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TICKET TO GLORY? : So Far, Miller Rates His Marketing Plan at SDSU a C-Plus

September 18, 1986|STEVE DOLAN | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — The unusual has become the usual at San Diego State this year.

For instance:

--Coaches in every sport have been required to sell football season tickets.

--Season ticket-holders were given a money-back guarantee if they didn't enjoy the football home opener.

--The football coach has $10,000 withheld annually, payable if he runs an infraction-free program.

Fred Miller, hired in December, is the sixth athletic director at SDSU since 1979. The football team, which is 2-0 this season and will play host to UCLA Saturday night, has suffered through three consecutive losing seasons for the first time in 26 years.

Miller came in talking about establishing credibility. He has attempted to gain community trust and is hoping for what one university football brochure labeled a "Return to Glory."

SDSU had football attendance problems last season, averaging 19,485 fans in 60,000-seat San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium. The Aztecs drew 10,876 and 10,343 for their final home games against Texas El Paso and New Mexico.

Shortly after he was hired, Miller set a goal of 24,000 for this year's season-ticket sales. Later, he revised it to 16,000. The university sold 11,980 before the opener against Cal State Long Beach, which drew 23,594.

"When I first said we wanted to sell 24,000, I think that was pie in the sky," Miller said. "Season tickets are a hard sell in this town. I didn't realize the resistance there would be in the community."

To help fuel the season-ticket drive, Miller designed a marketing program that involved coaches, athletes and boosters.

Each SDSU athletic team made phone solicitations to former season ticket-holders and alumni. For every season ticket sold, the particular team received a 25% commission. If the new season ticket-holders renew, the designated team gets a 20% commission the second year and a 15% commission thereafter. With budgets frozen for 1986-87, teams could increase their revenues only by selling football season tickets.

"It was so radical at first that there was some reluctance," said Jim Herrick, assistant athletic director for marketing and promotions. "People did warm up to it. I told them I'm not going away, and the concept's not going away. When you make a call that makes $100 for your program, you don't mind doing it."

The phone solicitations resulted in 647 season-ticket sales, grossing $35,274. SDSU's various sports netted $8,818.50, or 25% of the sales. Football led season-ticket sales with 145, netting $2,217. Baseball was second with 95 sales. Some weren't as successful. Women's tennis and men's golf sold four season tickets, and women's basketball sold two.

Jim Dietz, baseball coach, said the ticket sales enabled his team to have the maximum 13 scholarships in 1986. His team netted $930.

"After the season is over, you're burned out," Dietz said. "It's hard to be as involved (in football ticket sales) as we would like to be. But this certainly has merit to it. It gives your program a way to earn money."

There were some programs that netted little from the ticket sales. Men's golf made $72, women's tennis $60 and women's basketball $36.

"Our team does not have large numbers compared to baseball," said Carol Plunkett, women's tennis coach. "Smaller teams had difficulty with that. In terms of money, we did not make an enormous amount. I think the fact we exposed ourselves as willing to try will help our program. Some people said they couldn't buy football season tickets, but they sent donations to the tennis program."

Miller gave the first-year marketing program a grade of C-plus.

"The only way we could stretch our athletic budget was through football season-ticket sales," he said. "How else are volleyball or tennis going to make money? If a coach says they're not hired to do this, they can't expand their program. If they can't expand their program, they won't be successful."

Miller's money-back guarantee proved to be a successful risk. After the Aztecs opened Sept. 6 by beating Cal State Long Beach, 27-24, only one fan out of 11,980 asked for a refund on the remainder of his season tickets.

The fan told Vickie Larsen, SDSU ticket manager, that he did not enjoy the game. This Saturday, the Aztecs are providing a different seat location for the fan.

"Quite frankly, I might want to see him in my box at the next home game," Miller said. "I don't want to lose the one."

Miller stood to lose a lot more than one fan when SDSU trailed Long Beach, 14-0.

"Yes, it was risky," Miller said. "In an attempt to jolt the community, I had to make major college football maybe larger than what it is. I believe in calculated risks. When we were down, 14-0, I thought the risk might not have been too calculated."

Miller also thinks he is making a calculated risk with Coach Denny Stolz's contract. Shortly after Stolz signed a five-year contract, Miller revealed the $10,000 incentive to run a clean program.

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