Fans weren’t flocking to Arizona Stadium in 2017, to say the least.
The Arizona Wildcats’ average (paid) attendance for football games was roughly 43,000 which ranked ninth in the Pac-12, and their average percent of capacity filled was 77, a near 10-percent decrease from 2016.
Even when Khalil Tate emerged as a must-see player, the UA couldn’t attract the Wildcat faithful. Arizona only drew 40,984 in its final home game of the season when Tate and company shattered the school rushing record against Oregon State.
And keep in mind, that is the “paid” attendance figure. The actual number of butts in seats often appeared to be far less than what was reported — a running joke in the press box.
That is a problem.
Arizona did have some built-in disadvantages to be fair, like super late kickoff times, but athletic director Dave Heeke said he was “disappointed” with the game attendance.
Presumably that was one reason why he opted to make a head coaching change. The Arizona football program needed to do something to drum up fan interest, and hiring Kevin Sumlin to replace Rich Rodriguez was a terrific move in that regard.
Now, more needs to be done.
And after gathering feedback from surveys, emails, social media, and face-to-face conversations, Heeke is ready to do just that.
His next step is lowering ticket prices. This from Heeke’s weekly Wildcat Wednesday newsletter:
Ticket prices will not increase in 2018, despite moving from six home games to seven and hosting BYU, USC, Oregon and ASU.
In fact, we are lowering ticket prices in several areas. We decreased prices in three levels throughout 17 sections of Arizona Stadium.
Our entry-level season ticket price has been reduced from $99 to $70 ($10 a game), and our youth (ages 3-12) season ticket price has been reduced from $50 to $35 ($5 per game). We also lowered the price in our economy level (EC) from $150 to $100. We’re committed to providing an affordable season ticket option for all of our fans, and we think these reductions are a step in the right direction.
One item we want those in the premium seating areas (skybox, loge and club) to be aware of. While there will not be a ticket-price increase in your areas, there will be an additional $30 fee per ticket to cover the buffet, snacks and beverages for that seventh home game.
The new season ticket prices can be found here.
Heeke is also seeking to improve the overall gameday experience by enhancing the seat comfort and stadium amenities (concessions, restrooms, etc.).
This has been an important topic since before I arrived and improvements in those areas started five years ago with the construction of the north end zone seating area and concourse. We followed that upgrade with new seating in the stadium’s east side 100 level prior to last season.
This season, Arizona will focus on revamping the student section which suffered a dip in attendance in 2017. The ZonaZoo averaged roughly 4,500 students per game.
Its capacity is about 7,800.
This process started last week and will include new restrooms, concession stands, and gathering areas in an enclosed east concourse.
Our students stepped up their support with the new student fee and it is important that we reciprocate that support and make improving the student experience a priority.
I do want to point out that the new east concourse will not be exclusive to students. Fans from other sections are welcome to the amenities found in this new area. Eventually, we will renovate most, if not all, of Arizona Stadium and modernize the fan experience, but it will happen in phases. To our fans on the west side, south side, and upper east, please be patient as we continue to strategize on how and when your area will be upgraded.
Increasing student involvement was one motif of Sumlin’s introductory press conference last week.
Having a loud and proud ZonaZoo not only makes Arizona Stadium a difficult venue for visiting teams to play in, but it also makes Arizona more appealing in recruiting which is the lifeblood for any college program.
So if these upgrades attract more students, great.
But ticket prices and an outdated student section were just two reasons why Arizona failed to attract fans in 2017.
Fans also cited the loud music, late kickoffs, long game times, poor internet service, lack of stats, concessions, and restrooms as justification for watching games at home. (these problems aren’t exclusive to Arizona, mind you).
The on-field product is obviously a big factor, too.
Some of those issues, like the music and awful third-down siren, can be easily fixed. Others, not so much. So it will be interesting to see how attendance changes in 2018.
Then in 2019, Arizona is expected to provide renovations to the club areas in the stadium along with additional concessions and restroom upgrades.
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire