ORLANDO — If there is a Hurricanes fan out there who dislikes the hire of Mark Richt as football coach, they haven’t come forward to Blake James.
“I don’t think there’s been a single email or comment from anyone who didn’t like the choice,” the UM Athletics Director said. “I heard from some people who said ‘Mark wouldn’t have been my first choice, but great hire,’ those types of things. Everyone has been very positive about Mark. And in a lot of ways, very positive about the program. It’s been a great five months as athletics director.”
Since hiring Richt on Dec. 4, business has been booming. UM has a seen record 86 percent renewal rate for season tickets — “really unheard of for us as a program, going back through the years,” James said — and added between 8-9,000 new season tickets compared to last year.
“It might be the highest [raw number] of all time,” James said, noting that UM’s records are incomplete. “It’ll definitely be our best year since moving to Dolphins Stadium” from the Orange Bowl in 2008.
UM is approaching 40,000 season tickets before the busy season. “June, July and August are our best sales months,” James said. “I think we’ll have one of our largest, if not our largest season ticket bases ever.”
The Hurricane Club, the booster organization that requires a donation of at least $50 to join, has swelled to a record 8,100. Additionally, nearly 300 former players attended UM’s reunion the night before the April 16 spring game. Last year under Al Golden, 110 showed.
James was asked if Orlando’s former Citrus Bowl could be an option if the Dolphins cannot complete renovations to their home stadium by UM’s Sept. 3 season-opener.
“I think you have to look at all options,” he said. “Obviously, Orlando is an option we have to look at. There are pros and cons with that. As the times comes, we’ll address the situation and decide what’s best for us. With that said, as I told the group Monday night in Dania Beach, I believe the stadium will be ready in time for our first game.”
That belief was solidified, James said, when he arrived at his office Tuesday morning. A letter from Dolphins CEO Tom Garfinkel sat on his desk bearing the message that the stadium would be ready “no later than Aug. 25,” James said. That’s when the Dolphins play the first of two preseason games at home.
If disaster strikes, would Miami be inclined to play at FIU’s stadium, which seats 20,000? It’s significantly smaller than the Hurricanes’ season-ticket base.
“There are pros and cons,” James said. “If you look at the market” — by this, he meant Orlando and south, it seems — “there are some stadiums that are smaller than our season-ticket base. There are some that are larger than our season-ticket base. But the ones that are larger aren’t close to us, and the ones that are smaller would have a negative impact. So I’m hoping the stadium is done. Based on what the Dolphins tell me, I believe it’s doing to be done. If the situation occurs that we do need to move, we’ll communicate that plan out and be ready, and I’m confident we’ll have a stadium full of Hurricanes fans ready to support Mark and the team in their first game.”
Also noteworthy: next week at the ACC’s spring meetings at Amelia Island, James said a potential ACC Network will likely be a big topic of conversation, in addition to time demands on athletes and satellite camps.