Utah football is still a hot ticket, even with fee increases and a ‘meh’ home schedule

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The University of Utah Utes host the Weber State Wildcats, Thursday Aug. 30, 2018 at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.

The product is good and demand remains high for Utah football season tickets, amid mild grumbling about price increases and the Utes' nonconference schedules in 2019 and beyond.

Ute administrators are pleased with a 97-percent renewal rate for season tickets, backstopped by a 3,000-person waiting list. The 3-percent drop rate is fractionally higher than usual, but those accounts covered only about 750 of the 32,000-plus seats that are sold as season tickets at Rice-Eccles Stadium, deputy athletic director Scott Kull said.

“We're really happy with it,” Kull said. “I'm just impressed with the commitment from our fan base. … People are really excited about the team that's coming back.”

Utah’s status as the Pac-12 South’s defending champion and 2019 consensus favorite helped drive renewals, even as the school increased Crimson Club scholarship donation levels by 5 percent for season-ticket access to chair seats and premium bleacher seats.

Season-ticket packages also include a $25 fee for stadium expansion that always was part of the funding plan for the south end zone project, the school said. And for the first time, Utah is requiring donations of $50 for season tickets in the north end zone and $25 for bleacher seats in the corners.

“I wouldn't even consider not renewing,” said Travis Jackson, of Midway, a former Ute track and field athlete who who has six season tickets and whose two brothers account for eight seats. “I feel bad for some who got priced out, because it was too big of an increase for a single year, in my opinion. But for me, these will always be renewed. It's [about] family, and tradition.”

Compared with 2017, when the Utes also had seven home games, per-game prices have gone from $171 to $188 for midfield seats in the first 21 rows and from $34 to $52 in the north end zone.

In his February letter asking for renewals, Ute athletic director Mark Harlan said the overall cost of a season ticket is the Pac-12′s “middle range.” Tickets made available to Utah for Pac-12 road games in 2019 go from $54 at Arizona to $110 at USC.

“It would take a lot for us to give up our seats; it's become a tradition that my kids look up to,” said Troy Williamson, a father of four from Kaysville. “We've been to most of the Pac-12 stadiums, and find [Utah's] seat prices to be on the low side, so the fee increase hasn't been that big a deal to us. Not saying we like it, though.”

Peter Woods, of Bluffdale, said it “didn't make sense for me to pay more money every year, especially in a year when the home schedule isn't that great.”

Another fan described the $3,400 total cost of four seats as “totally worth it.”

Being able to sell tickets for some games via the secondary market and the cost of getting season tickets again if fans give them up are factors that boost renewals. Utah has sold out 57 straight games. The stadium's listed capacity is 45,800; the working number is 51,444 for the renovation, scheduled to be completed in 2021.

“I think we generally understand fee increases with stadium expansion, and just the general arms race in college football,” said Jennifer Smith, of Sandy.


Utah's upcoming nonconference football opponents:

2019 – at BYU, Northern Illinois, Idaho State.

2020 – BYU, Montana State, at Wyoming.

2021 – Weber State, at BYU, at San Diego State.

2022 – BYU, Southern Utah, San Diego State.

2023 – Weber State, at Baylor, at BYU.

2024 – Southern Utah, Baylor, BYU.

2025 – Wyoming.

2026 – at Houston.

2027 – Houston.

Note: Utah has five Pac-12 home games in odd-numbered years and four (including USC) in even-numbered years.

This year’s price increases are offset somewhat by Utah’s seven-game home schedule, up from six in 2018 — although Washington, USC and BYU came to Rice-Eccles Stadium last year. Washington State is the top projected opponent on the 2019 home schedule that includes five Pac-12 teams.

“I love the product on the field, so I renewed,” said Richard Robbins, of Tooele, but the nonconference schedule is “somewhat annoying” to him.

Scott Alder, of Salt Lake City, said, “I renewed, but I’m at my tipping point. Especially paying for games like Idaho State and Northern Illinois.”

Most Pac-12 schools annually play an FCS opponent, usually from the Big Sky Conference. Weber State is scheduled as Utah’s only nonconference visitor in 2021 and ’23.

Pac-12 schools have scheduled 112 home, road or neutral-site games vs. Power Five opponents, extending through the early 2030s, the San Jose Mercury News reported. Utah accounts for two of those games, a home-and-home series with Baylor in 2023 and ’24. Houston, potentially a Power Five member by then, will meet Utah in ’26 and ’27.

Utah’s nonconference schedule is booked through ’24, mostly with games that former athletic director Chris Hill scheduled as the program was developing in the Pac-12 era. In January, Harlan approved a two-year extension of the Utah-BYU rivalry in ’23 and ’24.

As for the future, “I'm excited about the response we're getting for different games,” Harlan said on his monthly podcast. “We're looking at a lot of different options.”

Harlan's scheduling approach is “making sure that we don't overdo it,” he said, while providing “the best opponents for our fans too.”

Harlan is an advocate of the rivalry with BYU, but he added, “If it makes sense … we might take a year or two off.”

Michigan is the only Power Five team to have visited Rice-Eccles Stadium in Utah's Pac-12 era, in 2015. Hill booked the Michigan series in '14 and '15, interrupting the Utah-BYU rivalry.

Utah this summer will begin marketing premium seats for 2021 in the newly named Ken Garff Performance Zone, funded significantly by a $17.5 million donation from the Garff family in April.

For sports other than football, Utah has created a One Pass option for the 2019-20 school year. The $100 price ($25 for youth) covers admission to volleyball, soccer, women’s basketball, baseball, lacrosse, softball, nonconference men’s basketball and gymnastics (upper bowl) events. “My expectation is, we’re always looking at the best way to do things,” Harlan said.