UNIVERSITY PARK - Some people look at a glass as half-full, where others see it as half-empty.
Penn State officials are taking the optimistic approach in efforts to refill Beaver Stadium, where attendance dropped from an average of 108,917 in 2007 to 96,730 this season.
Officials admit they are concerned with the drop.
"We are always concerned. We need to keep the stadium full. Our goal is to do as much as we can to fill the stadium," said John Nitardy, Nittany Lion Club director of major gifts and annual giving.
"There is always a concern about what we want to do to make the largest number of people come to Beaver Stadium to watch Penn State football," said Greg Myford, associate athletic director for business relations and communications.
Officials claim the Seat Transfer & Equity Plan (STEP) implemented prior to the 2011 season, which required some season ticket holders to increase their Nittany Lion Club donations to keep their tickets, is not entirely to blame for the many empty seats inside the stadium.
"This is not the popular response, but when we put the program in place, the rationale was to generate revenue. From that standpoint, it has been successful. We have increased our revenue over the last two years. The program has been successful for athletics," Myford said. "From a visibility or public perception [standpoint], everyone focuses on the empty seats and draws the conclusion the program was not successful."
Myford said Penn State sees the empty seats as opportunities to bring new fans to the stadium and maximize the STEP program.
Despite the drop in attendance, Penn State ranked fifth in the NCAA in attendance this year behind Michigan, Ohio State, Alabama and Texas, Nitardy said.
"The economy and the last year [the fallout from the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal] have been difficult to overcome. Do we want to sell the seats? Absolutely," Nitardy said.
Penn State expected to lose some season ticket holders at the end of the Joe Paterno era. Paterno, who had been head coach since 1966, was fired Nov. 9, 2011, for his perceived role in the Sandusky scandal.
But there were also several other factors that played into this year's lower attendance figures.
"We give out 4,000 tickets to the visiting teams, and even Ohio State only took 2,400 this year. No one is traveling like they used to because of the economy," Nitardy said.
Myford said there are also fans who chose to stay at home and watch the games on their HD televisions, where they can stretch out and be comfortable.
He said he does not believe the unprecedented NCAA sanctions levied against the football program in July have had a significant impact on the drop in attendance.
"The evidence goes the other way. Even though overall attendance may be down, the support of this team and program and Coach [Bill] O'Brien has really shown through," Myford said. "The Penn State fan base is invigorated to support Penn State through these tough times."
Penn State has made some changes to try to attract new season ticket holders, including lowering the price on more than 11,500 seats and introducing a new $200-per-seat contribution between the goal lines on each sideline.
The largest price reduction will be in four sideline sections in the upper decks - EGU, ECU, WGU, and WCU - where their club donation fee will be lowered from $400 per seat to $200.
Most season tickets, however, will carry the same Nittany Lion Club donation fee as before, which ranges from $100 to $2,000 per seat.
The Nittany Lion Club is encouraging its members to participate in the "One Team Commitment," a first-time, five-year commitment for membership. It essentially allows members to earn significant club bonus points each year, while demonstrating their longer-term support to Penn State's more than 800 student-athletes competing for 31 varsity teams.
"When the sanctions came down, people were concerned but wanted to be able to show their support. We know the next five years will be the toughest in our history," Nitardy said.
Myford said it is important that fans get value for their money.
"The good news for Penn State is the vast majority of our season ticket holders continue to see value in coming to Beaver Stadium," Myford said. "It is easy to focus on 10,000 empty seats. We cannot lose sight of the 95,000 seats that are full. They are the fans that are here and supporting the program. We need to find others who are willing to join them to fill up Beaver Stadium again."
The university is taking a look at any and all factors that may have lead to the decrease in attendance.
Myford said he doesn't believe the $40 parking fee for people who don't purchase a parking pass in advance has been a factor.
"The $40 fee is optional. It was put in place to assist game day traffic and the logistics of parking. We still offer it for $10 and you can get it in advance up until the day before the game," Myford said.
Penn State officials also believe the 21,000-seat student section is the appropriate size.
"There are games when it is packed full. Others are more of a challenge to get everyone into the game on time to fill up the 21,000 seats. We talk to students and they believe it is a good number," Myford said. "The last thing the students want is for us to put them in a position where it is difficult to fill it each week."
Penn State also has not discussed offering reduced price tickets for children. Anyone, even infants, entering the stadium needs a standard ticket.
"It is not something we've considered," Myford said.
He and Nitardy admit with the current economic climate it will be difficult to again fill Beaver Stadium.
"When you look at the facts, 100,000 seats is a lot of seats to fill on a regular basis. It takes a significant effort not only on the university's side, but also on our fans' side," Myford said. "We have to look at the fans that are watching the game on TV and build the value so there is no substitute for being at the game. That is what we need to focus on."
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.