Iowa Joins Michigan Among Big Ten Schools Having Trouble Selling Football Tickets

By Ty Duffy

Iowa’s football season ticket sales are flagging. Tying this to Kirk Ferentz somehow would be fun, but the reality is what is happening at Iowa reflects a broader trend within the sport and the conference. Many schools are struggling to sell tickets. Those figures don’t reflect the numbers actually showing up to certain games. We won’t even get into postseason play.

Attendance is a “College Football” problem: College football, for the most part, sucks to watch live. It is 11 minutes of action, spread across three hours. For college games, that means three hours crammed onto an aluminum bench space (that may or may not accommodate a standard-sized ass), exposed to the elements, with a poor sight-line, no alcohol and arduous food and facilities access. That’s not to mention getting there and parking, which can be a hassle for college venues. The prime pull of the live experience is tailgating, which one can do independently.

Watching college football on television has improved, dramatically, at a time when the cost of going to a live game has increased, dramatically. The sport is in high definition. Unlike 30 years ago, nearly every game is televised. For what one would pay for two season tickets (with ancillary costs factored in), one could buy a very nice television. Perhaps even some elaborate grilling tools. A “college football” fan can watch and track multiple games of national import. There’s almost no rational incentive to go to the game. It’s no longer a surprise when fans opt not to do so.

The Big Ten malaise will aggravate this problem: Live college football is becoming a tougher sell. This will be an acute issue for the Big Ten. The conference’s football has grown rudderless and languid compared to competitors. Traditional, irrational fandom is all the B1G has left. Adding Maryland and Rutgers will be like adding water to a bland curry. We can see this in the underwhelming 2014 home schedules.

Major B1G programs will face each other less frequently in conference play. Combine that with non-conference schedules optimized to pad wins. Why is Iowa struggling to sell tickets? Perhaps not playing Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State or Michigan State has something to do with it. Here are their home games next year…

Northern Iowa, Ball State, Iowa State, Indiana, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Nebraska

Like those two bottles of wine? You must buy five crappy ones for equal price. And you must drink the ones you wanted last, when their peak taste may have faded. If you are an Iowa fan, do you buy a season ticket or check StubHub before the Wisconsin and Nebraska games? Moreover, this is the good year to have Iowa season tickets. The 2015 home slate is downright cringe-worthy.

Illinois State, Pittsburgh, North Texas, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Purdue

Let’s look at Michigan, another school struggling to sell tickets, for 2014.

Appalachian State, Miami (Ohio), Utah, Minnesota, Penn State, Indiana, Maryland

Can’t imagine why people aren’t buying them this year…Do they need more brand development and fireworks?

What can be done? Major programs are becoming professional outfits that treat their fans like customers. Fans, increasingly, will consume the sport as customers. There’s little rational reason to go to a game live. If the team is good, fans will go. If not, they won’t. This problem will be critical in the Big Ten, where many programs have grown stale and the product has become diluted.

College football can’t turn the tide against technology. It will never become a sensible, cost-effective entertainment experience. The solution may be to treat fans like customers instead of cult followers to be fleeced. Improve the product by scheduling better games and charge less for it, especially to students. Perhaps someone can translate that into consulting firm-ese and charge schools hundreds of thousands of dollars for the insight.

[USA Today Sports]