Mike Strange: Vols' dilemma: ticket sales down, SEC travel costs up

Mike Strange
Neyland Stadium sits empty three hours before kickoff of the game between the Tennessee Volunteers and the Florida Gators Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012. Gates will open for the sellout crowd two hours prior to the 6p.m. kickoff Saturday evening. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer

Neyland Stadium sits empty three hours before kickoff of the game between the Tennessee Volunteers and the Florida Gators Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012. Gates will open for the sellout crowd two hours prior to the 6p.m. kickoff Saturday evening. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Tennessee’s timing isn’t the best. Ticket-sale revenue is headed south at a time when travel expenses in an expanded SEC are headed north.

At least that’s what I took from the athletic budget explanation at Wednesday’s UT board of trustees meeting.

The five-year change in ticket revenue from 2010 to a projected 2014 is a negative 18.1 percent. That’s a lot of empty seats, primarily at Neyland Stadium.

In that same five years, travel expenses are up by 20 percent. One of the reasons listed by Bill Myers, the athletic department chief financial officer, is travel to Missouri and Texas A&M, the far-flung new outposts in the SEC.

Myers said UT travel to A&M and Mizzou added between $750,000 and $1 million to the travel budget this past year.

And that’s without a football trip to either place. This coming year, the UTAD will, however, have to pay the freight to send football and men’s basketball to Missouri for the first time.

For now, the SEC football schedule is holding at eight games. I’m not sure how traveling to Texas A&M or Mizzou is more expensive than traveling to Arkansas or LSU.

Expansion did mean expanding the SEC basketball schedule from 16 to 18 games. I suppose that’s at least one road game taking the place of a home game against Gardner-Webb.

Myers also made a point that hadn’t occurred to me. Columbia, Mo., and College Station, Texas, are not exactly international air hubs. A quick turnaround to get in and out to, say, Starkville, can necessitate chartering instead of flying commercial and that’s expensive.

In the long run, having Texas A&M and Missouri on board will fatten UT’s checking account. Their lucrative TV markets were the only reason to expand in the first place.

The SEC distributed $20.7 million per school in TV loot this spring. That bonanza will grow significantly when the new SEC network with ESPN comes on line next year.

For now, though, Tennessee fans have a right to wonder if expansion has been good or bad for the Vols in the short term.

Last fall, they had to stomach a blown lead in the final minute at Neyland Stadium that led to a four-overtime loss to Missouri. That proved to be the difference in not qualifying for a bowl.

On the other hand they were spared playing the Aggies. Can you imagine that defense chasing Johnny Football all afternoon?

Men’s basketball earned a rousing four-overtime win at Texas A&M in February and beat Missouri here on Senior Day. It still didn’t get the Vols off the

bubble into the NCAA tournament.

The softball team lost an SEC regular-season title on a miserable, tough-luck weekend at Missouri but recovered to almost win a national title.

Going forward, both additions will give Tennessee all it wants on the playing fields and courts. The toughest conference got tougher.

The Aggies were a force in their maiden voyage, winning a couple of SEC titles and a Heisman trophy. The Tigers won’t be competing for championships in every sport but they’re UT’s peer in most cases.

That’s certainly the case in that most critical arena, football. It wouldn’t be a stretch to find that Nov. 2 in Columbia again determines whether the Vols go bowling or not.

As for the budgetary bottom line, the travel expenses are here to stay. The thing Tennessee can do something about is ticket sales.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him on Twitter at Strangemike44.

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Comments » 37

td writes:

One of the non-numeric metrics in evaluating leadership is: Did you leave the place in better shape than when you arrived? On Mike Hamilton's performance report, that's an indisputable NO! Well, he did set in motion infrastructure improvements; however, at what cost -- damn near destruction of Tennessee Athletics. All one needs to consider is the non-renewal rate of long time season ticket holders, and the ever increasing cost of every athletic product or service.

The Tennessee Athletics Department can survive and even thrive if: 1. the money sports field products that create excitement in which fans want to participate (tall order with the advent of HDTV and HD Programming); 2. the money tightening UTAD has begun actually yields fiscal results and not accounting gimmicks; 3. there's a successful campaign to renew the loyalty of the long suffering fan base who will buy those tickets regardless of team records. Tennessee Fans, for many years, did that and funded the successive expansions of Neyland and constructed Thompson-Boling. Unfortunately, Mike Hamilton chased the all mighty dollar and, in the process, chased away many solid loyal-to-a-fault fans; 4. build a new loyalty from new fans who will develop their own love for all things Tennessee.

chattabluetick writes:

Winning takes care of ticket sales. Winning takes care of everything. Just Win Baby!

SevenT writes:

Really can't blame UT fan for not buying football tickets. After all attending the game has proven to be a waste of time and money.

thevoice writes:

No worries. UT and every other SEC school will be getting a cool $20M/yr more soon.

lknvol writes:

Ask Mikie Hamilton and Jimmy Cheek to buy up a bunch of tickets since they are the engineers of the decline of Tennessee athletics. The stench caused by those two guys will be around for years to come. It won't even start to go away until Cheek is shown the door. Those guys are an embarrassment!!

imw8n4u writes:

Count me as one of the fans no longer buying season tickets to the football games. It's sad that my children won't get the same experiences I had going to the games with my parents, but they have priced the average family out of going. My couch is really comfortable compared to a metal bench, and my HD TV is top notch. Throw in my surround sound, DVR to skip all the commercials and create my own replays, ability to follow all the games, not just 1, no line at my bathroom, $.25 drinks instead of $6.00 (I could go on and on) and it's hard to justify going to the games. Yes, tailgating was fun, not to mention some of the other, um, "scenery", but even with all that, it's still just no longer worth it to me. I don't think even a winning team will get me back to season tickets.

tn10 writes:

UT Scheduled fall break the same weekend as the South Carolina game this year instead of the open date, insuring plenty of student tickets would be available to sell to SC fans. This will increase the coffers but also give KNS writers something to take shots at when a large number of people wearing red descend on
Neyland stadium.

RockyMtnVol writes:

Boy! there is a bunch of negative nancys and debbie downers on this blog and Mike Strange is the leader of the pack. If it is negative, you people flock to it like bees to honey. Try saying something positive...CBJ is going to rebuild UT Football...I will support my team regardless of W/L record, The players work hard to represent UT....get a life people!!! either you like UT or not. They are trying to bring back the football pride...give them a frigging chance to prove it....what bunch of NANCYS!!

trubleoj#657755 writes:

in response to tn10:

UT Scheduled fall break the same weekend as the South Carolina game this year instead of the open date, insuring plenty of student tickets would be available to sell to SC fans. This will increase the coffers but also give KNS writers something to take shots at when a large number of people wearing red descend on
Neyland stadium.

USC never sells their entire ticket allotment anyway, they won't be buying student tickets. Makes no sense that Mizzou would really add costs, we didn't add a SEC game, I can't imagine it costing more than going to Arky.

richvol writes:

This is not complicated...it's the price of tickets dummy.

rusty_shackleford writes:

Price of tix + terrible non-conference home schedule = other Saturday options.

CCLC writes:

Tough times for Lulu and Junior

That new TV money can’t get here fast enough for some folks, I suspect.

PHAT_VOL writes:

Charge more for tickets and consessions. That should take care of everything and everyone. BUT wait how did we get this way? Can we Say Mr. Hamilton?

GO VOLS!!!

CrankE writes:

Millions for luxury boxes, but not one penny for replacing urinal troughs.

tractoronthepole writes:

Went to the Kentucky game last year and it was rather cold. Took my wife and daughter and of course was instructed to get hot chocolate. After waiting in line and missing what I was there for they ran out by the beginning of 2nd quarter at multiple stands. Returned to seat only to be instructed to get chile from Petro's still second quarter mind you. Guess what out of chile. I understand this is the last home game but really. I can only hope in the early season games the concession stands were not managed as poorly as the last season game. How frustrating it was to be in the stadium I love and have to endure not watching my beloved Vols because issues in our newly renovated stadium are worse than I remember in the 90's. Game day experience only goes so far if you want to see every play.

imw8n4u writes:

in response to KnoxVegas88:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Can't argue with that, and we do try to make a couple of games a year as well. Most of the time we can get tickets for less than face value, so what does that say about the real value of the games?

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

When you just completed a 55 million dollar practice facility, 4 million in debt are literally peanuts to make up. I'm betting UT turns a profit year one with Butch Jones at the helm..GBO!!

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to PHAT_VOL:

Charge more for tickets and consessions. That should take care of everything and everyone. BUT wait how did we get this way? Can we Say Mr. Hamilton?

GO VOLS!!!

Hamilton and every other non-profit department at UT milking the athletic budget. Thank goodness Dave Hart had the stones to trim back the fat and kick some dead weight to the curb.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

in response to imw8n4u:

Count me as one of the fans no longer buying season tickets to the football games. It's sad that my children won't get the same experiences I had going to the games with my parents, but they have priced the average family out of going. My couch is really comfortable compared to a metal bench, and my HD TV is top notch. Throw in my surround sound, DVR to skip all the commercials and create my own replays, ability to follow all the games, not just 1, no line at my bathroom, $.25 drinks instead of $6.00 (I could go on and on) and it's hard to justify going to the games. Yes, tailgating was fun, not to mention some of the other, um, "scenery", but even with all that, it's still just no longer worth it to me. I don't think even a winning team will get me back to season tickets.

Sorry to hear there will be one less family cheering from the stands but I can relate..I live near Miami and was at the old Orange Bowl for all of the Canes 58 straight home wins in the 90's. UM made football very accessible and tried hard to sell family concept instead of your typical too drunk fan. You could buy season tickets for 2 adults;2 kids for an unheard of $180 with parking around $10 a game and that went on for years!! It was wonderful and as far as comfort goes Neyland is exactly like the OB. The utopia ended when the Canes moved to Dolphin Stadium where $180 only buys 4 nose bleed tickets and parking is $30..The end result is paying way more money for a much lesser product just because the stadium offers more comforts.Also attendance is down to barely 40,000 for a normal ACC game

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to licknpromise777#651578:

Sorry to hear there will be one less family cheering from the stands but I can relate..I live near Miami and was at the old Orange Bowl for all of the Canes 58 straight home wins in the 90's. UM made football very accessible and tried hard to sell family concept instead of your typical too drunk fan. You could buy season tickets for 2 adults;2 kids for an unheard of $180 with parking around $10 a game and that went on for years!! It was wonderful and as far as comfort goes Neyland is exactly like the OB. The utopia ended when the Canes moved to Dolphin Stadium where $180 only buys 4 nose bleed tickets and parking is $30..The end result is paying way more money for a much lesser product just because the stadium offers more comforts.Also attendance is down to barely 40,000 for a normal ACC game

I was in South Florida during those years. I purchased tickets to many of those OB games through Publix. I also discovered that the local thugs in Liberty city would take better care of your car for $25.00 and a bottle of gin.

MikeNPS writes:

in response to td:

One of the non-numeric metrics in evaluating leadership is: Did you leave the place in better shape than when you arrived? On Mike Hamilton's performance report, that's an indisputable NO! Well, he did set in motion infrastructure improvements; however, at what cost -- damn near destruction of Tennessee Athletics. All one needs to consider is the non-renewal rate of long time season ticket holders, and the ever increasing cost of every athletic product or service.

The Tennessee Athletics Department can survive and even thrive if: 1. the money sports field products that create excitement in which fans want to participate (tall order with the advent of HDTV and HD Programming); 2. the money tightening UTAD has begun actually yields fiscal results and not accounting gimmicks; 3. there's a successful campaign to renew the loyalty of the long suffering fan base who will buy those tickets regardless of team records. Tennessee Fans, for many years, did that and funded the successive expansions of Neyland and constructed Thompson-Boling. Unfortunately, Mike Hamilton chased the all mighty dollar and, in the process, chased away many solid loyal-to-a-fault fans; 4. build a new loyalty from new fans who will develop their own love for all things Tennessee.

I continue to throw up every time I think about Hamilton's getting a sweet package when he left. Based on so many negative events occurring while he was AD, he should, in my opinion, have been fired and given nothing as his rear end was kicked out the door.

ponkey writes:

shoulda been Clemson and Florida State (not A&M/Mizzou)

BigBadVol writes:

Same ignorant comments from the same ignorant people. Never changes.

shoelessvol#236864 writes:

I have had season tickets almost 40 years, would not trade them for anything! However, for those not "grandfathered" the price of new season tickets is substantial. My biggest complaint in the non-conference schedule which quite frankly "sucks"! NO ONE wants to see us play any FCS schools such as Austin Peay this year and Chattanooga next year. Those scheduling home games need to wake up before it's too late!

VolTennisFan writes:

Mike Hamilton did a nice job with a number of the non-revenue sports. You are focusing only on football here. The men's tennis team has been top 10 in the nation for much of the last 6 years, and in some cases much higher.

VolzsFan writes:

The architect of destruction was Hamilton. Hart maybe horrible but who knows? He inherited a disaster. Hamilton did everything wrong as if he was given a bonus to screw it up. As for facilities, those where planned before he came along. As for fund raising, actual giving has declined along with operating revenue. When you look at the budget the increases are strictly from the conference TV deals. A monkey could have been the AD and the revenue would be the same.

Enjoy the changes

antonio14313 writes:

in response to imw8n4u:

Count me as one of the fans no longer buying season tickets to the football games. It's sad that my children won't get the same experiences I had going to the games with my parents, but they have priced the average family out of going. My couch is really comfortable compared to a metal bench, and my HD TV is top notch. Throw in my surround sound, DVR to skip all the commercials and create my own replays, ability to follow all the games, not just 1, no line at my bathroom, $.25 drinks instead of $6.00 (I could go on and on) and it's hard to justify going to the games. Yes, tailgating was fun, not to mention some of the other, um, "scenery", but even with all that, it's still just no longer worth it to me. I don't think even a winning team will get me back to season tickets.

i see where you're coming from.

me personally, i live in nashville. now, if i lived in knoxville, more than likely i'd have season tickets (not even knowing how much they are). most UT games are on tv here, most times. and even with that, ever since '98 (when i turned 21, oddly enough), i go to at least 1 game in knoxville annually. it's yearly tradition in 'tonioland. ;) i should be at the august 31st game...

to me, going to the game is more of an experience than just a football game. the actual trip up (2.5, 3.0 hour drive (we call knoxville "nashville FAR east" since we know so many people that go there from nashville)), hanging on the strip (what up, buffalo wild wings! other places too, of course), sometimes staying the night, sometimes driving back the same day, just depending on the situation and gametime (11am cst games are brutal getting to when you don't stay in knoxville the night before!!! and late games, like 6pm cst, are tough getting back if you don't stay the night.). and going to the game, of course (and always needing a BC powder from yelling during the game! lol...). good times.

go vols.

t

RoadTrip writes:

Sit in over priced, tiny, uncomfortble seats to watch them beat Austin Peay and South Alabama while losing to the better SEC teams? Bama Dave wanted Dools to still be there with another win or two last season, but he still blew it. It's all about the money to them. As long as the money flows they could care less how good the product on the field turns out. So I guess I will wait until I see what happens next before ever buying tickets again. Might as well enjoy the SEC network and contribute an extra dollar a month to the cable bill while watching on HDTV in comfort until Jones proves it on the field.

MikeNPS writes:

in response to rusty_shackleford:

Price of tix + terrible non-conference home schedule = other Saturday options.

I strongly agree that the terrible non-conference home games hurt attendance. Why would anyone buy a season ticket package that includes games against Austin Peay and Western Kentucky?

MikeNPS writes:

in response to KnoxVegas88:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Hopefully when you buy tickets outside the stadium, you don't get stuck with counterfeit tickets. With scanning capabilities, counterfeits are becoming a serious problem in many cities.

MikeNPS writes:

in response to ponkey:

shoulda been Clemson and Florida State (not A&M/Mizzou)

Remember when the Vols used to play Georgia Tech every year? Even that series generated substantially more interest than most of the non-conference teams we have played in recent years.

CCLC writes:

in response to Speyers_Spectacular_Show:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Wait it gets worse......
"Many, if not most, Georgia fans have groused about the zealous guardianship of the Athletic Association’s cash assets. Complaints about the lack of an indoor practice facility and the relative condition of the baseball stadium are commonplace. However, conservative financial stewardship will be a huge advantage if NCAA loses the O’Bannon case. Cash strapped programs (Tennessee) and other that committed to large capital improvements (TAMU, Alabams, LSU) could find themselves faced with serious cutbacks if a substantial portion of revenue were diverted to current and former players."
just typin'

underthehill writes:

in response to VolzsFan:

The architect of destruction was Hamilton. Hart maybe horrible but who knows? He inherited a disaster. Hamilton did everything wrong as if he was given a bonus to screw it up. As for facilities, those where planned before he came along. As for fund raising, actual giving has declined along with operating revenue. When you look at the budget the increases are strictly from the conference TV deals. A monkey could have been the AD and the revenue would be the same.

Enjoy the changes

Wrong ..the revenue would be more if a monkey was AD..the monkey would not be likely to have cronies on the payroll and the monkey would not have a salary..get the monkey..but not from bama..

GONAVY writes:

Both Tex AM and Mizzou will be losses, which hurts. Not sure of all the negative posts here. Things will get better on the Hill with Jones.

chattabluetick writes:

in response to ponkey:

shoulda been Clemson and Florida State (not A&M/Mizzou)

Florida State and Miami were offered opportunity to join S.E.C. before Arkansas and South Carolina were asked. They were both chicken and wanted to try to dominate ACC.

utvolfan1955 writes:

in response to shiftb:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Being the elite athlete you are why aren't you a big money donor?

pdhuff#552644 writes:

Both cornerbacks on the same side of the field on 3rd and 19 many times last season might have had a bearing on one's outlook.

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