Tickets are sold, but fans in Washington are staying home
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.”
Washington's Taylor Rapp and the Huskies would like to see more fans show up.