Purdue football ticket sales and general fan apathy for football has (hopefully) hit a low since the end of the Joe Tiller era. The Journal & Courier reported today (via twitter) that Purdue season ticket sales for football are at a mere 28,382 with the start of Purdue football only several days away. NOTE: For comparison, last year’s season ticket sales ended up at 31,702.
THE LONG TERM QUESTION: We know that a three year absence from the postseason and overall decline in success is at the core of Purdue’s stutter in ticket sales. The question is how long will this bowl drought last? Struggling football programs do not have a quick fix. Unlike basketball programs, a football team can’t ride the backs of two star players and find themselves competing for a league title. A football team is comprised of 85 scholarship players, over a dozen coaches/staff members, and an emphasis on working on all three distinct phases of the game that are each important to the team’s success. Coach Hope can be criticized for dicey play calls or poorly timed timeouts, but he was also left with a ho-hum level of talent and dealt blow after blow of injuries. We’re likely not looking at a team that can compete for a Rose Bowl in the next couple of years.
THE SHORT TERM QUESTION: While it’s not impossible for Purdue to eventually right the ship after some more rebuilding, the short term question is how to get butts in the seats at Ross-Ade. College football is a big money maker and the Big Ten Network will certainly divvy out a nice pay day for Purdue. But selling only 28,382 seats in a stadium of 60,000+ capacity is missing out on a huge amount of money. To be fair, the final number will hopefully rise above 30,000 season tickets sold (after students complete last minute purchases) and the Notre Dame and Ohio State games will both surely sell out. Still, these season ticket numbers do not bode well for the remaining games on the schedule.
This brings me to my main point. It may be time for Athletic Director Morgan Burke to start wheeling and dealing. Purdue season ticket prices for students are only more expensive than Minnesota, Indiana, and Illinois (unless you count Northwestern whose tickets are included with the $40,000+ in tuition and fees). While Purdue’s price ($119) is not a huge burden for many students, it is still a deterrent for some. It’s time to consider whether the prices will have to be adjusted to reflect the product sold, which is a program that has not had a winning season since 2007. Can Burke find ways to lure students to the game? Could marketing campaigns like “Buy 1, get 1 free” work? What about $10 tickets at the gate for students wearing black? Or $5 tickets for students covered with body paint? These are just ideas, but creativity will surely have to be used in the marketing process.
For the naysayers that would prefer to keep the cost of tickets steady, consider how a 1/2 empty Ross-Ade will look in front of Big Ten Network cameras. A bare Ross-Ade will only perpetuate the increased apathy that has plagued Purdue’s fan base in the last couple of years.