Editor's note: This is Part Four in a four-part series on college football ticket sales and marketing in Utah. Also read Parts 1-3 which compare ticket prices at Utah, BYU and Utah State and to the rest of the country.
Fans of Brigham Young University football expect big crowds and a strong atmosphere in LaVell Edwards Stadium on game day.
Since the school made the leap to independence in football, rumblings and grumblings from local media and fringes of the fan-base might have some wondering if the jump from a conference might negatively affect the stadium atmosphere in Provo.
But complaints about opponents, November matchups and kickoff times didn’t make a blip in season ticket sales for 2013.
The opposite appears true: Independence is strengthening ticket sales.
Selling out season tickets
According to BYU athletic media relations, BYU has sold more season tickets in 2013 than any other year since 2003. Not only did the stadium sell out season tickets quickly, there was hardly any turnover. BYU saw close to a 97 percent renewal rate from last year. BYU also provided information pointing out that the number of tickets per order also increased this season.
All are positive signs and a testament to what Athletic Director Tom Holmoe has been saying since 2010: The schedule will continue to improve and the home slate will be one fans are excited to see.
Even if the games aren’t in the afternoon, fans are clearly more excited to see Texas and Georgia Tech than they were for Wyoming and New Mexico.
While the school has sold out its season tickets, it’s important to note that unlike schools with smaller stadiums like Utah or Boise State, BYU has the capacity to set aside seats for single-game buyers. That allows the school to make extra money as higher profile games like Texas, Utah, Boise State and Georgia Tech command higher single-game ticket prices.
Those tickets will go on sale to Legacy Club Members on next Monday, July 29, Cougar Club Members on Tuesday, season ticket holders on Wednesday and to the public on Aug. 5.
Gauging the revenue
Fans in Utah get a good deal on football tickets. All three FBS programs offer a great product for a price well below many other schools, and even though BYU raised the price of tickets for most seats in the stadium — some by more than 30 percent — the gameday experience in Provo remains very affordable.
The University of Utah will bring in more than $14 million in ticket and ticket-donation revenues this season. Naturally, BYU fans are eager to know how much BYU makes from its season ticket sales.
Because BYU is a private institution it is not required to share sales or revenue numbers, unlike state-funded schools. The $14 million figure provided by Utah, however, can be used to derive an estimate for BYU's revenues.
BYU’s ticket prices on average are 10-15 percent more than Utah’s. In addition, LaVell Edwards Stadium's seating capacity is about 40 percent higher than Rice-Eccles Stadium. Utah’s schedule gives the Utes a seventh home game, and BYU plays six.
Using the $14 million baseline and assuming BYU sells 40 percent more season tickets at a 12 percent higher price on average, adding in the $115 per person BYU assesses its students, it appears BYU likely generates nearly $20 million in season ticket sales for football. This figure includes a 15 percent reduction for not having a seventh home game.
It also shows how important and lucrative a seventh home game can be — Notre Dame usually plays eight.
While the public may never know the exact revenue number, the size of BYU’s stadium and the high demand for tickets are indicative of a very strong program with great fan support and a significant revenue stream.
A new seating system
BYU season ticket holders had a new ticket purchasing experience this season.
Rather than paying the athletic department and having seats assigned, fans were invited to pick seats in a priority order based on their tenure as season ticket holders, Cougar Club membership status and donation level.
Fans were given set times for logging in to BYU’s ticketing system and selecting from available seats.
“Response has been overwhelmingly positive. The process is essentially the same, we are just using the available technology to give our fans a more active role in the selecting of seats,” Clark Livsey, special events ticket manager said.
Duff Tittle, associate BYU athletics director, echoed those sentiments.
“We've had very good feedback from fans regarding the new online ticketing system. The system makes it easy for fans to see what's available and get a good idea of (what) the view is like from the seats. The process is easy and available 24-hours a day,” he said.
Josh Wright and his brother aren’t members of the Cougar Club, but have been season ticket holders for eight years.
“Compared to years past, this experience was very exciting to us. The visibility of available tickets was awesome and picking seats will always be better than just sitting where they tell you to sit. We are very happy with what we were able to get,” Wright said.
“I was actually surprised at the availability of seats when it was my assigned time. I was able to move down to the lower bowl for the same price as the upper bowl tickets would have been,” said Michael Dustin Young, a fan from Layton.
But not everyone is satisfied with the new process.
Lanell Topham, from Modesto, Calif., and his wife have been season ticket holders since 1980. They prefer the simplicity of the old way.
“We had to call during a certain hour. It was just a hassle. Before that, we paid our money, got our tickets, it was done.” he said.
Additionally, the ranking system left some fans feeling unappreciated. After a decade in the same seats, Jeff Hansen, of Logan, found the new ranking pushed him further down the pecking order for seat selection and forced him to move.
“It definitely felt like BYU was making it clear — money talks. Because we don't donate as much as other fans, our (long-time) seats were long gone by the time our ticket buying time came.”
It's reality that sports spectating is becoming a meritocracy. Priority is given to those who contribute the most. BYU isn’t doing anything other schools haven’t done, but for those fans who are negatively affected, that’s a hard pill to swallow.
Hiccups in the process aside, this year’s season ticket sales for BYU football bode well for a program that boasts a number of high-profile opponents for future home games.
But in order for LaVell Edwards Stadium to remain full, the team must continue to win, and Tom Holmoe and his staff must continue to bring compelling games to Provo.
If that happens, regardless of kickoff times and the seat-selection process, BYU games will continue to be a product well worth the price of admission.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company