Across the nation and even across the SEC, ticket sales for college football games are declining. And folks can’t just blame a bad economy anymore. The economy is just one of several factors impacting ticket sales and it’s not as big a concern as it’s often made out to be:
1. With the global economy stagnant, many people do not have as much disposable income to throw at football tickets as they once did. That’s a fact. But at schools where teams are winning and competing for championships, tickets sales are still mostly solid, if not robust. That suggests that plenty of fans do have cash to spend… if they want to spend it.
2. Prices continue to rise inside college venues. For years, schools have tried to build bigger and bigger stadiums. That’s meant ticket buyers have had to fight more traffic for fewer parking spots. Now, for the privilege of slogging a country mile to a stadium and then being packed like a sardine into a tiny seat, the fan is rewarded with higher ticket prices, higher parking prices, and higher concession prices. Why bother?
3. Television is both a help and a hindrance to schools. With the economy sluggish, the huge explosion in television revenue paid out to schools via network contracts couldn’t have come at a better time. But there are also more games on television in a single weekend now than there were in entire seasons just 25 years ago. Fans can choose to watch every game their favorite team plays on HDTV from the comfort of their living rooms and they can see dozens of other games, too.
4. Schools scheduling patsies are paying a price for doing so. There once was a time when the only way to see School X play Elon or Georgia State or Southeastern Louisiana was by purchasing a ticket. Now those games are on pay-per-view or the internet, if not on some cable channel. Why pay good money, fight traffic, and squeeze yourself between two other folks when you can stay home and watch your team demolish a tomato can of an opponent? Mississippi State had the only SEC home opener that listed a capacity crowd last weeked and they played against tiny Jackson State. But MSU’s Davis Wade Stadium seats just 55,082 fans. Which brings us to the main point of this post…
At some point, a school that for years has tried to go bigger and bigger will decide to decrease seating size and focus instead on making the in-game experience better and better. Oh, sure, several schools have knocked off 5,000 to 10,000 seats to make room for club seats, but we’re talking about real reductions in seating capacity.
Take NFL stadiums as an example.
Outside of the massive buildings that the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins call home, most NFL venues feature just 60,000 to 70,000 seats. That makes parking easier. That makes traffic lighter. That makes tickets harder to come by (and thus more valuable).
NFL stadiums feature seats with actual backs, not bleachers. They have massive scoreboards, wide concourses and the most luxurious of luxury suites.
At Cowboys Stadium, Jerry Jones has even built a field-level club through which his team walks to enter the field. Big-spending fans can experience that up close and personal. Television viewers cannot.
We’ve said this before and we’re saying it again now: Eventually some school’s leaders will be daring enough to downsize their home stadium, ramp up the in-game services and amenities, charge more for their tickets, and basically just target the biggest of spenders. The little guy is already choosing to stay at home and watch on TV and save some cash. Why chase him at all anymore? Eventually a wise AD will realize that the little guy is no longer his target audience. It’s the fat cat booster who’s willing to pay more for a bigger seat, easier parking, a nicer in-game experience, and the ability to tell his friends, “Yep, I was actually at the game.”
When ticket-buying goes back to being a status symbol, schools will have conquered the ticket-sales blues. The best way to do that? Cater to the uber-wealthy and go smaller — not bigger — with seating capacity.
Fair to the Average Joe who wants to take his son to a game? No. But a lot of Average Joes aren’t going to the games anymore anyway.