If there was any doubt as to how big an appetite there will be for University of Utah football this fall in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, only one number is needed to answer that question.
After extending the season-ticket renewal date by two weeks and offering relief options, including transferring payments to the 2021 season, the athletic department says it has a 94% renewal rate for football. The Utes have six home games in 2020 beginning with in-state rival BYU on, at least for now, Sept. 3.
“We are certainly very pleased with that,” Scott Kull, Utah’s deputy athletics director for external operations, told The Salt Lake Tribune. “Last year we were at 97 percent, 98 percent the year before that. I think that’s good under any climate, but yes, we’re thrilled right now.
“This speaks to our football program and the dedication its fan base continues to show.”
On April 27, two days before the original renewal date, Utah sent an email to season-ticket holders. In the email, which was obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune, the athletic department extended the renewal deadline from April 29 to May 13, while offering three relief options. In addition to transferring payments to the 2021 season or taking a full refund, the third option allowed account holders to take the applicable, mandatory scholarship season donation for each ticket and turn it into a tax-deductible donation to Utah athletics. Under this option, the season-ticket money would have gone toward 2021, at which time the ticket holder would be asked to give the scholarship season donation again.
According to Kull, 100 accounts opted to take that third option in order to preserve their seats for 2021. Those 100 accounts did not factor into the 94% renewal rate. Additionally, Utah’s season-ticket waiting list continues to be stout at roughly 3,000. That would indicate that if fans are allowed inside Rice-Eccles Stadium this fall, regardless of whatever sort of crowd model athletic department officials settle on, it will hit its capacity.
Utah has announced a sellout 64 consecutive times dating back to the 2010 season opener against the University of Pittsburgh. The 2020 home schedule is strong, with BYU, USC (Oct. 2) and Washington (Oct. 17) all visiting Salt Lake City.
“It could be right until the week before the [BYU] game that we know whether or not we’ll have a full manifest, but we’re operating right now as if we will have a full stadium,” said Kull, who noted Utah can sell 32,500 season tickets as part of Rice-Eccles’ full capacity of 45,807. “We are definitely optimistic that we will have some sort of crowd.”
In looking at Utah’s other high-profile sport, men’s basketball, the athletic department has taken on a similar approach with its ticketing.
On Friday, basketball season-ticket holders received an email with a reminder of the renewal deadline date, June 30, while offering the same three relief options as football season-ticket holders were offered. Whether or not a comparable renewal rate will exist for men’s hoops remains to be seen, but there is related news.
In conjunction with Utah moving capacity at the Huntsman Center from 15,000 to 8,500 by curtaining off the upper bowl, Kull told The Tribune on April 17 that 400 season-ticket accounts totaling 1,412 seats affected by the change were being given the option to move to the lower bowl, but at the same upper bowl pricing they were paying before.
Of those 1,412 seats, 1,103, or just over 78%, have been relocated to the lower bowl. This, with no promise of an on-time start to the season and a nonconference home schedule devoid of a big name.
Utah will open the season Nov. 10 vs Utah Valley, with Cal Poly (Nov. 17), Cal State Fullerton (Nov. 20), Fresno State (Dec. 19) and Rice (Dec. 22) also scheduled to visit. The Utes have room to add one more nonconference game. It is unknown whether or not they will and if so, whether or not it will be a home game.