One of the biggest challenges most college football programs face today is the fall of season ticket purchases. Ole Miss is no stranger to this issue.
With a few exceptions, both season tickets and student season ticket sales are down all across the country, and it’s not surprising considering the increased coverage on television and streaming apps making it possible to follow every snap of every team you want over the season.
Football ticket sales consistently account for around 20% of the Ole Miss Athletics revenue, so it’s one of the biggest issues surrounding the program with new Interim Athletic Director Keith Carter. Carter, who also serves as deputy athletic director for development and chief revenue officer for the athletics department, recognizes it as a top priority moving forward.
“Ole Miss has our own unique challenges that we’ve been through with the NCAA case, and the head coach situation changing kind of abruptly,” he said. “You throw in the fact that now no longer are the donations tax deductible with the new tax code. So it’s kind of a perfect storm from a season ticket and selling ticket dynamic.”
There are many reasons schools are having this problem but most of the problems depend on the win-loss record. Kentucky fans enjoyed their best season in recent years in 2018 and responded in the ticket office — already surpassing their season ticket totals from last year three months in advance.
Ticket sales drop along with win totals, and the numbers suggest fans just aren’t in the market to pay hundreds of dollars to watch seven games of losing football. Sales dropped from 54,124 in 2017 to 47,170 in 2018 according to Ole Miss Ticket Operations.
It affects Ole Miss especially as sales are down across the board from the 50-yard-line to the north end zone. The program is looking to shift in a way that compliments how fans want to watch their product.
Some schools have started to offer different bundles for specific games. For example, Auburn and Texas A&M students purchase the regular seven-game package, or choose from different four-game packages. Mississippi State will implement a new rewards system this season that gives students who attend and stay in the stands the entire game priority for buying tickets the following season.
As other universities have put systems in place to maximize student ticket sales and attendance, the clock is ticking for Ole Miss to do the same as sales continue to plummet.
It’s become a tradition for fans from the other sections each week to document a nearly empty north end zone as students elect to watch the game in the world-famous Grove or historic Oxford Square instead of roasting under the sun in the student section.
“I think it goes back to a lot of the same things that we’re going to try to do for the donor base we’ve got to do for students,” Carter said. “We’ve got to get creative. We’ve got to find a reason to make them want to stay in the stands. We’ve talked about maybe doing some customization of the student section to where maybe there’s more social areas. We’ve talked about other things where we could do block seating to attract the fraternities and sororities.”
So how do you get butts back in seats in Vaught-Hemingway?
Well — once again — winning football games won’t hurt, but Ole Miss also has to fight off some other elements.
“I think there’s a larger trend — kind of a national trend — that people are deciding, ‘You know what? Instead of buying a full season ticket, we’re going to pick a couple of games and come and buy tickets on the secondary market,’” Carter said. “So I think we’ve got to shift our thinking in some ways. We’ll always have the season ticket available. I think we’ve got to get a little more creative on how we sell.”
Ole Miss does not currently offer any specific four or six game packages. Tickets for all seven home games start at $400 with required donations ranging from $50 to $925 as you get closer to midfield. A $1,350 donation gives you access to the Field Club on top of the south end zone. Tickets behind the Field Club in section S1 through S11 have dropped to $299 per seat this season.
Students, on the other hand, shell out $155 for seven games including $130 for the tickets and a $25 donation to the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation.
As he fills in as interim athletics director, Carter says the Athletics Department is full steam ahead with their plans, and the next thing on the docket would be a look at potential alcohol sales in Vaught-Hemingway.
“I think the SEC did the right thing by making to where each campus can make their own decision,” he said. “In Mississippi, I think we have some other challenges and things that we’ve got to overcome from a state level, from an IHL level. And then we’ll evaluate and see if it’s right for our campus. We’re not jumping in, we’re not jumping out. I’m not sure if we even did get approval what the timing would look like to do something like that.”
Vaught-Hemingway Stadium does hold a “resort status” that allows the sale of alcohol on campus, but that status is specifically for non-sporting events. While the university is taking a wait-and-see approach, beer and wine in the general admission areas of the stadium could only help ticket sales, attendance and finances.