Football ticket revenue for Boise State has decreased each of the past four years, and is likely to do so again this season.
The Broncos brought in $7.57 million in 2012, when they enjoyed record average attendance and season-ticket sales. That number dropped to $6.81 million last year, according to figures provided to the Idaho Statesman.
The athletics budget is projected at $39.4 million for this fiscal year, meaning football tickets represent about 17 percent of the department’s revenue.
“Football ticket sales plays a huge role. It supports more than just football,” Boise State Athletic Director Curt Apsey said. “When you’re down in that area, it affects everybody.
“I’m concerned about it, no doubt about that.”
Through four games at Albertsons Stadium, the average attendance has been 32,370 in the 36,387-seat venue. The average was 34,273 in 2016, a 3.2 percent drop from the school record in 2012.
The final two home games this season might not be hot tickets, with the Broncos facing 1-7 Nevada on Nov. 4 and Air Force on Nov. 18, the first day of Thanksgiving break. Even if both games sell out (only eight times has a crowd of 36,000 or more been announced), the average attendance would be less than last year. If the current average holds, attendance will be the lowest since 2008.
While football revenue has decreased, Apsey has held steady the budgets for most of Boise State’s sports programs in recent years. The football budget has benefited from the departure of coach Chris Petersen after the 2013 season. He was trending toward a $3 million salary for 2017 while coach Bryan Harsin makes $1.55 million.
“Success at this level comes at a bigger cost than it used to,” Apsey said. “... We try to budget conservatively, and I think we’ve done a fairly good job of it.
“When revenue is down, you have to be careful, take advantage of fundraising, discuss the importance of buying a ticket.”
Attendance actually increased the past two seasons, but with help from ticket promotions that produced less revenue. The reasons tickets have become more difficult to sell are not lacking: Apsey noted late kickoffs as a primary factor. Coming into this season, 17 of the previous 21 games played at home started at 7:30 p.m. or later.
Apsey also cited increased options to watch at home, and “a different playing style than people are used to — when we win, it’s not by 40 points.” In the past three seasons, Boise State has lost three home games and recorded four wins by single digits.
Kelly Temple moved to Boise in 1999 and immediately bought season tickets. He gave them up a few years ago, bought a mini-plan (three games) last year and has yet to attend a game this season. Season-ticket sales have dropped from a record 24,109 in 2012 to 17,633 in 2017 — roughly the same number the Broncos sold in 2004, before the three Fiesta Bowl wins.
“The late kickoffs were the biggest issue,” Temple said. “It’s hard to even watch on TV when it’s getting done at midnight. I’d love to see afternoon kickoffs again, but I realize they’d probably have to give up some TV revenue. I don’t know where that balance is.”
Boise State is expected to bring in $2.9 million in conference television revenue this fiscal year — another key revenue source but one that puts the Broncos mostly at the whim of ESPN. Previous years would bring in around $2.4 million, depending on the channel and the day of the game, but the Mountain West restructured the deal over the summer to provide a flat payout for the Broncos annually.
This season, Boise State made efforts to improve the in-stadium experience (including a DJ) and had three September kickoffs at 1:45 p.m. or 6 p.m. Two were on weeknights, though. The Nov. 4 game against Nevada will start at 5 p.m.
“If someone says, ‘Get rid of ESPN and play every game at 1 o’clock,’ there’s a financial impact,” Apsey said. “Do I worry about (kickoff times)? I worry about it every day because we need to provide the resources, but it comes at a cost.”
In June 2016, Boise State hired an outside sales team for the first time to help drum up ticket sales, but Apsey said those sales are not the only way to make revenue.
“When that important part of revenue is going down, you have to find other ways to make up for it,” he said.
Apsey is optimistic about men’s basketball ticket sales. Meanwhile, the Bronco Athletic Association brought in a record $5.1 million last school year, an increase of $800,000 from 2015-16.
“If we had record attendance or not, our goal is still the same, to get more members,” BAA president Rod Meyer said. “My focal point is to have as much of a presence at as many events as possible. I believe the community wants to be involved, even if people can’t make it to games. They just don’t always know how.”
Fundraising could become more important as the Broncos hope to add a baseball program, with plans to begin play as soon as 2020. A coach is expected to be hired by the end of the year. The program’s starting budget is expected to be approximately $1 million per year. The school also announced last week that it plans to build its own baseball stadium for the team.
Apsey said “one significant gift” has been provided to help with scholarship costs for the sport over the first four or five years.
To help fund the program, the school will reduce a $1.5 million administrative fee the athletic department pays to the university for its indirect support. President Bob Kustra cited a dip in football ticket sales as part of the decision to cut wrestling in April.
“There were a lot of reasons, but it factored into it,” Apsey said.
Declining attendance is a concern across the Football Bowl Subdivision. Home attendance dropped for a sixth consecutive year, by 1 percent, from 2015 to 2016. It went up by slightly more than 1 percent in the Mountain West, but was still down 7.5 percent from 2013 to 2016 in the conference.
“A lot of the factors we don’t have a lot of control over,” Apsey said. “... It’s not just something we’re dealing with.”
Not the hot ticket anymore
The Boise State football program’s ticket revenue, average attendance and season-ticket sales peaked in 2012 and have been declining a little ever since.
* two home games remaining this season