Tick­ets are sold, but fans in Wash­ing­ton are stay­ing home

The Sacramento Bee - - Sports - BY LAU­REN KIRSCHMAN lkirschman@the­new­stri­bune.com

The Uni­ver­sity of Wash­ing­ton foot­ball team gives fans lots of rea­sons to come to games. Their re­cently re­fur­bished sta­dium sits right on Lake Wash­ing­ton. The Huskies have spent most of the sea­son in the Top 25.

And still, ev­ery game, thou­sands of fans with tick­ets stay home rather than at­tend. Just like ev­ery other team in the

Pac-12. Data ob­tained by McClatchy show the num­ber of tick­ets ac­tu­ally scanned at each col­lege foot­ball game is much lower than what is pub­licly re­ported, po­ten­tially af­fect­ing in-sta­dium ad­ver­tis­ing con­tracts.

Wash­ing­ton re­ported an av­er­age at­ten­dance of

68,822 in 2017, but the av­er­age num­ber of tick­ets scanned was 54,479. That’s a dif­fer­ence of

14,473 per game. The sit­u­a­tion is hardly unique to the Huskies. UCLA’s data show the school had nearly 11,000 tick­eted fans skip their games last year. Cal brought in

22,826 per game but re­ported 36,565 fan, an in­fla­tion of 60.2 per­cent.

And Wash­ing­ton State had a paid at­ten­dance of

31,982 in 2017, the Cougars’ scanned at­ten­dance was 23,996. That means their at­ten­dance was in­creased by 7,986 per game.

“I think it de­pends on why (fans) are no-show­ing,” said Wash­ing­ton State ath­letic direc­tor Patrick Chun. “If there’s a bl­iz­zard or a rain­storm and there’s no shows that’s one thing. If there’s no-shows be­cause there’s ap­a­thy that’s an­other thing.

“I think ev­ery case is a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent. I think it just de­pends on why there are no-shows. But ab­so­lutely, that would al­ways be a con­cern if peo­ple are pur­chas­ing tick­ets and not us­ing them.”

There is noth­ing more im­por­tant than the prod­uct a school puts on the field, Chun said. For Wash­ing­ton State, the

2018 sea­son has been “mag­i­cal.” The Cougars are 8-1 and at the top of the Pac-12 North stand­ings, and are ranked eighth in the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off rank­ings.

“The re­al­ity is that cre­ates more en­ergy and more power and what we do on Satur­day cre­ates more ex­cite­ment,” Chun said. “Ev­ery­thing has to re­ally kind of line up.”

The Cougars have had three paid home sell­outs this sea­son, in­clud­ing a sea­son-high num­ber of 33,152 for the game against Ore­gon when ESPN’s ‘Col­lege Gameday’ came to Pull­man on Oct. 20. This sea­son, WSU’s av­er­age at­ten­dance is 31,057 through five games.

But Chun knows how quickly things can change, es­pe­cially if the prod­uct on the field slips. Ev­ery sea­son is go­ing to be dif­fer­ent, he said. That’s why Wash­ing­ton State is fo­cused on get­ting feed­back from sea­son ticket hold­ers.

“Spe­cific to Wash­ing­ton State, our strat­egy be­cause of where we sit ge­o­graph­i­cally, we’re try­ing to build in­ward­out,” Chun said. “When I say that, I mean to build our en­vi­ron­ment it has to start with our stu­dents and then it goes to our fac­ulty and staff, the res­i­dents of our city of Pull­man, our re­gion of the state and then fan out from there.”

Tick­ets sales are crit­i­cal rev­enue driv­ers for any ath­letic de­part­ment. The de­crease in at­ten­dance across the coun­try, as well as com­pe­ti­tion from im­prov­ing tech­nol­ogy and view­ing op­tions, will never go un­no­ticed.

“We’re not im­mune to that by any stretch of the imag­i­na­tion,” Chun said.

In any given year, Wash­ing­ton ath­letic direc­tor Jen­nifer Co­hen said, foot­ball gen­er­ates be­tween 85 and 90 per­cent of UW’s ath­letic rev­enue. Max­i­miz­ing rev­enue in foot­ball not only en­sures a com­pet­i­tive foot­ball pro­gram, but af­fects the Huskies’ other pro­grams.

“It’s ab­so­lutely the sin­gle most crit­i­cal piece to our fi­nan­cial well-be­ing that we have the most amount of con­trol over,” Co­hen said of foot­ball ticket sales. “That and fundrais­ing. When we first started a cou­ple years ago, we had some fi­nan­cial chal­lenges. And quite frankly in this day and age in col­lege sports, I don’t think that goes away. I think that’s just our re­al­ity.”

But the suc­cess of the team as well as upticks in game rev­enue and con­tri­bu­tions have helped. It has not only al­lowed the Huskies to main­tain a con­sis­tent staff in foot­ball, Co­hen said, but also en­abled them to make changes in bas­ket­ball, such as bring­ing on sec­ond-year men’s head coach Mike Hop­kins.

Ticket sales need to have a pos­i­tive im­pact on fundrais­ing, Chun said. The Cougars’ 2018 suc­cess will help both.

“There’s no ad­ver­tis­ing quite like what we’ve been able to do from a so­cial me­dia stand­point, from a tele­vi­sion stand­point over the last cou­ple weeks,” he said.

“That ul­ti­mately would be too ex­pen­sive to buy what’s hap­pened or­gan­i­cally be­cause of what’s go­ing on with our foot­ball pro­gram. Pos­i­tiv­ity typ­i­cally leads to pos­i­tiv­ity. Win­ning typ­i­cally leads to more win­ning.”

ELAINE THOMP­SON AP

Wash­ing­ton's Tay­lor Rapp and the Huskies would like to see more fans show up.

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