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Penn State Football No. 2 in Home Attendance in 2019, But Ticket Revenue Still Lags

by on January 19, 2020 6:00 PM

Make it two years in a row that Penn State football is ranked No. 2.

In number of tickets sold for home games, that is.

In 2019, the Nittany Lions averaged ticket sales of 105,678 for seven home games in Beaver Stadium. Only Michigan, which has more seats in The Big House, did better, with average ticket sales of 111,459 per game last season. 

The two Big Ten schools also went 1-2 in 2018.

Two caveats:

1. That’s sales, not attendance. Getting ’em in the stadium — and keeping them there — even after they have purchased a ticket is a universal problem in college football. It's true even at Penn State, when Rutgers is the season-ender and thus competing with Thanksgiving, hunting season and the notion of a challenging opponent.

Also with season-beginners: The last ranked non-conference opponent to play in The Beav was No. 3 Alabama in 2011. That was 23 consecutive unranked non-con foes in Beaver Stadium ago. The streak will extend to 25 in 2020, after Kent State (7-6 in 2019) and San Jose State (5-7) come to town.

2. Ticket sales do not exactly correlate with gross revenues, as we’ll see in a minute.

Back to 2019: Rounding out the national Top 5 in tickets sold last season were: Ohio State (103,383), Alabama (101,117) and LSU (100,842). The same teams were also ranked in the same order in 2018.

Alabama was the only school in that group that saw its attendance decline in 2019, with a drop of an average 445 fans per game. Ticket sales per game at Michigan were up 722, while Penn State (193), Ohio State (1,436) and LSU (23) also saw increases at home. (All attendance numbers are from the NCAA’s official statistics database, found online by clicking here.)

Penn State has seen a steady increase in ticket sales since 2016, when it ranked seventh nationally with average per-game ticket sales of 100,257, followed by 106,707 in 2017. That 2017 season ranks as the high-water mark for attendance in the six-season tenure of James Franklin.

BUT…

Ticket sales do not necessarily translate into overall ticket revenue, especially when Penn State compares itself to Big Ten East division rivals Michigan and Ohio State.

No matter how much ticket sales at Beaver Stadium have increased under CJF, Penn State athletics is still lagging behind those two Big Ten brethren in maximizing the ROI on each seat in its stadium.

Michigan, of course, has more inventory to sell than Beaver Stadium — 3,329 more seats, to be exact. The NCAA lists official capacity for the Big Three as: Michigan Stadium (109,901), Beaver Stadium (106,572) and Ohio Stadium (102,329). And, to be honest, when it comes to comfort, amenities and a higher-end look and feel, The Big House and The Horseshoe have The Beav beat. 

Nationally, in stadium capacity for college football, Michigan ranks first, Penn State second and Ohio State fifth, trailing Texas A&M (102,733) and Tennessee (102,455).

ROI vs. SRO 

For Penn State, the challenge is not selling the seats — three 11-win seasons over the past four, thanks to Franklin, helps a great deal with that. So does a very loyal Penn State fan base, the best student section in the country and Franklin’s abilities as a marketer.

Penn State’s problem? Getting maximum dollar for each and every single seat, which for big games like Ohio State can sell for $1,000 more on the secondary market than the list price when originally purchased from Penn State.

The (partial) answer: Rate hikes that many Nittany Lion season ticket-holders learned of last week when getting their renewal notices in the mail.

Penn State wants mo’ money from football ticket sales. According to the university’s official annual reports filed with the NCAA, revenue from football sales for the 2010 7-6 season were $34.2 million on an average announced attendance of 104,234.

The sad truth is that eight seasons later, in 2017 — on the heels of a Big Ten championship season and after a remarkable rebound from the scandal — Penn State’s revenue from football ticket sales was $34 million, with an average per-game attendance of 106,707. No change. 

To be clear: These are Penn State’s own numbers.

Just to maintain the status quo due to inflation, the $34.2 million in 2010 would have had to grow to $38 million in 2017. These numbers do not include required donations made in order to have the right to buy tickets. That is a separate line item on Penn State’s P&L sheet.

(Why 2017? Sales figures for 2018 and ’19 have not been made public.)

Despite getting $54 million from the Big Ten Conference last year, Penn State athletics reports that it is still feeling the crunch. And more revenue from football ticket sales is one of the ways for it to ameliorate that pressure.

Over the past decade, both Michigan and Ohio State have invested in enhancing the quality of their seating, suites and stadium experience. Michigan spent $226 million on enhancements and expansions that were completed in 2010. (That’s $267 million in today’s dollars.) Ohio State spent $56 million over the past six years on renovations, enhancements and improvements that actually shrunk The Horseshoe’s seating capacity.

SANDY'S CLAUSE

Beaver Stadium went through its latest round of any major renovations and expansion almost two decades ago. They carried a price tag of $93 million ($135 million in today’s dollars) and added 12,000 seats; they were completed in time for the 2001 season opener. Such a project would likely cost double that today.

There are no plans on Penn State’s books to make any major renovations and enhancements to Beaver Stadium in the next five years, as VP of Intercollegiate Athletics Sandy Barbour confirmed at a presser in Dallas prior to the Cotton Bowl.

“Let’s make this very, very clear: That is years away,” Barbour said then. “It’s such a massive project that it will take that long, so the planning process needs to go on there.”

Football carries a big load at all three universities:

All three schools count on football and that big check from the Big Ten to support their overall intercollegiate athletic programs. In 2017-18, the most recent season for which figures are available, Ohio State had 36 teams and 1,050 athletes; Michigan had 29 teams and 941 athletes; and Penn State had 31 teams and 821 athletes. The Big Three rank in the top three in both categories in the Big Ten.

For comparison, Clemson had 19 sports teams and 498 athletes, and Alabama had 21 sports and 631 athletes. The bottom-line for these two gridiron powerhouses: More money to spend on football.

REVENUE BREAKDOWN: U-M vs. OSU vs. PSU

In 2017, the most recent season for which revenue figures are available for all three schools, via reports filed with the NCAA, Penn State trailed Ohio State and Michigan in football ticket revenue, overall football gross revenues and overall basketball gross revenues. Here is a breakdown:

2017 Football Ticket sales

Ohio State - $51.8 million

Michigan - $49 million

Penn State - $34 million

2017 Football-related Revenue

Michigan - $124.9 million

Ohio State - $110.6 million

Penn State – $100.1 million

2017 Men’s Basketball Revenue

Ohio State - $24 million

Michigan - $20 million

Penn State - $10.9 million

SEASON TICKET PRICE INCREASE

All of this helps explain why the Penn State athletic department sent out letters last week to season ticket-holders announcing Beaver Stadium price increases for the 2020 season. Increases were much greater for the lower bowl seats between the 20-yard lines vs. the rest of the stadium. The cost of student season tickets stayed at their 2019 rates — a very smart move, since those #22k are future ticket-buyers and donors after they become alumni.

Even with the increases, Beaver Stadium get-in seat prices — when required donations and ticket prices are combined — are less than similar seats in The Big House and The Horseshoe when comparing apples to apples.

Here are the 2020 price breaks for key seating areas when required donations and ticket process are combined for the cost of one season ticket:

50-yard line

Ohio State - $1,452

Michigan - $1,162

Penn State - $1,148

Sideline

Ohio State - $1,452

Michigan - $1,027

Penn State - $898

Student Section

Ohio State - $238

Penn State - $224

Michigan - $175

BEAVER STADIUM ATTENDANCE: 2005-2019

Here’s a look at ticket sales, by season and national rank, with reported football ticket revenue (seats only, not donations), for Beaver Stadium the past 15 seasons.

Rankings and attendance figures are from the NCAA; ticket sales are based on Penn State’s annual reports to the NCAA, when available. (See them here.) The 2018-19 fiscal year report, already filed with the NCAA and which covers the 2018 football season, should be released by March 2020:

2019 — 2nd, 105,678           

2018 — 2nd, 105,485           

2017  — 3rd, 106,707, $34 million

2016 — 7th, 100,257, $31.7 million

2015 — 6th, 99,799, $31.4 million

2014 — 5th, 101,623, $33.45 million

2013  — 5th, 96,587, $34.4 million

2012  — 5th, 96,730, $31.8 million

2011 — 4th, 101,427, $33.4 milion

2010  — 3rd, 104,434, $34.2 million

2009 — 2nd, 107,008

2008 — 2nd, 108,254

2007 — 2nd, 108,917

2006 — 2nd, 107,567

2005 — 2nd, 104,859



Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for StateCollege.com since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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