Softball team consistently selling out Rhoads

Adrienne Burch

Thousands of Crimson Tide fans made the trip to Tuscaloosa last weekend to see a national championship team return to their home field for the first time this season.

This time, the fans didn’t come to watch football.

The 2012 national champion University of Alabama softball team has built a fan following that can be defined by the sign hanging in Rhoads Stadium naming them the ‘best college softball fans in the country.’

“I think it’s amazing that the football capital of the United States can embrace college softball in the way it has,” head coach Patrick Murphy said.

This season, reserved seating in Rhoads Stadium has sold out for the fifth consecutive year, Beverly Wright Chandler, assistant director of ticketing, said.

“Softball is one of the hottest tickets in town,” said Emily Pitek, member of ESPN’s Hall of Fans for her dedication to the Crimson Tide softball program. “I am thankful I became a season ticket holder when I did because now there is a waiting list.”

The benchmark for softball ticket sales was set in 2008 with the first season ticket sellout of more than 1,200 tickets and then continued in 2009 when the Tide fans broke the single season attendance record for NCAA college softball. Rhoads Stadium also holds national attendance records for both the NCAA Regional and Super Regional tournaments.

“It’s impressive,” Pitek said. “I told Kirk Herbstreet that we are right on par with Duke Basketball’s Cameron Crazies. We have rabid fans.”

The completion of the Brickyard, tier seating in the outfield, in 2011 brought the capacity of Rhoads to 3,940, making it the largest on-campus stadium in the Southeastern Conference.

So with the grandstand seats consistently selling out prior to the season, a few years ago Murphy began setting goals for Brickyard season tickets.

“Each year Coach Patrick Murphy sets a sale goal for Brickyard seats, and we have met that goal in each of the past six seasons,” Chandler said.

For the 2013 season, she said there have been more than 500 Brickyard season tickets sold, which is in addition to the 1,200 grandstand tickets.

Murphy said he thinks the main reason fans come back again and again to watch his team play is because they win. He said the Tide has won close to 90 percent of its home games.

“This means people go home in a good mood, and they come back wanting to have the same feeling,” he said.

Steve Jackson, from Northport, Ala., said he has been a softball season ticket holder for eight or nine years.

“I just started going,” he said. “Once you go you’re hooked.”

Jackson said he has people beg him all the time to sell his tickets to them.

“But, they’re real hard to give up,” he said.

Jackson said he enjoys the speed of softball and watching the reactions of the players when they win a big game.

Pitek said the intensity of the game is what initially drew her to softball as well, but she gives majority of the credit for the faithfulness of the Tide fan base to Murphy.

“I think Murphy is the sole reason for the number of fans we have,” she said. “He knows how to grow a sport and a following with it.”

She said Murphy does the little things like telling the crowd to be louder and letting his players stick around after the game to sign autographs.

“These little things make impressions that last for a lifetime on people,” Pitek said.

Though softball draws thousands of dedicated fans, Chandler said it is not the only women’s sport with a huge fan base.

“The gymnastics program is very competitive in ticket sales,” she said. “The fan support and turnout for gymnastics and softball is remarkable at each home event.”

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