The technology and support system are in place for the Tennessee athletic department to enhance football fans' ticket-buying experience, but the tangible results aren't keeping pace just yet.
As of Friday, the school had sold roughly 61,500 of its 72,500 season tickets, said UT senior associate athletic director for external operations Chris Fuller. That's about 2,000-2,500 tickets fewer than what was sold at this point last year.
"We've got some work left to do for sure," Fuller said. "When you look at the factors in our case, obviously most of our fans lock in on performance.
"If you win, they'll come."
Despite having just three hard sellouts in 2010, UT ranked sixth in the nation with an average of 99,781 fans for its seven games at Neyland Stadium, which seats 102,455.
It marked a slight increase from the total amassed in Lane Kiffin's much-hyped 2009 season, but there continues to be room to grow while Derek Dooley attempts to rebuild the program and rejuvenate a fan base that's dealt with more adversity than success in the past three years.
Fuller and his staff, though, can only control what they control, which is why a culture change remains ongoing behind the walls of UT's ticket offices.
"Tennessee football has been a revenue engine that's driven a lot of successful businesses," Fuller said. "I think it's been successful for so long, I don't think people allow themselves to consider the alternative.
"I think there's a certain percentage of people who won't understand that unless it fails."
In June, UT inked a deal with IMG College Ticket Solutions to provide a fresh, pro-active approach to not just how it finds new customers, but also how it maintains strong relationships with those who have been filling Neyland Stadium for years. The department basically underwent a face lift, going from a staff that largely just fielded ticket orders to a group of eight to 12 active sellers who are supervised by a recently hired general manager and motivated by performance-related bonuses.
Since the IMG team started actively selling at the beginning of the month, UT has sold more than 300 season tickets and 200 blocks of group tickets, Fuller said.
"What (used to) happen was we spent most of our time servicing the upper 5 to 10 percent (of ticketholders), but now we've got a mechanism to make sure we're reaching out personally to the $100 donor in Kingsport who has never gotten a direct call," Fuller said. "Now, all of a sudden, he's got a personal ticket representative in the department that he can develop a relationship with."
A full block of season tickets for UT's eight home games costs $390, up $30 from last season's seven-game price. A donation of $100 or more is required to purchase a full season's worth, but that's not required for the two, three-game mini-packs that are currently being offered.
The "Orange" pack offers tickets to games against Buffalo (Oct. 1), LSU (Oct. 15) and Middle Tennessee State (Nov. 5), while the "White" pack boasts games against Cincinnati (Sept. 10), South Carolina (Oct. 29) and Vanderbilt (Nov. 19). Prices are determined by the location of the seat.
Individual tickets also remain for road games at Florida, Arkansas and Kentucky.
In the not-so-distant past, season ticket holders would typically gobble up whatever tickets UT was allotted for road games, but the shaky economy and the Vols' shaky, on-field performance have lessened the demand, Fuller said.
"There are certain places in the league that our fans don't enjoy going to," said Fuller, who noted that a number of the Vols' SEC rivals have returned more and more tickets for their games at Neyland Stadium in the past few years.
"It's easier to endure a hostile crowd when you're beating them"
Individual tickets for all of the Vols' home games go on sale Aug. 8, but Fuller hinted that UT could put tickets for the Sept. 3 season opener against Montana on the market as soon as today.
Fuller said tickets for the Buffalo game, which replaced a road trip to North Carolina after the school bought out of the contract last season, will be the hardest sell not just because the Bulls are one of the lowest-profile teams in major college football, but also because UT's fall break is that weekend.
For the first time, all tickets will have bar codes that will be scanned upon entrance, an initiative that will allow fans to print their tickets from home and will also provide UT with hard data on who is and who isn't using their tickets. It's also hoped that technology that allows season ticketholders to e-mail their tickets to a friend if they're unable to go to the game will be in place by the season opener.
"We're trying to find ways to provide more of a convenience factor for our fans." Fuller said. "And to make it easier to sell a ticket."