NASHVILLE — The glare of stadium lights reflecting off thousands of unoccupied plastic seats here did not obscure one lesson from Western Kentucky officials: Thursday night is not all right for college football.
"Our primary focus in 2013 will be to get the game on a weekend," WKU Senior Associate Athletic Director Todd Stewart said before Kentucky played the Hilltoppers in LP (Lowly Populated?) Field.
The crowd was announced as 24,599. The Nashville Sports Council, the organizing group for the game, hoped for a crowd of 40,000, President Scott Ramsey said. LP Field has a capacity of 68,798.
"We're a little disappointed we fell short," Ramsey said.
Stewart said WKU surveyed its fans to try to determine why ticket sales lagged. "The No. 1 response we got was that it was a weeknight game," he said.
Other factors cited included the 9:15 p.m. EDT start to accommodate ESPN and the sluggish economy.
But in assessing what to do when the teams are scheduled to return here in 2013, Stewart and Ramsey emphasized the need to play on either Saturday or Sunday.
"Saturday's ideal," Stewart said. "Sunday is second best."
Officials ruled out Friday because of a conflict with high school football.
This season's game could not be played on Saturday because Nashville-based Tennessee State controls the rights to LP Field on that day.
"We were completely aware about that," said Wood Selig, the Western Athletic Director at the time the schools agreed on a four-year deal. Wood now is A.D. at Old Dominion.
"We also talked with Tennessee State about them, maybe, playing on Sunday, working with us so we could have a more traditional date for WKU and UK," Selig said. "But they were not as flexible on that as we were hoping."
Selig said WKU worked with the Nashville Sports Council to fix the game date.
"We were led to believe — no, I don't want to say that, that's too strong — but we did have the impression at the start that Tennessee State might be more open to negotiating playing dates than they turned out to be," Selig said.
Teresa Lawrence-Phillips, the A.D. for Tennessee State, confirmed that game officials asked her school to move its opener against Southern University off its Saturday date.
"I can tell you that there was very little pressure," she wrote in an email. "We were asked and answered 'no' because our opening game is a weekend of planned activities beginning (Thursday night)."
Lawrence, who said game officials did not offer a financial incentive to move the Tennessee State-Southern game, did not voice enthusiasm about possibly moving her 2013 game off the Saturday of Labor Day weekend.
"I doubt our willingness to move our game day," she wrote. "Certainly, though, we will listen if approached."
The small crowd figured to adversely affect the revenue generated. Stewart said the Nashville Sports Council would get 30 percent of the gate.
Of the remaining money, Western Kentucky gets 60 percent and UK 40 percent.
Herald-Leader columnist Mark Story contributed to this report.