Aggies’ fans enjoy longtime bargain
By Kyle Goon
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Jul 01 2013 06:36PM
Snowstorms have blustered through Utah State’s football stadium many times over the past 50 years. Freezing winds bring on chills. But that wasn’t the hardest thing for Hy Olsen to sit through.
The hardest thing was losing. Years of it. A 33-year drought between bowl game appearances. After that, a 19-year gap between bowl wins. And in between the high points, decades of defeat and uncertainty with moves in and out of conferences with far-flung members.
"We’ve gone to games through thick and thin," said Olsen, a 1958 alum who has watched Merlin Olsen, Chuckie Keeton and everyone in between. "There was a lot of thin."
On Monday, Aggie fans, players and officials celebrated a new era for Utah State with a move to the Mountain West conference. They hope the new affiliation will improve athletics competition, increase exposure and heighten security in an era of constant conference realignment.
Utah State finds itself in the midst of many changes: building multimillion construction projects, recruiting higher-level athletes and preparing for tougher conference rivals.
What’s not changing? It still offers the cheapest tickets you can get for FBS football in the state. Even as the football team’s wins have increased — the Aggies won 11 games last year — tickets have stayed affordable.
"I hear a lot of Utes fans complaining about the ticket prices going up and they’re not doing as well as they thought they would do," says Carlos Smith, a Holladay resident and longtime Utah State ticket-holder. "Look at us: We’re excited about the league we’re playing in, and we’re winning now. It’s a bargain."
By comparison, Aggie fans can watch for a lot less than their Wasatch Front counterparts. Season tickets start at $95 for general admission without mandatory donations, and they’re only $60 for kids. A family of five can attend a season’s games starting at $340. With a $300 minimum contribution to the Big Blue Fund (which counts for both football and basketball), bottom section seats right in the middle of the west side go for $175 for those looking to renew.
Comparable seats at Utah range between $175 for general admission (Red Zone) to $600 (plus a $300 to $500 donation) for the best seats in the house. BYU is more affordable on the bottom end ($110 for nosebleeds), but top donors pay as much as $1,350 for Legacy Chair seats.
Winning and affordability are the biggest reasons ticket sales were up nearly 25 percent this year as of late June. Katie Hickman, the athletic department’s director of ticket sales, says keeping prices affordable has been a priority during the conference changeover.
"We live in such a family-oriented community in Cache Valley. We always keep that in mind," Hickman said. "We want fans and families there, and we feel that’s the best way to keep growing.
Hy Olsen has sat up front since the ’60s, where he’s close enough to heckle opposing teams. He kept adding tickets for his growing family of children and grandchildren. The Olsens now claim 14 seats up by the 50-yard line in row five; they keep their seats by catering meals for the sports teams.
"We don’t have the deep pockets some donors have, but we find ways to keep going," Olsen said. "We’ve talked a lot about what happens if the donations get above to where we can afford it. You have concerns about it, but I don’t think any of us would stop going."
The university has not announced any football pricing hikes yet but fans already are speculating increases will be necessary to compete in the Mountain West. Utah State has one of the smallest athletic budgets in the conference, and plans to pay for its new weight room, volleyball/basketball facility and other upcoming renovations with private donations.
Aggies will pay more for men’s basketball seats this year: Utah State added more donation seating in the Spectrum, a move met with "mixed reaction," Hickman said. More priority seating is forcing some to pay an additional donation for seats they’ve occupied for years.
The potential for football fans to get priced out of their seats may be a necessary evil, fans say. Most fans approve of the Aggies’ recent dynamic moves, including the one into the Mountain West.
"We’ve almost been spoiled all these years," said Carl Lundahl, a Hyrum ticket-holder since the 1950s. "Now they’re successful, they can ask for more from those seats. I know there has been some mumbling about the basketball issue but I think our administration isn’t trying to cut the legs out from under the attendance."
For at least one more season, Aggies football fans will get a bargain. And however ticket prices may vary, most will forget about the price they paid as soon as the football team takes the field this fall.
"Over the last few years, you’ve seen a great improvement in the fan experience, and I think you’re going to see that continue under Matt Wells," said Justin Merrill, a Clearfield-based alum. "In some ways it’s almost scary to think about embracing winning, because we lost for so long. But I think this team has the drive and work ethic that are going to keep people coming to Logan."