Hopson expects fans in The Rock

Nov 5, 2016; Hattiesburg, MS, USA; The Southern Miss Golden Eagles marching band, the Pride of Mississippi, before their game against the Charlotte 49ers at M.M. Roberts Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

A primary focus for the Southern Miss Athletics Department in 2018 will be striving to increase attendance for football games at The Rock.

The Golden Eagles’ home attendance average in 2017 — ranked fifth among Conference USA programs — was significantly lower than the 2016 season average, which boasted roughly 6,000 more tickets sold per contest. Last year’s season opener brought an SEC opponent to Hattiesburg for just the second time in nearly two decades, yet only 22,761 fans attended the game in a stadium that is built to seat 36,000. Coach Jay Hopson well understands the importance of fan support and its correlation with overall team success.

“The reality is this, guys: we have to sell our product,” Hopson told fans at the 23rd Annual Golden Eagle Fanfare. “We have to come out to The Rock and show support. If we want to get to the top, that’s the journey. We’ve got to support Southern Miss because this is the university that makes Hattiesburg go.”

Hopson mentioned what he refers to as a “Hardy Street Challenge” as a possible way to encourage local businesses to invest in the program and help increase ticket sales. “I got to thinking about this. If we could get each business on Hardy Street to purchase four tickets for their employees, then you know what, we would have the greatest season tickets package in the history of Southern Miss football.”

The last sold out football game at The Rock was in 2015 when the Golden Eagles played host to the Mississippi State Bulldogs, which was the first time the Bulldogs had come to Hattiesburg for a game since September of 1989. The ratio of Golden Eagles to Bulldogs fans in attendance, however, created far less of a sold out home crowd advantage than many in the program would have hoped for.

With another large crowd anticipated for this year’s season opener against the Jackson State Tigers, Coach Hopson knows that this could again be an issue if Southern Miss fans choose not to come out to M.M. Roberts Stadium to show their support.

“You take it from a guy who has been a head coach in the SWAC (Southwestern Athletic Conference). That Jackson State crowd is coming, and it’s coming big. And we want to come in and see black and gold — not blue and white — covering that stadium on Saturday,” Hopson said.

Along with the season opener against Jackson State, the Golden Eagles will also play host to Louisiana Monroe, Rice, UTSA, Marshall, and Louisiana Tech over the course of the 2018 football season. Coaches and players are all encouraging fans and students to continue supporting the program by attending these games and cheering on the Golden Eagles as they prepare to fight their way “to the top.”