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That's the ticket: marketing Razorback and Indian football huddles with the entertainment business.

TICKET SALES FOR THE upcoming football season at both the University of Arkansas and Arkansas State University are on pace with last year's volume.

The mood is uncertain for Razorback and Indian fans alike following disappointing seasons that led to coaching changes at both schools. Fan reaction at the ticket office is cautious instead of curious, despite the new blood.

This greeting underscores the notion that winning is the quickest cure-all to sagging attendance figures for both programs.

"Success on the field is important," says Cal Kuphall, ASU's assistant athletic director for marketing. "Our patrons have to feel that we're producing a quality product. People don't realize what a huge step it is from Division I-AA ball to I-A."

ASU's move into the top echelon of National Collegiate Athletic Association football competition last season was preceded by a 1-10 record, the most losses in the school's history.

Conversely, average attendance figures for the 1991 season hit an all-time high of 17,454. That figure was skewed by a massive effort to reach the minimum attendance threshold to qualify for Division I-A.

The high point was followed by a drop to an average attendance of 11,125 and a 2-9 record last year.

Indian Stadium filled to only a third of its capacity by paying fans adds up to more than $200,000 in lost ticket sales per game. That doesn't even begin to take into account lost revenue from concessions.

In an attempt to bolster attendance, ASU is unveiling a volume-discount approach to fill the 33,410 seats in Indian Stadium this season.

A deal is in the works to sell several corporate sponsors a block of 10,000 tickets for the last home stand, a Big West Conference game against the University of Nevada.

"This is the first year we've been able to come after them with large blocks of tickets," Kuphall says.
1992 11,125
1991 17,454
1990 15,319
1989 15,573
1988 13,295
1987 15,775
1986 13,289
1985 12,298
1984 8,351
1983 13,239

Concerns about cheapening the product have given way to the need to jumpstart ticket sales. That equation is balanced with expectations that the team will rediscover winning ways.

Improved team performance will help attract new ticket holders and help convert discount buyers into customers willing to pay full price, Kuphall says.

Sold out games for the University of Arkansas add up to ticket sales totaling $1 million at Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium and $920,000 at Razorback Stadium Fayetteville. Last year's Alabama game in Little Rock is the first UA sellout since Houston in 1989.

The Razorback program, which has struggled of late but still has a significantly larger core of fans than ASU, has taken less drastic steps to create a "now is the time to buy" atmosphere.
1992 44,751
1991 46,143
1990 49,499
1989 43,833
1988 49,065
1987 45,024
1986 51,018
1985 53,916
1984 49,068
1983 46,323
* Fayetteville & Little Rock Combined

"As much as that's a sale's pitch, it's going to become reality," says Matt Shanklin, director of marketing for Razorback athletics.

New UA football coach Danny Ford had a clear message during his statewide promotional tour this summer: Get your tickets before the mad rush ensues, because the Razorbacks are going places.

The 50-plus-city caravan around Arkansas with Ford was something new as the university aims to shore up its attendance, which began dwindling in the mid-1980s. The tour did the double duty of giving boosters a chance to meet the new coach and rekindling the faded ardor of victory-starved fans.

"We're considering doing that annually," Shanklin says of the tour. "Tennessee does it and has had great success. There's not a substitute to meeting your customer face-to-face, and our fans are our customers."

There is talk of dividing the state into regions and making weeklong visits annually. The yearly visitation would be rotated to the different areas of the state.

The road show at ASU was much less intense, even though it had two new faces in its athletic department leadership following the resignations of Head Coach Ray Perkins and Athletic Director Charley Thornton.

Brad Hovious, Ph.D., 47, is the new athletic director. He comes from the University of Texas at El Paso, where he was athletic director.

John Bobo, a 34-year-old former assistant coach under Perkins, has moved up to head coach. Bobo's resume includes stints as an assistant at the University of Louisville, the University of Alabama and the National Football League's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The closest thing to an extended tour was a two-day swing through seven "Super Chevy Dealers" at Jonesboro, Paragould, Pocahontas, Walnut Ridge, Hardy, Rector and Doniphan, Mo.

Sunshine vs. Shuteye

ASU is moving the kickoff time for its first three home games this season back to 7 p.m. The final two games will remain at 1 p.m.

Last season, Perkins had moved all the games to an afternoon kickoff. Increased attendance is behind the return of night games, which have historically drawn bigger crowds in Jonesboro.

Marketing had nothing to do with moving all Razorback games in Little Rock to 3 p.m.

The NCAA requires one day of rest during the week, and Ford prefers Friday instead of Sunday. Ford says the return trip to Fayetteville after a Little Rock night game wouldn't give players enough time to rest for church in the morning and weightlifting and running in the afternoon.

The change also will give out-of-town fans the option of avoiding a late-night return drive or the added cost of a hotel stay.

Razorback marketing efforts are running their normal course. The concentration was on season-ticket renewals March through July, with a typical surge of new ticket activity in April spurred by spring practice.

"New ticket holders will not respond early," Shanklin says. "Their intentions are noble, but they won't open their checkbooks until August as the season approaches."

Marketing via pocket schedules began in April with distributions through banks and Razorback Clubs.

Dovetailing with this was the appearance of 850,000 ticket-order forms at banks around the state. Some are inserted as "statement stuffers" while others are distributed through lobby displays.

In July, more than 30,000 schedule posters begin hitting the streets. The schedules are marketed via 30-second promos on three television stations: KATV, Channel 7, in Little Rock, KHBS, Channel 29, in Fort Smith and KHOG, Channel 40, in Fayetteville.

The arrangement is a barter deal, with the stations giving air time in exchange for space on the schedule. Additional corporate sponsorship of the schedules is courtesy of Dial-A-Page.

The ticket drive is supplemented with some advertising through newspapers in seven key markets: Little Rock, Fort Smith, Fayetteville-Springdale, Pine Bluff, Jonesboro, El Dorado and Texarkana.

"Our response from newspaper advertising has not been that good," Shanklin says. "It's been basically break-even, and we've going to really be taking a hard look at that."

Marketing efforts for tickets also are broadcast through the 75 affiliates of the Razorback Football Radio Network. The 30-second spots are airing July 5-Aug. 28.

The barter deal includes eight tickets per station and free promotional use of the tickets subject to approval by the university. For instance, a radio station couldn't hook up with a beer distributor for a ticket giveaway because university policy prohibits any association with alcoholic beverages.

Last year, Razorback basketball hooked up with Shoney's Inc. restaurants to sponsor the Ball Hawg Program. Children registered at the restaurants for the chance to be ballboy and have their presence announced during the game.

All 17 winners and their families had never attended a Razorback basketball game.

"That went over extremely well," Shanklin says. "It's projects like this that builds grassroots support. You secure fans for life when you do programs like this.

"Sports marketing is in its infancy in Arkansas. Most sponsors are so used to dealing with the local high school or college team. We feel like we've got a commodity with a lot of value in it."

The underlying trend is that college sports is having to become more competitive from a marketing standpoint to compete with the plethora of entertainment options afforded fans. Fans constantly weigh ticket prices and the cost of attending games against other sports choices.

"My personal opinion is that basketball has set the tone," Shanklin says. "Fans want wall-to-wall entertainment. The thing we've got to get back to with football is hospitality. Fans have got to come out four hours before the game and party."

The idea is to create a bigger event than just the football game, to make the pregame and post-game activities social events that can't be missed.

The Indian and Razorback programs both are looking at coordinating future promotions involving tent villages with hospitality areas featuring food, drink and entertainment backed by fans and sponsors.

ASU already has its Tailgate With A-State program, with a tent area, chairs and tables provided for fans to picnic to the accompaniment of a band.

Razorback promoters have to contend with some space problems at both Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium and Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.

But the bottom-line solution to packing stadiums is simple though not always easy to attain or maintain.

"Winning is very much the cure-all, but you have to have the vehicle in place to take advantage of it," Shanklin says. "We feel like we've already got the vehicles in place."

The rest is up to the team and how much the fans cheer with their wallets.

Ordering Home Football Tickets

Arkansas Razorbacks

* $20 per ticket plus a $3 handling charge per order.

* When ordering by phone, call 1-800-982-4647. Visa, Mastercard and Discover are accepted.

* When ordering by mail, make checks payable to the University of Arkansas in care of: Razorback Ticket Center, 91 N. Razorback Road, Fayetteville, AR 72701

Arkansas State Indians

* Five-game season package: reserved chairback seats, $75; reserved lower bench, $50; reserved upper bench, $40; and general admission, $30.

* Single games: reserved chairback seats, $15.50; reserved lower bench, $10.50; reserved upper bench, $8.50; and general admission, $6.50.

* A $2 handling and postage fee is charged per order.

* When ordering by phone, call 1-501-972-2781. Visa, Mastercard and Discover are accepted.

* When ordering by mail, make checks payable to ASU Central Box Office in care of: ASU Central Box Office, P.O. Box 880, State University, AR 72467
COPYRIGHT 1993 Journal Publishing, Inc.
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Article Details
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Author:Waldon, George
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Aug 2, 1993
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