Tim Preece and his family have had University of Utah football season tickets since 1991. The number of seats over the years has fluctuated, but currently stands at 19, mostly in the W15 and W16 sections.
They tailgate religiously, they enjoy themselves each fall. Preece has no problem admitting Utes football consumes him.
Steve Harries and his wife started with two season tickets roughly 20 years ago, but added more once his kids came along. Harries also tailgates, believing that is not only crucial to the game-day experience, but also sometimes more fun than the game itself.
Jacob Johnsen has gone to games at Rice-Eccles since he was five-years old. His large family, which includes six other siblings, has 17 season tickets, all on the west side of the stadium in W13 and W14.
Between his siblings, nieces and nephews, there are generally 35 or 40 people jockeying for the 17 seats.
In normal, non-pandemic times, Preece, Harries, Johnsen and their families would be readying for Utah’s season opener Thursday night against in-state rival BYU. Instead, there will be no football at Rice-Eccles this fall, nor anywhere else in the Pac-12 for that matter. That leaves Utah’s robust, committed season-ticket base looking to fill the gap in their lives.
“This is going to sound terrible, but at some point, I may sit down and cry,” Johnsen told The Salt Lake Tribune, the passion, but also the frustration clearly evident. “I’m 40, but this is the one thing I’ve held on to my whole life. I love the Jazz, I used to love the Cowboys, but Utah football has been the thread in my life.”
Added Preece: “College football is such a ritual for our family, we’re thinking about keeping some semblance of it going, maybe watching old games on Saturdays. Games from the ’90s, maybe rewatching the ’08 season. Assuming there is some college football being played elsewhere, I’ll certainly keep up with the national scene.”
From the early days of the pandemic, the 2020 season was in question, but the appetite of season-ticket holders was not.
In late April, Utah, which has sold out 64 consecutive home games dating back to the 2010 season opener vs. Pitt, extended the deadline to renew season tickets by two weeks to May 13. The result was a 94% renewal rate from a season-ticket base north of 30,000 for the 45,000-seat facility.
That renewal rate is technically a small dip from years past when the athletic department hit 97% and 98%, but with the pandemic ongoing and no promise the season would even get played, athletic department officials were thrilled.
Even if a football season had been played this fall, it was a mortal lock that Rice-Eccles was not going to be at full capacity given the state of the pandemic in Salt Lake City, which remains at an “orange,” or moderate-threat level.
Crowd-size options for Rice-Eccles were never made public, nor, according to those interviewed for this story, made available to season-ticket holders. All three indicated to The Tribune they believe Utes athletic director Mark Harlan and his staff have done a good job being transparent with information.
“We’re in unprecedented times, so it has to be safety first with the athletes as well as the fans,” Harries said. “I fully support the measures that Utah athletics, the Pac-12 and others have taken for everyone involved. That said, this is all very disappointing. Football is one of those things to look forward to, but I understand what we’re dealing with. None of this is ideal, but it was the right move.”
In the wake of the Pac-12′s fall postponement, Utah has given football season-ticket holders options on what to do with their payments. All or a portion of 2020 payments can be rolled into a tax-deductible donation, season-ticket payments can be rolled into 2021, or a full refund can be requested.
As the Utah athletic department faces losses of up to $60 million this fiscal year, it rolled out a campaign on Aug. 20, essentially asking season-ticket holders to reinvest in student-athletes by choosing the first option. The deadline for season-ticket holders to choose between the three options is Friday.
Of note, every Utah football season-ticket includes a mandatory Crimson Club seating fee that ranges from as low as $25 in the reserved bleachers to $3,150 in the scholarship box on the west side of the stadium. Those fees help pay the athletic department’s scholarship bill.
“We’re going to pay the Crimson Club portion for this season, but not the actual game ticket cost,” said Preece, whose Crimson Club fees based on seats in the W15 and W16 approaches approximately $500. “They’ve given us that option. We know the Crimson Club needs the money, so we want to donate it.”
“We’re going to roll it over or make it a donation,” Johnsen said. “Yeah, we’re angry, but we’re not going to be negligent about it. We know they’re in a tough spot, and we know we’re getting right back on board once football comes back.”
Echoing Johnson, Preece and Harries both said they will be all in again once the football season starts, whether that be in the winter, spring, or fall of 2021.