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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) 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?

 in Logan  Saturday, Sept. 29, 2012.  (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) in Logan Saturday, Sept. 29, 2012. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

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.

Halftime Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012 as Utah and Washington State play at Rice Eccles Stadium Utah leads 31-0. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Halftime Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012 as Utah and Washington State play at Rice Eccles Stadium Utah leads 31-0. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

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.

However, because season ticket demand is high and seating capacity is relatively low — Utah ranks 11 in stadium size in the Pac-12 — the school can’t make extra revenue in single-game sales that schools with larger stadiums, such as BYU, can.

The single-game strategy can be especially profitable for schools with 100,000-and-up capacity venues.

Comparing schools both locally and nationally

Do Utah’s three football universities offer good value in the price of a ticket?

Value is a function of price and performance on the field. Although crazy things can happen — and they frequently do — in college football, there’s little argument that all three schools are expected to deliver a good product by the beginning of the season.

In general, universities sell season tickets in two basic ways.

The first method is the simplest, in which the set price of the ticket is determined by its location. Typically in this strategy, seat selection priority and the number of tickets available are influenced by the amount of money a fan donates to the athletic department. Generally, this is the method BYU employs.

The second method is the more common one, which involves collecting a required per-seat donation with ticket purchase. Both Utah State and the University of Utah use this sales process: Utah State for just prime seats, Utah for most seating options.

Each school’s website offers clear detail and helpful maps to understand seating options, pricing and donation requirements.

Here is a look at what it costs per game to buy a season ticket seat by location for BYU, Utah and Utah State. Utah and Utah State’s figures include the required donation for those seats.

Season ticket cost including donation per seat per game
UniversityEnd zone20 yard line50 yard line
BYU$30$75$225
Utah (7 games)$25$78$157
USU$14$44$78

The per-game cost for BYU is a bit higher overall for these locations, and Utah State trails the other two Utah schools by a fairly wide margin.

Utah’s teams are all about value

It’s also important to note that there are plenty of schools nationwide that have raised season ticket prices for collegiate athletic events as the economy has begun to pick up and as demand for tickets has increased. Ohio State University, for example raised its ticket prices more than 28 percent for this season, putting an average ticket price for Buckeye football at $90 per game.

While some of the state’s schools raised ticket prices a little, BYU, Utah and USU fans did not see a rise in cost as steep as Buckeye fans. In fact, The University of Utah’s per-game ticket prices are roughly the same as last season, and all of Utah’s schools provide a great value, comparatively speaking.

This chart demonstrates price changes and adds the comparative costs for similar seats for schools across the country.

Not surprisingly, Alabama and Florida top the chart, but even Boise State’s end zone and 20-yard line ticket prices are higher than any in-state school. In fact, BYU and Utah’s end zone seats are 38 and 48 percent less expensive, respectively, than the average of the other schools.

Seats at the 20-yard lines are 16-20 percent below average for a Cougar or Ute game. Only BYU’s premium seats are more expensive than the average of the other schools.

Season ticket cost including donation per seat per game
UniversityEnd zone20 yard line50 yard line
BYU$30$75$225
Utah (7 games)$25$78$157
USU$14$44$78
Season ticket cost including donation per seat per game
UniversityEnd zone20 yard line50 yard line
ASU$28$89$214
Oregon State$47$80$297
Minnesota$39$54$111
Oregon$59$115$329
Boise State$38$105$144
Florida State$31$89$132
Texas Tech$38$113$159
Florida$73$115$207
Michigan State$48$87$130
Alabama$72$99$263
Louisville$62$77$148
Averages$49$93$194

Utah’s college football tickets are a good deal. Cougars, Utes and Aggies can all enjoy a live-game atmosphere at a cost many across the country would envy.

Ryan Teeples www.twitter.com/SportsGuyUtah is a respected marketing and technology expert, full-time sports fan and owner of Ryan Teeples Consulting Inc (www.RyanTeeples.com).

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