As questions about upcoming season persist, Utah tweaks its football season ticket process

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Utah student section cheers during a game between their Utes and the California Golden Bears at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019.

Amid ongoing concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic and how it may affect the 2020 college football season — if there is one — the University of Utah is attempting to put its large season-ticket fan base at ease.

The Utes’ athletic department reached out to season-ticket holders Monday morning, offering three temporary revisions to its ticket refund possibility. The options were outlined in an email, which was obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune.

Season-ticket holders are now being allowed to transfer payments to the 2021 season, reallocate all payments to a tax-deductible donation to Utah athletics, or receive a full refund of payments.

The email states that the renewal deadline date remains May 13. In an email sent to season-ticket holders March 16, the athletic department punted the renewal date from April 29 to May 13.

“We always planned to be able to offer options,” Scott Kull, Utah’s deputy athletics director for external operations, told The Tribune. “We empathize with the frustration felt during this time, and we were really just trying to evaluate a wide range of possible scenarios.”

In an attempt to simplify the three provisions, the first option would allow season-ticket holders to take their entire 2020 payment and apply it to the 2021 season if football isn’t played this year. Option two would allow season-ticket holders to take the applicable, mandatory scholarship season donation for each ticket and turn it into a tax-deductible donation to Utah athletics. Under option two, the season-ticket money would go toward 2021, at which time the ticket holder would be asked to give the scholarship season donation again.

Option three is a full refund of payments, which is the least desirable scenario for the Utah athletic department. The scholarship seating donations, most of which at Rice-Eccles Stadium range from $105 to $525 per season ticket, help to pay the athletic department’s scholarship bill.

Season-ticket prices inside Rice-Eccles Stadium, which has sold out 64 straight times dating back to the 2010 opener against Pitt, range from $365 in the end zone to $3,640 in the scholarship box above the home sideline. All season tickets, regardless of location, include a $40 stadium renovation fee.

On April 9, which was supposed to be opening day for the Salt Lake Bees minor league baseball team, Gov. Gary Herbert said people should go ahead and buy tickets to sporting or arts events scheduled for later this year. On Friday, Herbert declared he wants the state to begin loosening restrictions on public gatherings set in motion to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

“We also took into account some of the feedback early on in this process,” said Kull, who noted that the renewal rate at this time is comparable but a few percentage points below what it normally is despite the uncertainty. “We wanted to make sure we were doing right, and that we were committed to providing flexible options."

Season-ticket holders may now have some clarity, but there is still an abundance of unanswerable questions. Chief among those is whether there will even be football played this fall. If there is football, when?

An on-time start to the season, including Utah-BYU on Sept. 3 at Rice-Eccles, has not been officially ruled out, but it seems increasingly unlikely with each passing day. A delayed start to later in the fall has been bandied about, while a winter start and spring conclusion has picked up steam in recent weeks as a viable option.

However it shakes out, whether fans will be present for games is another unanswerable question with social-distancing guidelines varying by state.

In fiscal 2019, Utah 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.