Sales of Fresno State season tickets slow for second straight year

Fresno State felt the pinch from an $800,000 budget shortfall due to slow football ticket sales last season, a solid hit to an athletic department that counts on gate receipts as its third-largest source of revenue and is committed to keeping pace with its Mountain West rivals and the escalating costs of college athletics.

It could be in a similar position this year.

Coming off a disappointing 3-9 finish, season-ticket renewals are down for a 2016 season that holds more promise but also includes a home schedule that lacks a marquee nonconference opponent, with games against Sacramento State and Tulsa.

With a soft deadline of March 16, the renewal rate was running from 75 percent to 80 percent – and Fresno State last season sold 18,432 season tickets, its fewest going back through 2010. In 2014, coming off an 11-2 season and second consecutive conference championship and with a home date against Nebraska on the schedule, it sold 25,082 season tickets.

“My goal is to have everybody add tickets,” athletic director Jim Bartko said. “If every single fan bought one extra season ticket, we’d be sold out, and our tickets are pretty well-priced. At this time, donations have been great and that’s just as important, but we want the stadium to be full and we’ll get there.”

The Bulldogs do not play their home opener until Sept. 10, so there is time to make up a shortfall that could be as high as $400,000 to $500,000, and the Mountain West has not yet released football schedules with times and dates adjusted to accommodate national television broadcasts.

Last season the Bulldogs had two games moved off of Saturdays to accommodate TV, playing UNLV on a Friday and Nevada on a Thursday, which could impact some fans. Those games, which started at 7:30 p.m. and were played in the second half of the season when Fresno State was 1-5 and 2-6, drew only 25,604 and 25,476 to Bulldog Stadium. The venue has a capacity of 41,031.

Fresno State will again push season-ticket renewals as well as new season-ticket sales once the schedule is finalized, which is expected in the next two weeks.

“We have to get the schedule – I think a lot of fans wait until they know if they’re Thursday games or Friday games or Saturday games or what time the games are,” Bartko said. “But I think people understand the importance and a lot of our sales are single-game tickets. We have a crew out there and ready to go, and once the schedule comes out we’re going to need them to step up and start buying tickets.”

Fresno State last season had to make up the shortfall through private donations, though Bartko acknowledged that money could have been used elsewhere rather than balancing the budget.

The donor base has made significant contributions toward cost of attendance stipends, facilities upgrades and the implementation of a training table for student-athletes in all sports. The athletic department also is adding two sports, wrestling and women’s water polo, and has designs on renovating Bulldog Stadium, a project that is scheduled to start this summer with new fencing and branding in the first of four planned phases with a total price tag that could run from $50 million to $60 million.

“That’s a big chunk of money, and luckily we had some people step up and help offset that cost,” Bartko said. “But we need to average well over 30,000 (at Bulldog Stadium) and be at the top of the league and have a winning season and go to a bowl game. That’s critical for our season.”