August 27, 2013 12:06:36 PM
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Selling tickets should be easy for a Southeastern Conference football team coming off a 9-4 season, especially for the opening game against the University of Mississippi.
That isn't the case at Vanderbilt University, where tickets remained available Monday for the team's season opener Thursday night.
Coach James Franklin has been pushing fans to step up for months using Twitter as his platform, a countdown that has been in daily use with the opener designated as "Operation Blackout." Yet the coach planned to get an update Monday night on where ticket sales stand.
"It's very important, national television, that we sell the stadium out, that everybody's wearing black," Franklin said Monday. "I feel like we're making progress there. ... I think we're going to sell out the game, and I expect us to sell out the game."
Considering how last season went for the Commodores, selling tickets didn't appear to be an issue.
Vanderbilt won its final seven games, including the Music City Bowl, for its best season since 1915 and takes the SEC's longest winning streak into this opener. The Commodores also have the SEC's smallest stadium to fill with a capacity of 40,350. They did just that three times last season, reaching 93.8 percent of capacity for the season.
Yet, Franklin has been Vanderbilt's biggest salesman pushing ticket sales and fan creativity to make sure fans are decked out in black Thursday night. He said he doesn't wake up thinking what his message will be each day on Twitter, but he is happy to tweet away when he sees something interesting all in hopes of promoting the Commodores.
"You guys know how passionate I am about building this program and building this fan base and tradition," Franklin said. "The next step for us is to sell out every single game and sell it out, black it out. That's all we've been talking about over and over and over again."
Franklin seems to be fighting history still with a fan base worn down by decades of losing. Franklin is 15-11 in his first two seasons with two straight bowl berths, but he said last week he understands this program didn't get into this position overnight.
Some fans have called into local radio stations over the past week complaining about higher ticket prices or increased donation fees to Vanderbilt's booster Commodore Club. Others point out Vanderbilt competes with the NFL's Tennessee Titans in a city with plenty of options.
"I think we've earned the right for people to get excited," Franklin said last week. "You can let go some of that scarring and some of that stuff in the past waiting for something bad to happen. Let's be excited and let's be fans and be fanatic."
The Commodores will have help filling up the stadium Thursday night. Ole Miss spokesman Kyle Campbell said the school sold its allotment of 7,000 tickets, and Rebels' fans are excited about a program that went 7-6 in coach Hugh Freeze's inaugural season.
"I'd be extremely disappointed if Ole Miss didn't turn out very strong in Nashville," Freeze said Monday. "I know our folks will show up."
Vanderbilt has won four of the past five in this series, including 27-26 last year in Oxford when the Commodores never led until 52 seconds were left.
Senior receiver Jordan Matthews said it doesn't matter if it's just one person in the stands Thursday night or if the stadium is filled to the rim. Fifth-year senior defensive end Walker May said he sees the biggest buzz yet on campus for this game.
"We're not worried about that," May said. "The fans are going to come, and our students are going to come. And they're going to come support us."