IOWA CITY — Two years ago, ticket sales were footnotes in the rough draft of an Iowa football season. Today, it’s the lead paragraph.
Three years after an overflow of season-ticket requests prompted Iowa officials to split any available packages, the football program now has a plethora of available tickets. Big Ten rivals Nebraska and Wisconsin? The school has more than 5,000 tickets available. In-state foe Iowa State? More than 2,000 ready for the public. Homecoming opponent Indiana? Almost 7,000. And non-conference opponent Ball State, which won 10 games last year? More than 10,000 are left.
As much as Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta said “the sky is not falling” on Friday, the numbers said something else. Iowa previously allocated 10,400 tickets to students. Last year, the school sold about 7,300. Five weeks before the home opener, Iowa has sold “in the high 6,000s” to students, Barta said. Even general public season ticket sales are down year-over-year.
The biggest question is why? The Hawkeyes won eight games last year, competed in a New Year’s Day bowl and are considered a contender in the Big Ten’s new West Division. From 2004 through 2012, Iowa averaged a near-sellout at more than 70,000 fans a game. Last year, Iowa failed to surpass 70,000 for any game.
Barta outlined two factors for the fans’ tepid response to ticket sales. In 2012, the Hawkeyes finished 4-8. This off-season, the program decided to reseat Kinnick Stadium based on donation levels. Several season-ticket holders opted not to renew because they didn’t like their new seat locations.
“If you tie those two together it probably has a factor with where we sit today,” Barta said.
“When you lose momentum, it’s a lot harder to get it back. It’s a lot easier to lose it than get it back.”
Negative momentum started to build before then 4-8 hiccup. As part of a “Think Before You Drink” campaign in 2010, Iowa City’s open-container law became strictly enforced and tailgating lots closed an hour after the game. That resulted in 146 alcohol-related tickets following the season opener and hard feelings remain.
“I would tell you that the fans I’m talking to now recognize that it isn’t like it was that year — four years ago — and it’s much better now,” Barta said. “The vast majority of those fans give me that feedback. I think some of it still lingers from that moment in time where there was that hard reaction.”
Barta is quick to remind many of the big picture. Iowa was one of only four schools nationally to rank among the top 25 in football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball attendance. All of Iowa’s suites and indoor/outdoor club seats are sold out this season.
Students have until August 1 to renew their tickets before the athletics departments opens up the seating to the general public. The department will continue to sell those seats to students.
“We just can’t sit here like we did last year hoping the students will fill them then sitting with more empty seats,” Barta said.
“We are reaching out to those students. It’s a national trend; this isn’t just happening at Iowa. But I’m only concerned at why it’s happening at Iowa. So we’re meeting with students. Tell us why, what more can we do?”
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