For the last handful of years, WVU Senior Associate Athletic Director Matt Wells has been slugging it out with a national trend.
Overall, college football season ticket sales have been on the decline, with the exception of the Big Ten.
And that’s not all.
After last season, Wells found himself staring at another opponent: the scenario for the 2019 football season.
Gone is draw Will Grier. Gone is David Sills. And Gary Jennings. And David Long.
The cupboard, it seemed, was bare. Which, I’m sure, led to Dana Holgorsen’s decision to flee Morgantown.
But then along came Neal.
Wells has watched new head football coach Neal Brown hit town. He’s seen him land Oklahoma quarterback transfer Austin Kendall. He’s watched his commitment to in-state recruiting. Most importantly, he’s watched Brown run a reverse in regard to Holgorsen’s statewide public relations.
In sum, Brown actually seems to enjoy meeting people. Genuinely. And that gives Wells hope in regard to ticket sales.
“I think it’s going to help tremendously,” Wells said Monday morning. “I think there’s a renewed sense of enthusiasm around the program with the transition – and certainly with the tremendous job Coach has done with his initial time in Morgantown.”
Wells, in fact, seems confident.
“Whether it’s season tickets, whether it’s mini-packages or whether it’s single game sales, I foresee a lift,” said the associate AD. “There’s a lot of momentum. I think it will increase ticket sales and attendance.”
Brown’s way with fans and the media might just translate into support from Mountaineer Nation – whether those fans believe the team will fare well or not.
“It’s definitely given fans a new take on the program,” Wells said. “I think you’ll see that translate to additional sales. I’m not going to predict whether it will be in season-ticket sales, mini-package sales or single-game sales, but I do think people will be supporting at a higher level.”
Understand, again, this has been an ongoing fight for Wells. Consider that the final season ticket sales number for last season was 25,629, which was DOWN from the previous 26,542. That’s hard to comprehend considering WVU was picked to finish second to Oklahoma in the preseason Big 12 media poll. That’s hard to comprehend considering Grier was a Heisman Trophy contender. That’s hard to comprehend considering Grier, Sills, Jennings, Long, etc., were on board.
Yet Wells knew. He got it. This is what he said to me back on July 26 of last year:
“There are so many variables that go into the season ticket purchase process now. It’s not shocking our numbers aren’t up because the marketplace has changed so much — and not just at West Virginia University. This is something across the board: the options available to fans and how the games are consumed. It’s much like what you see in regard to television. Fans are being more selective with their money and looking for that a la carte option.
“Three games [packages] seem to be hitting the sweet spot better than the six-game packages in a lot of places. I don’t think what we’re experiencing is all that unique when you look at the trends, not only across college football and athletics, but all events, whether it’s major league baseball or the NBA. It’s a new world out there in terms of options for fans.”
Don’t misunderstand. WVU football is still very healthy. WVU’s athletic department is very healthy. The total football ticket revenue was $13.4 million last season, according to Wells. The department took in $34.3 million from the Big 12.
“That’s why I say, ‘Let’s look at this globally and not just focus on the season ticket sales,’” Wells said Monday. “Certainly, we hope for an increase there. But if we don’t have a significant increase there I don’t want people to think it’s a disappointment. You won’t know until we go through the entire process.”
A more upbeat football coach like Brown, meanwhile, doesn’t hurt.
“He’s been terrific,” Wells said. “Very impressive.”