Meet Your Seats event at Neyland Stadium
On Thursday afternoon, Neyland Stadium was empty, except for a crew of maintenance workers with pressure washers who were blasting the cement walkways.
But as fans wandered through the concourse, Tennessee fundraisers hoped they could envision a packed stadium and a winning team — and wanted to buy tickets to be a part of it.
Thursday was “Meet Your Seats” day at Neyland Stadium. A large crew of UT staffers was on hand to greet fans who wanted to check out season tickets, or to help current season ticket holders change or upgrade their location.
“Maybe it’s under (a) cover, maybe it’s having a different view or maybe it’s getting closer to the concession stands,” said Greg Hulen, UT’s associate athletic director for development, about different reasons fans may want to relocate seats.
Energized by new coach Butch Jones, fans filled 61,076 seats at Neyland Stadium for the April 20 spring game. Football attendance has dwindled in the five years since the Vols last had a winning record in conference play, and the spring game offered some hope that there are better days ahead.
But UT is battling a soft market for tickets that has impacted every sport at every level, and senior associate athletic director Chris Fuller said during an interview last month that a new coach alone was unlikely to dramatically alter season ticket sales.
So what to do?
Outreach efforts like Thursday’s event can help. Hulen said it’s important to let fans know that their support isn’t taken for granted.
“Programs like this aren’t going to solve all the problems, but they’re part of the overall puzzle in making sure that we’re connecting with people,” said Hulen. “We feel like the product on the field is going to come with Coach Jones, and he’s going to get things right, but as a staff we have to control the things we can control. For us, that means making sure we have programs like this, that when you call our office you get great customer service, and that we have a way for people to buy tickets online.”
When Hulen awoke Thursday morning, he found a new season ticket sale that had registered over night. Someone decided to buy seats at 2 a.m.
Whether online, on the phone or in person, UT is glad to make the sale. Like many other schools, UT is scrambling to fill seats. But the Neyland Stadium inventory — about 102,000 — presents different challenges.
“This stadium is an advantage when you look at the Florida game (that sold out last season),” Hulen said. “But if you go back and look at the Akron game or maybe some games that aren’t as attractive to the fan base, it can be a challenge to sell tickets.”
Some fans were sent individual ticket pre-sale codes via email this week. Prices appeared to reflect fairly substantial discounting. Prices ranged from $45 for lower level seats to the Austin Peay, Western Kentucky and South Alabama games to $55 for Vanderbilt and $70 for Auburn. Games against Georgia and South Carolina — the two highest-profile contests on the 2013 home schedule — could be purchased as part of a mini-plan with two other games. Any three games, excluding South Carolina and Georgia, could be bought for $90.
Season tickets in the lower sections require a donation in addition to the cost of the ticket. Online, fans can purchase midfield lower-deck seats for $2,870 ($370 plus a $2,500 donation) or end zone seats for $870 ($370 plus a $500 donation).
The challenge for Tennessee is selling the rest of the tickets — particularly those in less-desirable locations against less-desirable teams — without undercutting the value of the season ticket packages.
For all the talk of surging television revenue, Hulen said donors and ticket buyers are a vital part of the department’s budget. That’s why the Vols are willing to roll out the red — or, orange — carpet. The days of counting on fans to consider it a privilege to purchase tickets are long gone.
“We know that winning can cure a lot of ills, but I don’t think you can assume that the stadium’s going to fill itself,” Hulen said. “That’s a false premise. We’ve got to win, but we’ve also got to be thinking about ways we can consistently grow the fan experience.“
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.