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The Hawkeyes start the season at home against surprising Illinois State. Rodney White | The Register

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IOWA CITY, Ia. – Barring a late surge, Iowa will play a home football game Saturday before an announced crowd of fewer than 60,000 for the first time in 12 years.

Rick Klatt, the UI's associate athletic director for external affairs, said that 57,600 tickets had been sold as of Tuesday for Saturday's 11 a.m. season opener against Illinois State.

It would mark the smallest official attendance at Kinnick Stadium since 54,471 saw Iowa beat Buffalo, 56-7, on Sept. 6, 2003. That was also the last time Iowa dipped below 60,000.

"Can we sell enough to get to 60,000? Perhaps. That's kind of a lot," Klatt said Wednesday. "We're now battling Mother Nature a little bit. It's going to be a little warmer than we would like."

High temperatures are predicted to be 90 degrees in Iowa City. But the bigger factor in sagging ticket sales is the downturn in fans buying season tickets – which were down 16 percent (more than 7,000 overall) in numbers the UI released in August.

Last year's season opener at Kinnick, Iowa vs. Northern Iowa, attracted an announced crowd of 66,805. Capacity is 70,585. Another factor that will hurt Saturday's attendance: Illinois State only sold 1,200 of its 4,000 allotted tickets, Klatt said.

The athletic department has projected a $2.85 million loss in ticket sales from last year in its 2016 budget. Iowa athletic director Gary Barta has said repeatedly that attendance is tied to wins and losses.

After a three-game losing streak to finish the 2014 season soured fans' enthusiasm, the university has gotten more aggressive in group, single-game and three-game package sales – with particular focus on the 7 p.m. kickoffs against Pittsburgh (Sept. 19) and Minnesota (Nov. 14).

It's interesting that Iowa's last sub-60,000 crowd came in the first home game after its memorable 2002 undefeated Big Ten Conference season that ended in the Orange Bowl. But for Iowa in 2003, after drawing crowds in the mid-50s for the first two home dates against Miami of Ohio and Buffalo, business picked up with sellouts in the final five games.

"That speaks to how quickly fan bases can rebound. If you can go from 54,000 for your first two games and then you sell out the rest of the season, that's a reason for me to believe our strategy is a good one," Klatt said. "We're going to take it each game at a time and put all these pieces together, and hopefully the magic happens."

Single-game tickets are available at Hawkeyesports.com or by calling 1-800-IA-HAWKS. The face value for the Illinois State game is $55. At secondary-market website StubHub.com, seats as of Wednesday afternoon were available for as low as $35.

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