The chant of "Go Devils" echoed off the concrete steps of Sun Devil stadium, yelled enthusiastically by 43,780 fans on Saturday evening.
With an official maximum capacity of 71,706 (with the biggest crowd in ASU history being 74,963), that means that Sun Devil stadium was only 61% occupied for the Sun Devils' 38-14 thrashing of the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks.
Why are Sun Devil fans avoiding the stadium? There are many answers for this, but regardless of reasoning, there are financial implications at stake. Allow me to begin by listing the reasons for the lack of attendance, and then I will delve deeper into each particular issue.
- Weak Scheduling (Idaho State was 1-11 last season in the FCS, and ULM was a definitive downgrade from our originally slated match up with BYU)
- Historically Hot Conditions (Generally speaking, the first few games in September are nearly 100 degrees at kickoff)
- People are Spending Smarter (buying ASU tickets on a tight budget is difficult to justify when you can tune into nearly every ASU game on FS Arizona)
- Ticket Price Increase in a Recession (This was a foolish move by Arizona State)
Lets talk about this issues.
By scheduling creampuffs at the start of the season, ASU admitted to its fans that the team needed some seasoning before it played Georgia. Idaho State is a complete joke and we should never schedule an FCS team when it isn't a requirement by the Board of Regents (see: Northern Arizona).
Then, we allowed BYU to opt out of our scheduled contest to give them the opportunity to play Oklahoma in the brand new Cowboys Stadium in Dallas. There was a good reason for this: we would have lost badly to BYU, and Max Hall, a former Sun Devil himself, would have embarrassed the bad coaching decisions our university has made in the past.
Even with a sorry schedule, there are many Sun Devil fans who would have turned out if the weather wasn't so darn hot in September. It just so happened that a hurricane came northward from Mexico, and gave us a much-needed respite from the heat on game day against Idaho State. Game time temperature was in the 70-80 degree range.
Similarly, the temperature was decent for yesterday's game against ULM, but you can't forget the sweltering games we have seen such as the 2005 Temple Owls game and the 100+ degree day game against USC that same year.
Now, we must shift our attention away from the weather and focus on the bottom line. I won't delve into the economic issues from the consumer end, but I will look at the shortsighted decision to raise ticket prices in this economic environment.
First of all, metropolitan Phoenix was hit very hard by the sub-prime mortgage crisis, and the surplus of newly built homes in our area has brought construction, one of our biggest economic stimulants, to a screeching halt.
Back in January, ASU announced the price increase to the public, and simultaneously tried to "standardize" the season ticket process by moving up the renewal date by two months.
What did they do to the prices? Per Jeff Metcalfe:
Sections with the highest percentage increase are in the upper north end zone with seat backs. Those seats are going up 50 percent to $149, the same price charged from 2001-05 before a decrease. The next highest percentage increase is in upper west side sections below the press box, where the seat premium is $80, still less than what was charged from 2001-06.The sections with the largest dollar increase ($145) are on the lowest west side. That's part of a two-year increase that those in sections 5A and 9A were informed about before purchasing 2008 tickets.
I find the justifications interesting. Metcalfe pointed out that ASU was charging the same price it used to charge from 2001 to 2006 for the upper north end zone seats, but the athletic department has hurt their revenue and hurt the students of Arizona State with the price increases that have been soundly rejected by the general public.
Should you raise prices when your team is performing well? If it is warranted, I would say yes. But if your team goes 5-7 and the economy of Phoenix goes into the tank, the prices should not go anywhere but down in an attempt to drive interest back to the team.
In the end, the students of ASU will be saddled with the financial ramifications of this decision to raise prices. If the students are asked to pay a surcharge or an "athletics fee," which is entirely possible given the lack of attendance thus far in 2009, I hope that the reasons are clearly outlined and the students are given free season tickets. That will be the only way to justify anything along those lines.
The attendance at our football games must improve, and with the cooler October weather and the start of Pac-10 play, I believe we will see 50,000-60,000 for Oregon State. Still, it isn't enough, and until ASU can perform consistently on the field, we will not be known as a football school, and our fanbase will be known as casual.