Oklahoma Division II football seeks affordable ticket prices
By MOLLY M. FLEMING
Sep. 09, 2018
DURANT, Okla. (AP) — In his 11-year tenure at Southeastern Oklahoma State University, Athletic Director Keith Baxter has only once had to make the decision to raise football-game ticket prices.
He said he was about four years into his position when he looked across the board at the Great American Conference teams and the region to see how the university's prices compared. Area high-school-game admission prices were considered as well, since some families may want to attend games on Friday nights and Saturday.
"We tried to keep it as low as we could to allow a diverse population to come to the games," he told The Journal Record .
General admission football tickets are $8, with discounts offered for senior-age adults and students.
For Durant residents, this may seem reasonable, but setting the price can be especially challenging in the area because some students are from north Dallas, where the average median household income is $55,000. In Durant, the average median household income is $20,000 less than the north Dallas metro.
"That's a fine line," Baxter said. "You want to be able to pay your bills (to put on the game), but you want to be able to offer a quality entertainment package for a price that a family of five can still afford."
At Oklahoma's Division II universities, affordability is a key factor in setting the ticket prices. While athletic directors are proud of the team on the field, they also recognize that on Saturdays in the fall, they are providing an entertainment option, and people only have so many dollars to spend.
It cost Baxter and his team about $5,000 to put on a game, which includes paying the officials. Referee payments are the biggest portion of most game-day expenses, said the athletics directors.
This year, for the first time ever, Baxter will get to count concession stand money in his coffers. That also means his team will have to buy the food for the stands. Last season, the only two revenue generators on game day were program and ticket sales. Corporate sponsors help cover the remaining costs, which is done at other universities as well.
But Baxter said he has no immediate plans to consider increasing ticket prices to help cover more game-day costs. This could have a reverse effect with entertainment competition being tight in the area. People aren't far from Dallas where they can watch four professional teams, or they can stay in Durant and watch a concert at the Choctaw Casino & Resort.
"We don't want to out-price ourselves," Baxter said.
At Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Athletics Director Tony Duckworth started his position in 2011, and was concerned the university had out-priced itself on season ticket prices. They were $125 per ticket, and in 2014, he dropped season tickets to $100 and they're now set at $75 a seat.
"I wanted it to be more about volume than price points," he said. "We felt like it was the right thing to do. But we haven't seen the overwhelming benefit like we hoped."
While season ticket prices have gone down, Duckworth has also created a new revenue stream in 2013 by charging for parking. He started with $5 per space, and it's now up to $10 per vehicle. This helps make up for money not generated by the complimentary tickets that faculty and staff can get, and the four tickets that every player gets for his family.
"We're happy to do all that for the friends and families of the players," Duckworth said. "We've had to get creative in how we were trying to drive revenue on game days."
At NSU, it costs $6,000 to $6,500 to put on a football game. But last season, nearly half those weekly costs were covered by the paid parking.
He said he hasn't heard any negative feedback from charging for parking. People coming to games likely also watch live football at University of Arkansas, the University of Oklahoma or even an Oklahoma City Thunder basketball game. There's paid parking at each of those events.
"Paying for parking is kind of the norm at the intercollegiate and professional level," he said. "It's very economical and not creating a real burden on our fan base."
This season will be the third year that Duckworth has implemented a premium-game ticket rate, which is $20 per adult, compared to the normal $10 price. There will be two premium games this year, with one being homecoming.
This creates a revenue boost for two games, which goes back into covering the costs. He said he doesn't expect to change any more prices — either on tickets or parking — for a while.
While he has to make sure there's money to support the operations, having a good team helps with that as well. If the team does better, more people come to the games, so all the revenue drivers do better anyway. In 2017, the team was 1-10.
"If we get more wins, even with the pricing we have, it makes everyone's jobs easier," he said.
On the opposite side of the state, Southwestern Oklahoma State University hasn't raised its football ticket prices in at least 12 years, said athletics director Todd Thurman. General admission tickets are $7 each.
"Right now, at this point, we feel like we want to keep it down where people can afford it and want to be a part of it," Thurman said.
SWOSU is in the Great American Conference with Southeastern. The conference is comprised of Oklahoma and Arkansas DII teams.
SWOSU's football games are run by mostly volunteers, with student athletes helping sell tickets, take tickets, sell programs and other needs. Having these volunteers help keep costs low so ticket prices can remain low. The announcer is from a local radio station. Thurman sets up the sound system.
SWOSU does not contract with a third-party food-service operator, so the concession sales go back to the university, but not the game-day budget.
Thurman said the university draws fans from Custer County and across the state, with parents coming to watch their students play. Even though the university is more than an hour from Norman and Stillwater, SWOSU's game-day attendance is affected by OU and Oklahoma State University's games being on television. There are likely OU flags flying in the stands, Thurman said. As much as the school can, it tries to maneuver its game times around OU's and OSU's game times.
"We try to offer a low-cost, really good opportunity to watch a college game," he said. "We have really good crowds."
The University of Central Oklahoma was the only Oklahoma DII school to crack the top 30 in football-game attendance, according to the 2017 figures reported by the NCAA. More than 24,000 people total attended 2017's five home games, averaging 4,981 per game.
UCO is in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association with Northeastern State University. The conference has teams from Oklahoma, Missouri, Nebraska, and Kansas.
UCO Athletics Director Eddie Griffin said the university's $15 general admission tickets are set at a price that's affordable for families. Box seats cost $25 a person.
UCO is in Edmond, where the median household income is $71,825. Tahlequah's median household income is $31,119.
Broncho fans haven't seen their ticket prices increase in at least five years, and Griffin said he doesn't expect them to change anytime soon. There's also no charge for parking.
"We'd like to have people come out and enjoy the game," he said. "We have a lot of new facilities. . There are a lot of good things happening at UCO."
The university has the fourth-most wins in Division II, and is the second most-winning football program in Oklahoma, Griffin said. In 2017, the team was 8-4.
Griffin said it's a great fan experience, with fireworks and the band creating a lively atmosphere as smoke bellows across the field.
"People would be surprised at the quality of competition," he said. "Our athletes compete at a high level. It's not what people would expect it to be."
Information from: The Journal Record, http://www.journalrecord.com