Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Butts in Seats

PSU administration wants to make sure it moves plenty of these.

Here's a quick release today (in abridged form) from the athletic department that you probably didn't read. Don't feel bad, I wouldn't have either, had it not been emailed to me due to its Pegula Ice Arena mention.
Penn State Athletics has entered into a partnership with IMG College Ticket Solutions to have a full-time staff focused on the sale of Nittany Lion event tickets, including men's and women's basketball, as well as other sports requiring paid admission.

"We're looking forward to this partnership with IMG College Ticket Solutions and really enhancing our continued commitment and focus on providing top level customer service to all Penn State fans," said Greg Myford, Penn State Associate Athletic Director for Business Relations and Communications. "IMG has a track record of great success on campuses across the nation, and we're confident that working together we can have an immediate impact on getting more Nittany Lion fans to more games more often."

Penn State, which annually ranks among the nation's leaders in football attendance, has partnered with IMG to maximize the sale of tickets in football, men's and women's basketball and the new varsity men's and women's ice hockey programs which begin varsity play next year and will open Pegula Ice Arena in 2013-14.

IMG College has hired a general manager and will begin with a staff of five additional sales associates at Penn State. Those IMG College employees will be embedded in the athletic department and serve as representatives. Brad Sexton, the new general manager at Penn State, has experience launching ticket sales operations at both Central Florida and South Alabama. The official start date for the new sales team will be Monday, October 17, and they will be temporarily located inside of the Beaver Stadium box office.
I debated simply tossing this link in Three Stars, but thought it merited a post because of its implications. While football occasionally dips into non-sellout territory, its numbers are still fairly close to maxed out, and I'm not sure that selling a few more tickets to the Eastern Michigan game justifies this move by itself. Basketball attendance is abysmal, but that's nothing new, and with PSU's collective mancrush on Pat Chambers there was at least a realistic hope of improvement without outside help. Either way, we've gotten along fine to this point.

This is purely speculation on my part, but I believe hockey was a huge motivation for bringing in IMG. Which is really quite refreshing. I've been pretty outspoken about the sports information department and their work so far, which has consisted of absolutely nothing to get people excited for next year and beyond, other than haphazard tweets mentioning an upcoming game when they remember to do it. My sense at times was that the athletic department expected 6,000 people a game to show up because they threw open the doors to a shiny new arena hosting the novelty of NCAA Division I hockey after all these years of Penn Staters wanting it.

While I think Penn State has the potential to be a great hockey school, that's all it is right now. Pennsylvania is a state packed with successful professional hockey outfits, which has led to hockey fans...which hasn't led to overflow crowds at the Ice Pavilion, even with an interest bump following the big announcement. As recently as a week ago, they were still plugging season tickets on the official Icers site. Which to me is a little telling - in the past, I've been a "buy them as I needed them" person since I've generally only made a couple games per year, but this year, I bought two season tickets because I wanted to do whatever I could to make sure I was in line for next year and beyond. Surely, I couldn't have been the only person to have that thought. Even if we were turning people away now, it's still a long way from that to 6,000. Maybe they're all waiting on DI, but that's not a chance PSU can afford to take.

What further complicates things is that PSU is expecting men's and women's hockey, taken together, to be self-supporting, which is sometimes easier said than done.

Click for full size.

Wisconsin, with a huge arena and highly successful programs for both genders, loses money. Michigan State, with a respected men's program and no women's program, loses money. Ohio State takes a complete bath. Even venerable Michigan slipped into the red in the last year of available data. One might argue that the Big Ten Network will help, but one thing to keep in mind: the question isn't how much money BTN makes, the question is how much more BTN makes because of hockey. Hockey, especially college hockey, has never been something that attracts a ton of television sets.

While that question is unanswered for now (and certainly, each school has their own unique circumstances and accounting methods, adding another layer of complication), the fact remains that breaking even on hockey takes some doing, and with television revenue not a sure thing, "doing" means ticket sales. This IMG deal is a sign that Penn State administration recognizes this.

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