Copyright 2014 Charleston Newspapers
MORGANTOWN - West Virginia University football season ticket sales are as low as they've been in nine years, but the Mountaineers are working with, as opposed to against, a supposed obstacle to boost future sales.
As of Wednesday, WVU had sold 28,983 season tickets, the lowest figure at this point since the Mountaineers were at roughly 24,400 in the 2005 season that ended with a Sugar Bowl victory over Georgia. WVU was a little above 33,000 at this time last year.
"One thing it shows is, yes, the numbers are down. There's no denying that, said Matt Wells, WVU's director of sports marketing. "But overall, I think even with it being a down year, our season-ticket base is still stronger than it was 10 years ago.
The Mountaineers are also a reasonable option on the secondary ticket market, where fans can buy tickets without involving WVU.
"It's definitely one of the areas where we know there's competition, Wells said.
VividSeats.com, an online ticket marketplace, published a report last week showing WVU to have the 20th-most expensive median ticket price in the country ($95) and the fifth-highest in the Big 12. Of the top 25 schools, WVU was No. 24 in average ticket price ($112). VividSeats.com favors the median price because expensive seats can skew the average price whereas the median provides a number in the middle.
The Mountaineers also play only one of VividSeats.com's 25 most-expensive games this season. The season-opening Chick-fil-a Kickoff Game's median price is No. 14 in median ($255) and average price ($293) and No. 18 in "get in price, which is the lowest ticket available to get into the game ($122).
"It's interesting information, Wells said. "I know this was just a snapshot, but if you go back and look at 2012, I know based on conversations and information we received from (online ticket marketplace) StubHub, we had several games that would have been listed (in the top 25).
The Mountaineers played host to the same Big 12 opponents that season, but were also a team held in much higher regard following the Orange Bowl blowout against Clemson.
"Pricing is always something we consider, Wells said. "One of the factors for why we haven't raised ticket prices the last three seasons is we're always cognizant of pricing ourselves out of the market.
The secondary market opens up that possibility, especially in an era where fans have myriad diversions and many have grown to prefer the living room experience. Even Wells admits "we probably can't compete with the secondary marketplaces when it comes to fans buying season tickets and going online to sell the tickets to games they won't attend or when fans avoid season tickets and simply go online to buy tickets to home games they will attend.
The secondary market is also big enough and popular enough now to provide options beyond season tickets. For the six home games, VividSeats.com shows WVU's get in prices range from $29-$100, while the average price ranges from $71-$187 and the median price ranges from $64-$172.
Home games for one person would cost $311 at the get in price, $670 at the average price and $615 at the median price.
Season tickets through WVU are $1,100 in Touchdown Terrace and $365 in six seating zones around the stadium. Four of those zones require donations of $125, $250, $425 or $500 to the Mountaineer Athletic Club.
Wells said he doesn't believe the secondary market is that detrimental to season ticket figures, though.
"I feel like the majority of fans who meet that criteria are truly not good targets for us to be season ticket holders, he said. "I think there are other factors you can point to that impact season ticket sales being down.
Still, Wells said there are occasions when WVU's single-game sales are affected by the secondary market. A ticket holder could, for example, sell seats online to the Towson game - or, more severely, a bowl game - for less money or with a better seat than what WVU could offer.
WVU has found a way to benefit from that through a partnership with StubHub.
"The secondary market is not going anywhere, Wells said. "We could either stick our heads in the sand and act like it doesn't exist or partner with them and integrate our system.
The Mountaineers and StubHub are in the second year of a three-year contract that features StubHub marketing and sponsorship, but also a demographic-sharing effort to help the school. Wells said StubHub provides WVU buyer information that the athletic department uses to stimulate future purchases through the university.
Wells called those "warm leads to find customers and hundreds or maybe thousands of new patrons in the future.
"Previously, we were blind to the buyer, Wells said. "We knew we had tickets out there on StubHub and if we wanted to, we could go there and look up the section, row and seat and identify the seller, but we had no clue who was buying. Now we have that ability. We can target those buyers with marketing messages, with us making them aware of season tickets being on sale, of single-game tickets being on sale, of mini-packages being on sale, of specific promotions, all in an effort to turn that buyer into our customer.
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu. Follow him on Twitter at @mikecasazza.