Attendance figures of recent home season-openers for the Vols
About 8,000 tickets remain for Saturday's football season opener against the University of Montana, but filling those seats isn't what has University of Tennessee's athletic administrators anxious.
The implementation of a new digital ticket scanning system has been the cause for celebration among the members of UT's data-craving sales and marketing team, but it also has them on their toes for potential ticket fraud and technology failure in its debut.
"Anytime there's new technology, people are going to push the limits and see what they can get away with," said Joe Arnone, UT associate athletic director for ticket operations. "The problem is the volume of people you're dealing with and how many of them think they can beat the system."
Chris Fuller, senior associate athletic director, said it's inevitable that there will be a handful of incidents where fans try to gain entrance to the stadium with a duplicated ticket, especially now that it is seemingly more enticing with the new option to print tickets at home or email them to someone else. The digital system, which was implemented four years ago for basketball games at Thompson-Boling Arena, will immediately flag that ticket as void and the fan or fans trying to pass them off as legitimate will be asked to leave.
With thousands of fans trying to pile into the stadium through 26 gates, which will be manned by 113 UT employees holding $1,100 ticket scanners, multiple flare-ups could quickly translate into widespread logjams.
"I personally think we've done everything we can to get ready for Saturday night," said Arnone, who recently coordinated a ticket-scanning training session from the top of a ladder with a bullhorn at Neyland Stadium.
The early hiccups, though, aren't expected to overshadow the benefits of the system, which will also lessen the load on those working at the ticket window. Because fans can print their tickets at home, less — in theory — will have to line up at Will Call.
Fuller said he expects a walk-up crowd similar to last year's season opener against UT Martin, when more than 2,000 tickets were sold on the day of the game.
Barring an unprecedented surge in ticket sales, UT will post its lowest season-opening crowd in recent memory. In the past three seasons, the Vols have averaged 98,696 fans for their first home game of the season.
Fuller said he's hoping for somewhere in the "mid-90,000s."
UT has promoted the game in a variety of ways, including a collaborative venture with Bristol Motor Speedway, but there aren't any plans to "devalue the product" by slashing prices just to fill the stadium, Fuller said.
Individual tickets for Saturday's game start at $40.
"We still think there's tremendous value in Tennessee football," Fuller said. "The balance here is between making sure you don't devalue the product by getting crazy on pricing versus 'We want to play in front of a full house.' "