So now athletic directors across the country are worried that they’re losing the next generation of wallets… er, fans.
At Michigan, student sales were off so significantly this spring (an estimated 5,000 season tickets according to MLive.com) that the school made some of that allotment available to the general public. Iowa has been so desperate to draw students, it recently offered entry into a tuition giveaway drawing in exchange for buying a season ticket. Even Alabama has had issues filling its student section, prompting complaints from head coach Nick Saban last year.
“It’s a very real concern,” Oklahoma athletics director Joe Castiglione said. “It certainly gives reason for pause because right now the demand for tickets may still be high overall in the marketplace, but within that segment the demand isn’t as strong. It’s an ongoing issue the last couple years and we’re trying a lot of different things to attract students to create a stronger connection.”
Though not every program is experiencing a student malaise – Minnesota, for instance, experienced an increase of 10,000 students across its seven home games last year in correlation with a surprising 8-5 season – the data suggests athletic departments are finding it harder to draw students into the stadium and keep them there.
What to do, what to do…
Well, there’s always beer sales. (I’m only being semi-facetious.)
More seriously, there’s a certain you’ve made your bed, now lie in it aspect to this problem. Wave to the cameras, fellas!
In some ways, schools have done this to themselves. College football is now owned by television and increasingly available on streaming video. The Pac-12, Big Ten and now SEC have their own networks, guaranteeing that practically every game is televised. Even some of the smaller leagues like the Mountain West and American Athletic Conference have deals to live stream a large portion of their content that isn’t picked up by national television.
The last round of television contracts (and subsequent conference realignment) set the bar at $20 million per power conference school per year, give or take a couple million from league to league. In exchange, schools were essentially left to compete against themselves.
“I don’t think it’s a targeted demographic problem; I think it’s more of a (high-definition) TV, living room, leather couch problem and we have to give the people a reason to come to our live product,” Washington athletics director Scott Woodward said. “It is something we’re going to have to address and deal with.”
But you guys have no clue. In-stadium wi-fi ain’t gonna save you.
At the very least, forging a stronger connection between football programs and the next generation of ticket buyers is going to take some work and creativity.
Pitt heavily promotes student tailgates and markets discounted club level tickets to graduate students because it believes that group is prime to be targeted as potential donors. Last season, Memphis offered two free season tickets to every 2012-13 graduate and got an attendance pop of more than 4,000 per game. Florida has come up with several incentives, including discounted tickets for recent graduates and the opportunity to win a “VIP” experience going behind the scenes on game day or to be part of the pre-game tunnel.
Student tailgate promotion isn’t a bad idea, but does anyone see Athens taking a course like that? Actually, the key word in that paragraph is “discount”. Expect a steadily larger dose of that in the coming years. If you’re an AD, half a ticket revenue loaf is better than none. And maybe you can make it up in the next TV contract.
Or you can give in.
“I hear concern from various (athletics directors) that their season ticket base is aging,” ACC commissioner John Swofford said. “You need to step back and take a look at the reasons and really understand what (younger people) want from that game day experience.
“And if I’m an athletic director now and I’m building a stadium or a basketball arena, I’d be very careful about the size of it. For years, people always felt bigger was better and I don’t think that’s true anymore, nor do I think it will be true going forward.”
You can do that at Georgia Tech, for sure.
One last cynical note: anybody notice the key word missing from the entire article? That would be “scheduling”.