Mere days after the COVID-19 pandemic indefinitely suspended the NBA, canceled the NCAA Tournament and brought an immediate halt to all sporting events in between, the University of Utah athletic department had to make a football-related decision.
Recognizing the enormity of the situation, with jobs potentially being furloughed or lost and finances potentially in flux, Utah sent an email to season-ticket holders on March 16. That email, obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune, was, in part, to let people know the season-ticket renewal deadline was being extended to May 13. The original renewal deadline was April 29.
BYU and Utah State have also chimed in, with the Aggies taking comparable measures. A Utah State spokesman told The Tribune that its renewal date had been moved from May 1 to May 22, with the school offering billing plans that span from May all the way out to September.
Meanwhile, a BYU athletic department spokesman told The Tribune that the school is “still on the original schedule for football ticket deadlines and renewals.” BYU’s renewal deadline is April 24.
The extension for Utah season-ticket holders to make up their minds is beneficial, but there isn’t much clarity, both in terms of when social-distancing and stay-at-home guidelines may loosen, and on whether or not a football season will even take place in some fashion.
Bryan Kilpartick lives and works locally at a sign and display shop. He currently has two Utah season tickets in the north end zone, which, according to 2020 pricing, run $365 per seat. That figure includes a $40 stadium renovation and facility fee and another $50 towards the Crimson Club. All season tickets, regardless of price or location, include those two fees.
Kilpatrick splits the tickets with a friend, so he’s only paying for one.
“I’m just going to keep waiting out the deadlines,” Kilpatrick told The Tribune. “If they keep moving out the deadlines, I will keep holding my decision. It’s not a ton of money in the grand scheme of things, unless you don’t know what your income is going to be in the middle of all this.”
Season-ticket holders like Kilpatrick do not spend what might be viewed as a prohibitive amount of money, but there are those that do. Season tickets in the scholarship box on the west side of Rice-Eccles Stadium go for $3,640 per seat, with $3,150 of it going to the Crimson Club. Large chunks of sections W11-13 and E35-37 start at $1,165 and go up to $1,315. All of those seats include $525 going to the Crimson Club.
The Crimson Club donation was a key question among the five season-ticket holders The Tribune spoke to for this story. The five interviewees had varying numbers of season tickets at varying ends of Utah’s price spectrum. None of the five knew or had been made aware of what would become of the Crimson Club donation if the season were altered or even cancelled.
Would the donation remain that — a donation and it wouldn’t be refunded? If the season is outright cancelled and Utah keeps the donation, do season-ticket holders have to come up with the full donation amount again in 2021?
“The donation can be a tough pill to swallow, but it’s either that or go on the waiting list,” Kilpatrick said. “Much to the chagrin of my wife, I’ve paid the donation.”
Utah’s season-ticket waiting list, which, as of 11 months ago, was at roughly 3,000, is one of two other key factors making renewal decisions more difficult. Utah football’s product is strong right now and people know if they get out, it’s going to be very hard to get back in with that waiting list figure.
The second factor is that the 2020 home schedule is attractive. Of the Utes’ six home games, they will open on Sept. 3 against BYU, then host presumed Pac-12 South favorite USC on Oct. 2 and Washington on Oct. 17.
“I was leaning towards not renewing anyway because the price went up so much,” Kael Munford, a holder of two seats in section E33, bleacher seats near the north end zone, told The Tribune. “Now, it’s one less game but the same price. “The better schedule does help, so I’m really torn. It’s a tough, tough decision to make at this point.”
HERBERT: SUPPORT YOUR TEAMS, ARTS GROUPS
Buy your season tickets to sports teams, the arts, Gov. Gary Herbert says.
Herbert on Thursday said people should go ahead and buy tickets to sporting or arts events scheduled for later this year.
Since the state and local government began closing businesses and encouraging people to remain at home, Herbert has encouraged people to support industries suffering during the coronavirus pandemic.
Thursday, on what was supposed to be opening day for the Salt Lake Bees’ Pacific Coast League season, he singled out sports and the arts, telling their fans and patrons to go ahead and buy individual or season tickets.
“It’s going to help them prepare for the next season coming up,” Herbert said.
— Nate Carlisle
Munford, who has had season tickets since 2008, estimates that between the two seats plus parking, he is all-in at about $950 for the season. That is not a gigantic amount of money, but it certainly isn’t nothing either in this climate. Munford noted his brother has three season tickets the next section over, and is in the same decision-making process as the May 13 deadline date looms.
Regardless of where someone’s season tickets are located or how much people are paying, how this ultimately plays out for Utah’s athletic department bears watching.
For the 2019 season, approximately 32,000 of Rice-Eccles’ 45,807 seats were sold as season tickets. The presence of a 3,000-person waiting list would indicate that not only is Utah hitting its maximum number of season tickets, but that the renewal rate is high. According to Tribune reporting last spring, the renewal rate for the 2019 season was 97%, which was fractionally higher than usual, but still considered strong.
On April 2, speaking during his usual weekly spot on ESPN700, Utah athletic director Mark Harlan covered a bevy of important topics, but was understandably vague on season tickets given how much potential revenue is in play.
“Obviously, if football is impacted, that’s going to have a significant impact on our department overall because that is the lion’s share of our revenue,” Harlan said. “Now, Utah has got some unbelievable support, more than a lot of places. I checked in this morning about our renewal rates and I’m so grateful to hear that our renewal rate is about where it’s been in the past for football, and we expect that to be high as usual. We’re just so grateful to everybody for sticking with us.”
What Utah’s renewal rate and season tickets sold to this point are at this point is unknown, but as Harlan noted, football is a critical revenue vehicle for his athletic department, which is the case for every other Power Five school.
In fiscal year 2019, Utes football raked in $16,156,877 in ticket sales. That figure represented 81.1% of all ticket sales for the athletic department, 24.6% of all football-related revenue and 16.2% of all athletic department revenue.
— Reporters Norma Gonzalez and Alex Vejar contributed to this story