IOWA CITY, Ia. — Despite what you’ve heard, Kinnick Stadium is still a cool place to hang out.
“When you get to the University of Iowa, one of the biggest sells we have is how incredible football games are,” said Patrick Bartoski, a junior from Trout Valley, Ill. “I think everyone at the start wants to experience that.”
The problem, as Iowa officials are discovering, is getting more students to share the “Kinnick Experience” on a regular basis.
Ticket sales are sluggish — with seats still available for all seven games on the Hawkeyes’ home schedule — prompting the athletic department to launch a student raffle offering free tuition to five winners.
Although the raffle was quickly halted in order to check potential legal issues athletic director Gary Barta also announced any unsold student tickets would be made available to the general public — starting today.
When the move was announced, Barta told reporters, “I’m not panicking.” Which might lead some to wonder: How big a deal is this?
“We’re concerned about (students) being in the stadium this fall,” said Rick Klatt, associate athletic director for external relations. “Because if they’re not in the stadium this fall, we’re looking 10 years down the road saying, ‘What’s going to make them be in the stadium then?’”
That’s the million-dollar question.
You can blame the decline on youthful indifference, economic hiccups or social media. But it’s part of a nationwide dip.
And there’s no sure solution.
“In terms of where the general trend is going, more and more people are watching at home,” Chris Matcovich of TiqIQ said. “And teams are having to kind of become a little bit more savvy in how they get people to the stadium.”
According to NCAA data, Football Bowl Subdivision schools boasted an attendance spike last season, with 35,340,049 fans flocking to see 123 teams, for an average of 45,192.
But those numbers are somewhat misleading.
In 2008, a total of 119 teams reported a combined attendance of 34,888,614, for an average of 46,456.
In other words: An average of 1,264 more people were attending FBS games six years ago.
“It is real, and it is a problem that is just about everywhere in the country,” Klatt said. “One thing we need to acknowledge is (that) we’re never going to be able to turn Kinnick Stadium into your living room.
“You’re never going to be just three steps away from your refrigerator or two steps away from a restroom.”
The Big Ten ranked No. 2 last season among major conferences in attendance, with an average of 70,431 fans — behind the Southeastern Conference’s 75,674.
Penn State and Ohio State announced a sellout of student tickets earlier this summer, and both schools expect to have full stadiums throughout the fall.
“I wish we could take a lot of credit for it,” said Jeff Garner, Penn State’s assistant athletic director for ticketing sales and services. “I think the true answer is: The students receive all the credit.
“You can attribute it to tradition. That’s part of it, I think.”
Iowa ranked 23rd nationally last season, with an average attendance of 67,125.
The Hawkeyes were 21st in 2010, when a sellout streak was still intact, with an average of 70,585.
“Going to games for a freshman is a big thing,” said Bartoski, who is just beginning his term as Iowa’s student government president. “Sometimes as they get older, they live in apartments, expenses kind of accrue … And I know some people would rather watch the game with their friends, whether it’s at a dorm, an apartment or a restaurant, than paying extra money to go to games.”
Technology is another dilemma.
In an age when people want to stay in touch electronically — through text or Twitter — stadiums are a dead zone.
And it’s not just in Iowa City. In 2012, the NFL announced an initiative to bolster wireless capabilities in its stadiums, after experiencing an attendance drop from 2008-2011.
“When you start thinking in terms of providing the capacity required to accommodate 20,000, 30,000 or 40,000 very active users of their cell phones,” Klatt explained, “it’s kind of like taking a six-lane interstate and merging it down to two lanes in a matter of 30 feet.
“It’s just an awful lot of traffic trying to squeeze through a very small pipe.”
Millennials, in particular, are caught in a jam.
“Our generation, we’re connected to our phones. That’s just how it is,” Bartoski said. “Not being able to do that may deter people. But at the same time, usually when you go to a game, you’re with all the people you’re texting and tweeting at.
“It’s not a make-or-break thing.”
Barta’s decision to sell student tickets to the public is just one alternative.
In recent years, some schools have gone on-line, where brokers can post and buyers can bid.
“We do work with some teams where we’re trying to help them move inventory,” Matcovich said. “There definitely is, at some point going forward, a very in-sync meeting of team and resale market, to try and make everything work for everyone.”
TiqIQ ranks the top 25 schools in terms of pricing:
In 2011, Iowa was 14th to begin the season with an average list price of $163. In 2012, the Hawkeyes were sixth at $202.11.
Last year, they were No. 9 at $166.
So far this summer, Iowa tickets are selling for $141.23, which would put them just inside the top 20.
“Even though they will have less of a benefit if somebody buys off the resale market, they still gain some benefit from having someone sit in those seats,” Matcovich said.
It’s also a way to reach a wider audience.
“We definitely see a much younger demographic, 18 to 34,” Matcovich said. “People who are a little bit older are a little bit more hesitant to buy on a resale market.”
So, is there cause for hand-wringing?
During an I-Club event this spring, Marv and Helen Schumacher of Denver, Ia., explained why they skipped games in the 1950s — when the Hawkeyes were winning Rose Bowls.
“We couldn’t afford to go,” Helen said. “I had to work during the games.”
Will the no-shows of 2014 become die-hard donors by 2024?
“It all matters on proximity,” Bartoski said. “If you took a job out in (Washington) D.C., it might be very difficult as a 28-year-old to fly out and go see a game at 11 a.m.
“If I took a job in Des Moines, I would still be a season-ticket holder, and I would go out on Saturday, since it’s just a two-hour drive.”