Comparing costs: U. of Utah earns $14 million from football ticketing, keeps focus on fans

Published: Wednesday, July 24 2013 12:20 p.m. MDT

Utah fans cheer at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012. Utah boasts the best season ticket renewal rate in the state for football.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Editor's note: This is Part 2 in a four-part series on college football ticket sales and marketing in Utah. Read part one here.

The University of Utah has no problem packing Rice-Eccles Stadium on game day. The Home of the Utes has officially sold out every game since the 2009 season. Though the stadium has just 45,000 seats, Utah fans could certainly pack the house even if the stadium was comparable in size to its Pac-12 compatriots.

Despite Rice-Eccles' smaller capacity, Utah is not far behind its conference foes in attendance. In fact, in 2012, only six schools from the Pac-12 saw significantly higher average attendance than the Utes.

In economic terms, demand is high for Utah's in-stadium football product, and because the venue is sold out perennially, supply is low.

For those who slept through Economics 101, when demand is up while supply is limited, the price is supposed to climb, but the University of Utah hasn’t let that happen.

While the overall cost of season tickets went up this season, the increase is due to the fact that Utah will play seven home games instead of the six it has played on the Hill historically. Utah fans aren’t paying more per game than last season, which shows a commitment from the school to its fans — because the economics clearly indicate prices should go up.

“The department is very conscious about keeping those ticket prices affordable and as flat as possible. We really are being fan conscious and trying to be as affordable as possible, and making our best effort to put the best team out there on the field. That’s our equation,” David Woodbury, director of ticketing at the University of Utah, said.

Woodbury and the school hope this focus on the fan experience pays dividends down the road.

Breaking down dollars and seats

University athletics departments don’t just open up the entire stadium for football season ticket sales. Before regular fans can snag a seat, Utah designates some sections for specific groups.

Utah sets aside more than 6,000 seats for students who aren’t required to pay more than their student fees, except for MUSS membership. Another 5,000 seats are used internally at the university.

Another 2,000 are set aside for visiting teams. When teams with big followings, such as USC, roll into Salt Lake, those tickets are used up. But schools without a stable road following may ask the university to buy back seats, which are then sold to fans a few weeks before the game as single-game seats.

That leaves about 32,000 seats available for the University of Utah to sell as season tickets, and sell those they do.

The exact number of season ticket packages sold after the students, employees and visitors are take care of has been 32,370 over the past two season for Utah. That number rose steadily from 2004 to 2009 when the school started selling Rice-Eccles out. It could sell more, were more inventory available.

Furthermore, Utah boasts a 98 percent renewal rate over the last three years — the highest in the state.

As a public school, Utah’s ticket sales data is public information. So far for this season, 32,382 season ticket packages and accompanying donations have generated more than $14 million for the athletic department and school. With most prime seats, season ticket buyers are required to make a donation in addition to the cost of the seat.

Woodbury explained that those kind of revenues are required to run a competitive Pac-12 athletic department and indicated that the school keeps close tabs on ticket prices to make sure the product on the field and the price match.

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