. UCF has over 55K students and is surrounded by a million+ people yet can only gather up 39K for gameday ??? Houston has a larger surrounding and a a few less students … If you cant get enough support to attend, why would TV advertisers expect to have enough ‘watchers’ to justify their ad $$$??? An interesting angle Charlie.

  2. Another factor….ECU fans travel well. The Big East footprint is a much easier drive for ECU fans than their current CUSA schedule. Ultimately you are correct. TV Market only matters if people actually turn on the TV, i.e TEMPLE. East Carolina brings an “SEC Fan Mentality and Passion” to the table. When TV viewers watch a game on a Saturday, they want to see two quality teams play. They want to see full stadiums and passionate fans. THAT is what makes college football great. East Carolina already has a history of some great games with most of the Big East Schools. Hard to imagine Houston and Syracuse building up a good rivalry.

  3. I read the CBSSports article on ECU where it stated that ECU plans to expand their stadium to 60,000 in four years. Impressive. Also the CBSSports article and the writer whom I contacted mentioned that ECU would have the Raleigh-Durham market as well as their home market due to proximity making it very close to Orlando. I really like ECU and like their fans and the fact that they travel and care about their program. Loved my one trip to Greenville when we played them many years ago, a great place to watch college football.

  4. Thank you for stating this. The point you made should not be overlooked during the Big East expansion.
    Come drive anywhere in NC, and you will find LOTS of ECU stickers, merchandise, etc. Greenville might not be huge, but we do carry this entire state as well as much of VA and SC. The Big East in NC is a perfect fit. A town of around 75k, that can fill a stadium that holds 50k. It’s impressive.

    Oh yeah.. and I did always enjoy the ECU games against UL!

  5. From article:

    East Carolina, whose TV market (ranked No. 25) is surprisingly close to UCF’s No. 19 Orlando TV market, has led C-USA in attendance the past three seasons and had the second-highest non-AQ home attendance average last season (49,665).

    East Carolina athletic director Terry Holland would not specifically address the Pirates’ interest in the Big East, but did address with whether ECU could compete in any conference. Houston AD Mack Rhoades and UCF AD Keith Tribble declined comment for this story.

    “I believe that East Carolina’s ability to compete with most of the institutions in the conferences with automatic qualification has been proven on the field, in the stands and by the marketplace,” Holland said.

    Since 2005, the Pirates have seven wins against AQ BCS conferences; the second most of the Big East candidates behind Navy’s 14-17 record vs. AQ BCS teams.

    Holland also referenced the 2009 Liberty Bowl between East Carolina and Arkansas, which drew a 10.3 rating (2.4 million households) on ESPN in the combined markets of Greenville, Raleigh/Durham and Charlotte, N.C., compared to the 2008 Holiday Bowl between TCU and Boise State, which drew a 5.1 rating (2.4 million households) in Dallas/Fort Worth.

    Holland added the Pirates’ attendance numbers — they would have ranked fourth last year in the Big East in attendance (49,665) — will increase when ECU’s stadium expands to 60,000 in 2016.

  6. This is a great point I have been wondering about for years with conference expansion always seeming to have its prime focus on the size of a college’s host city’s TV market. Heck, by that logic if we started conference expansion from scratch half the teams in the SEC would be out of the BCS. Oxford, Athens, Tuscaloosa, etc. aren’t in big markets but give us great football people all over the country want to watch. The same could be said for numerous other shcools around the country that have already made it. ECU would bring the same thing to the table in the Big East – a big time football environment with full stadiums and a competitive team year in and year out.

  7. As much as I would like to see my Cougars in the Big East, it would not be a good fit. Being in the 10th largest market would bring nothing to the Big East as it is dominated by the three professional teams (espically the Texans), Texas and Texas A & M. Attendence at UH games has always been a problem and bringing Louisville, UConn, WVU or Rutgers would not move the needle one bit. East Coast football is not a big topic down here. That being said just about any addition would be better than adding Villanova.

  8. Thanks for bringing this point up which the folks in Orlando always fail to overlook… They can’t get them in the stands, why would they watch them on TV? They can’t fill a stadium smaller than their current student enrollment while ECU can fill one almost double theirs, and considering the university had a fall 2010 enrollment of nearly 28,000, that’s pretty darn impressive. Bring us into the family Big East and you won’t be sorry.

  9. There are a lot of great colleges in North Carolina, and one thing well known, is how the state is dominated by the ACC. East Carolina has always differentiated itself by putting football first (in a state where basketball is king). Bringing in East Carolina, would give the Big East a foothold in the Carolina’s, both from a recruiting and exposure standpoint. I would also point out that Tidewater/Hampton Roads Virginia, which has an MSA of nearly 1.6MM people, is roughly 2.5 hours from Greenville, NC. Pirate Alumni are alive and well in Virginia.

  10. I realize that TV is where the money is but all this talk about market size is kind of irrelevant. The passion of the Pirate fan base is what it’s all about. I’m a ECU grad and I live on the other side of the state from Greenville. Every Saturday I watch the Pirates play either on TV or the internet. I make an effort to travel to at least one game a year, either home or away. Point being, Pirates are passionate and travel well. How many UCF, or Houston fans do you think would make the trip to Louisville for an away game? The Pirates will bring thousands into your community to spend their money at your local hotels, restaurants and bars. TV money is great for the networks and schools but traveling fans bring their money straight to the community! GO PIRATES!!!

    1. How many UL fans would go to Orlando in December? Oops, I forgot that forty million people visited Orlando last year.

  11. ECU will bring many fans to B.E.away games will rock the staduim on gameday at home and yes will give the B.E. a market into N.c.,S.c> and bring back the market lost when Va.Tech left and reachs in to D.C.

  12. Finally someone has come out of the dark and seen the light. If you can’t fill a stadium in a market with over two million population how exactly does that translate to viewership interest on TV? It doesn’t. If they don’t care enough to support the program they are less likely to watch when given other options.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. East Carolina has fans who care about their program and show up to prove it — even in a town with less than 80,000. I’d love to have 2 million in the neighborhood. East Carolina would build a 200,000 seat stadium and still need to expand!

  13. Good article and good thread. Truthfully the arguing that goes on between ECU and UCF TV markets I think is made a huge deal by the fans and not really considered so strongly be the powers that be. ECU has always had a strong TV market and at one point in the 90s was the only other school besides Notre Dame to have a individual TV contract (ESPN). We have a schedule every year that brings national games outside of the CUSA deal. Our ratings in those games are have always been good, and we have an established schedule and future schedule that are enormously better than UCFs, look at how they have changed in the last 10 years. UCF is busy playing Buffalo and 1-AA teams while we are on the road at VT and the like and bring ACC/SEC teams to Greenville and use Charlotte for neutral site games. I know you’ve had random big series with Texas UCF but I’m talking about continued relationships with these schools here. Finally on top of all this we have great series histories with WVU, Syracuse, Pitt, USF, UL, Cincy and even had good games with TCU. I think if the BE wants to expand ECU is the fit unless politics can override the obvious, which in this day and age of football probably counts for more than all I just mentioned.

  14. As a Big East fan I would rather see ECU and Navy come into the conference rather than UCF and Houston. The fact that everyone in the BE is so high on UCF is because they all have short term memories. They think that because UCF had a good start to the B-Ball season, and that they finished with BCS ranking of 25 they are the best option. However, Both Navy and ECU have had a better long term history in terms of wins against BCS opponents. There are also a few other reasons why UCF really does not cut it:

    1). Overlapping TV market with USF. Both schools have campuses that are less than 50 miles from each other.

    2). Luke warm attendance for home games. UCF has to beg the students to show up for even some of the biggest games.

    3). The TV market fantasy. Really is there that much of a difference between being in the 20th ranked market (UCF), as opposed to the 24th (ECU)?

    4). Finally, UCF does not add to the footprint seeing that USF already has the middle of the state. ECU and Navy would give the BE a footprint in North Carolina, while Navy would give us a footprint in the Maryland/Virginia/D.C. area. This is an area that the BE has not had representation in since VT left the conference.

    Its simple math, Navy and ECU are better options than Houston and UCF!

    1. I like the idea of Navy and East Carolina as well. Just hope Navy will go along with it. Houston would be a disaster. Central Florida seems to lack direction in athletics for now.

  15. It’s nice to see so many on the same page be nice to play old friends and old foes once more

  16. Let’s be completely honest about the ECU’s Liberty Bowl rating. The Liberty Bowl’s rating was, for most of the game, at 4.4, with an average of 6.5 million viewers for the 3 1/2 -hour telecast. That ranked behind the Alamo Bowl (5.6), the Emerald Bowl (5.3) and the Chick-fil-A Bowl (4.9).

    “But in the last hour of our game, because of the drama of a tight game that went to overtime, we drew an average of 10.5 million viewers and a 7.3 rating.” So when all the other games scheduled at the same time were over, and the ECU overtime game was the only game on, people tuned in.

    Admittedly, ECU travels well. The crowd of 62,740 was the second-highest in the bowl’s history, topped only by the 63,816 attending the Mississippi State – UCF game three years before.

  17. So, about 1000 more fans at a Bowl Game 3 years prior is an important stat, even though it is indisputable when comparing and considering long term, year after year, home attendance numbers? Not to mention the disparity of the actual number of Bowl Games that ECU has played in vs. UCF over the years. There is a reason ECU is able to boast ever increasing attendance and interest. It is growing larger, and moving forward faster with or without a BCS Label, than any other program. The Big East really has no other options better when looking for expansion members than ECU. ECU owns it’s own market. UCF and Houston DO NOT dominate their own!!! In fact, ECU would have done better in ticket sales than UConn did last year when they played in their first ever BCS Bowl game.

  18. charlie, what does charlotte tv market have to do with ecu?

    charlotte is 250 miles from ecu’s campus. that’s almost like univ of memphis saying they own the st louis tv market or cfu saying they own the miami tv market or vandy owning atl’s tv market.

    1. You’re right, atlcard. Raleigh-Durham, which is 27th ranked (a couple of notches down from Charlotte) would have been much better.

      1. Charlie,

        One more thing to note. The largest alumni base outside of NC. is the tidewater va area. Ecu is also the closet D1 program to that area.

  19. Concerning the Charlotte Market. ECU has thousands of alumni living there. Many Charlotte area students go to ECU. Think about it. ECU is the 3rd largest University in NC. Wouldn’t one think that a lot of people in Charlotte have an interest in ECU considering this. Many ECU graduates go there to start their careers. The Raleigh/Durham Market, Richmond VA Market, and the Tidewater Va Market also are where a lot of ECU alumni and graduates migrate to for work. That is why all of those metropolotan areas are great ECU Markets. Many of the 50K fans that come to Greenville for game day travel from all of those Markets. If they cannot come for the game they sure will be trying to watch on TV. I agree with this thread a great deal. ECU’s TV Market is quite large and larger than what some are trying to say it is. If the Big East decision makers can’t see this they are in fact blind.

  20. One more thing. East of Interstate 95 in N.C. (an imaginary line separating eastern NC from the rest of NC) are more than one million people spread out over a fairly large area made up of both rural areas and several small cities of anywhere from 25k to 100k people. That market alone is not as small as just what the Greenville/New Bern TV Market seems to be credited for. Greenville and ECU are dead smack in the middle of the entire region (It’s Own Region) of more than 1,000,000 people in the nation’s 10th most populated state. A state projected to be in the top 5 within the next decade. Does anybody see the possibility of ECU’s potential here?

  21. Houston has a few more entertainment options than Greenville so attendance figures are not exactly an indicator. Houston has the decided TV market advantage and I do think that is what will matter to ESPN or whoever else comes forward with a TV contract that makes expansion necessary.

  22. Houston has more entertainment options than Greenville, so attendance is not an indicator? Really? Sorry, but that logic doesn’t work for me. Houston is a huge city, but the reality is that there are WAY more UT fans in Houston than there are UH fans. That is why when UH actually hosted a game against UT a few years back, the Longhorns demanded the game be played in the pro stadium because UH’s stadium was simply too small to accomodate the demand for tickets from UT fans.

    ECU has been competitive against AQ schools since the BCS was formed. They have wins over UNC, NC State, UVA, VT, WVU, South Carolina, Texas Tech, Syracuse, Duke, Miami, and probably a few I missed. Some of these schools have been beaten by the Pirates more than once. ECU has always had great fan support, both for home as well as away games. It is a perfect geographic fit for the Big East, and as stated many times above, has a much more significant TV market than anyone gives them credit for.

    ECU is the logical team to be added to the Big East.

    1. Houston is so big and sprawling that some sections don’t seem to be connected to other portions of the city. There doesn’t seem to be much of a sense of community or local pride, when compared to a Louisville for example. They’ve never been really supportive UH sports and there’s no reason to think that would change if they joined the Big East, no matter how large the TV market is. TV markets are not the equivalent of money trees, at least not in the long term. It’s going to take a while and some people are going to make a lot of money before the realization hits these guys making the quick money right now. The fan base has to make a difference in the number of viewers and East Carolina would win that one.

      1. Accurate assessment of the Houston program. I have been following the program for over 20 years and Houston has to many obstacles to overcome in order to be a BCS type program. Pro sports dominate the media market and both Texas and Texas A & M have more alumni living in the area. There is very little to no civic connection between the city and the University. Houston is an urban university that offers educational opportunities to an extremely diverse student population. Many students do not experience the traditional college life and never develop a life long connection to the school. As a result Houston has never been able to attract a strong hard core fan base.

  23. Charlie, I appreciate your loyalty to ECU and I am not a grad or fan of Houston but please let me state some facts.
    . Houston has had 17 NCAA team champions /more than ECU
    . Houston has appeared in 19 bowl games /more than ECU
    . Houston has had 661 All Americans /all sports, more than ECU
    . Houston has all 12 games on TV /more than ECU
    . Houston currently plays in Robertson stadium which seats only 32000 and so can not match ECU numbers BUT
    THE UNIVERSITY WILL RAISE THE STADIUM AT THE END OF THIS YEAR AND BUILD A NEW ONE WITH 50,000 TO 56,000 SEATS WHICH WILL BE COMPLETE BY 2014. AT that time ECU will be a distant second in almost all respects to Houston.
    . Houston has over 38000 students and is growing. ECU has only 27000.
    Again I do appreciate your opinion but ECU is not part of the Raleigh TV market. It is almost 100 miles distant. That would be like saying that Louisville is part of the Cincinnati TV market. That simply makes no sense.
    If the Big East is able to add teams to get to 12 which are located in large markets it could add several million dollars to the contract. Then if ECU wants to come in as a 13th team (football only) I do not object.
    But lets go with what gets us the money first. Unfortunately that is what is necessary. If that is not the idea of expansion then just add ‘nova and be satisfied with much less.

    1. Just a couple of notes. Of the 17 NCAA championships, all are in men’s golf. The stadium, if the funds are raised, will seat around 40,000 with the ability to expand to 50,000+ if needed.

  24. Thanks for your information TXCARD. I appreciate it.
    Wiki states that 16 of the 17 championships were in golf. I also shortchanged Houston when I said they had 19 bowl appearances. Actually they have been to bowls 20 times.
    I think we can both agree that UH has a better sports history than ECU or UCF. My primary concern with ECU is the complete lack of a TV market. As I wrote in my post once the major market teams are added and a lucrative TV contract is signed let ECU in as a football only member. The Big East was built on major market teams. Only Providence, WVU and ND are from small towns. ND has a national following so for them it does not matter. For FB only members I would put ECU right after BYU and Boise St. I agree with most of what Charlie puts in his post’s and appreciate his insight. However I do not understand the attraction of ECU. Perhaps it is because I once attended a confrence at their campus. I was not impressed.
    Appreciate your posts also, has it reached 105 in the Lone Star yet this year? I have a good friend who lives near Houston and she says there are only two seasons in her area. Summer and Hell. Of course she is from Denmark where it is chilled all year long.

    1. Arguing for the sake of arguing and quoting stats. Houston was also a part of the old Southwest Conference back in the day, so what. I don’t much care if the it’s the Big Least, SEC or ACC. I’d just like to see a university who gets more out of average players (meaning we don’t get the 4 and 5 star athletes) have a chance to prove themselves in a BCS conferences. Houston has its positives and so does ECU. We can talk market and history, but geography and travel costs play a role too. So do existing rivalries or a history of playing teams from the Big East. ECU has all of those. Houston would be a better fit in the Big 12.

  25. Some stats on candidate winning percentages by CALMTEER on ESPN blog may be of interest to those who wish to evaluate future Big East members.
    CALMTEER writes:
    In the last 5 years, the total win percentage of teams stacks up like so:
    TCU(#3), NAVY(#22), UH (#35), UCF(#43), ECU(#48), ARMY(#101)
    -in the what have you done for me lately category Navy is in the top 25 of the whole nation while UH clearly beats out UCF and ECU. Also interesting that UCF beat ECU by a small amount.

    In the last 10 years total win percentage is:
    TCU(#5), NAVY(#51), UCF(#64), UH(#69), ECU(#71), ARMY(#116)

    And ALL TIME winning percentage is:
    ARMY(#37), NAVY(#53), TCU(#58), UH(#62), ECU(#68), UCF(#70)

    Thanks CALMTEER for the information. It shows how wise the TCU add was and how UCF, UH may also help the BE

  26. If someone goes to CALMTEER for infor they are in deep poo poo. AS one reads statics of winning per. do you look at who these schools played.Guess beating what was once called D.1AA counts but if you look that who and where these games were played Navy is good but do you think any of the others are better than ECU as to the fans and fact that ECU is covered by all the major cities in N.C. or that local TV market is really just your local news ECU wins this

  27. Actually, I would argue that recruiting is bigger than getting fans in the stands. Would you rather play football in Greenville, North Carolina or Orlando, Florida? The players seem to know. That’s why UCF will be a better fit. Screw the outsiders, the players on the field are coming to UCF and ECU will be another program unable to recruit and compete in 10 years. It’s about potential, not about the fact that people come to watch a nobody football program play another nobody team. UCF sells out their games against BCS opponents, nobody wants to go watch Rice and, truthfully, nobody wants to go watch ECU.

Comments are closed.