Comparing costs: BYU, Utah, USU football a killer deal

Published: Tuesday, July 23 2013 2:25 p.m. MDT

Fans rise to their feet and cheer as Taysom Hill of Brigham Young University runs over 60 yard for a touchdown against Hawaii during their match up at Lavell Edwards Stadium in Provo Friday, September 28, 2012.

, Brian Nicholson

Editor's note: This is part one in a four-part series on college football ticket sales and marketing in Utah.

SALT LAKE CITY — Spectators in the state of Utah have it good. It’s uncommon to find a market this size that boasts four Division I universities with full athletics programs, as the state does with BYU, the University of Utah, Utah State and Weber State.

In turn, Beehive State fans are loyal on game day. BYU and Utah routinely play football in front of packed stadiums. Cougar and Aggie hoops teams see full, rowdy arenas turn out in support. Even gymnastics at Utah and volleyball at BYU can be standing-room only.

But for all the support, are collegiate sports fans in Utah getting a good deal? Are Utah’s schools providing high-value products for the cost of a ticket, and is that value better or worse than the national average?

On the other side of the equation, how much money do schools bring in selling ticket packages and concessions to fans, and is it worth it for them to continue?

Before we dig in, it’s important to know the basics of a ticketing operation at a major university.

Who’s filling the stadium?

When evaluating a school’s success in season ticket sales, considering some key numbers is important.

The first isn’t the number of packages sold; rather, it’s the capacity of the stadium. Before a university can offer seats to donors and fans, it has to allocate spots for some standard groups.

First, seats are set aside for students. The University of Utah and Utah State, for instance, designate more than 6,000 seats for students, and they do this at no charge outside tuition and fees.

Second, schools typically reserve a comparable number of tickets for use of university staff and employees.

Then, there’s an allocation to visiting teams. This varies by school, but most conferences offer guidelines to ensure equity in away-game seat availability. Utah, for instance, offers opposing fans 2,000 seats per Pac-12 tradition.

What’s left is what universities offer to potential season ticket holders, mostly.

Season vs. single game

There’s an exception for schools with very large stadiums.

When a schedule boasts high-profile opponents at home, ticket offices may cap sales of season tickets and hold the remainder for single-game buyers. These fans are willing to pay a premium for the high-profile games.

BYU, for instance, will host Texas at home this season, and single-game tickets for the matchup will likely sell out. High demand to see the Cougars and Longhorns means higher-priced single-game tickets, which result in more revenue for BYU than would have been gained from selling season ticket seats for that game.

Doug Mitarotonda is the director of Pricing and Analytics at Qcue, a firm that works with professional and collegiate programs on dynamic pricing and inventory solutions.

“Generally speaking, universities sell a majority of their seats as season ticket packages," he says. "There is always a trade-off between selling season tickets where you’ll have guaranteed, potentially lower revenue versus individual tickets where revenue is unknown but potentially higher."

For schools with limited seating, however, this opportunity may not exist. The University of Utah, for instance, has completely sold out its stadium with season tickets four consecutive years. This reflects the tremendous success of Utah's football program and the university's ticketing strategy.

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