With Gophers football season ticket sales slumping, athletic director Mark Coyle has pulled the plug on a scheduled “scholarship seating” price increase for 2017.
Former AD Norwood Teague authorized the three-year price increase in December 2014, when the Gophers were headed to the Citrus Bowl.
But after selling 27,885 non-student season tickets last season, the Gophers had sold just 22,706 as of Friday.
“There are a lot of factors,” Coyle said of the scholarship seating price freeze. “Obviously our fans are very important to us. But I think when the program was implemented in 2014, they had certain needs they were looking at.
“And as I got here [in June], our staff had a chance to look at the program, and we just thought it’d be best to take that step back and evaluate it.”
Scholarship seating fees, common throughout college football, are built-in donations attached to season ticket packages.
Teague’s plan affected 28,050 seats at TCF Bank Stadium.
Lower-level seats between the 35-yard lines, for example, had a scholarship seating fee of $500 when the stadium first opened in 2009. Teague’s plan increased that fee to $650 for last season and $850 for this season. Instead of jumping to $1,000 next season, as it would have under Teague’s plan, it will stay at $850.
Lower-level seats between the goal line and 25-yard line would have seen the scholarship seating fee increase from $300 to $500 next season before the price freeze. Second-deck scholarship seating fees would have jumped from $150 to $250 before the freeze.
Teague stressed the need to raise revenue to keep up with increasing expenses. The plan added $1 million in additional revenue to the department last year and was scheduled to add $1.5 million this year.
But after going 8-5 in back-to-back seasons, the Gophers slipped to 6-7 last year. The team is confident this can be a bounce-back season under coach Tracy Claeys, but it might take time to restore the fan interest the Gophers had in late 2014.
“There’s no question, coming off the Citrus Bowl, Coach [Jerry] Kill having a lot of success, and the program went through so much last year,” Coyle said.
“There’s a lot of factors that you kind of look at from that standpoint.”
Last year’s home schedule included four marquee opponents — TCU, Nebraska, Michigan and Wisconsin. This year’s home schedule goes: Oregon State, Indiana State, Colorado State, Iowa, Rutgers, Purdue and Northwestern.
Has that been a factor?
“It’s hard to say,” Coyle said. “I get the schedule was great last year. But hopefully we have a program where we have loyal fans who want to support us all the time. That’s one of those things you try to create at any program, and we’ve got great fans.”
Before training camp, Claeys personally delivered season tickets to some fans who renewed.
“I think that is a great way to reward people,” Claeys said. “We’ve had fans that have been season-ticket holders a long time.
“I’m very appreciative of the people that have hung in there with us and continue to buy season tickets. Because that stadium now — the kids will play harder, and it’s an awesome sight when it’s full.”