UF football season ticket sales sag despite Dan Mullen’s effort to sell Gators

Courtesy of the Orlando Sentinel:

All the buzz first-year UF coach Dan Mullen tried to create during the offseason has fallen on deaf ears — at least at the ticket window.

With next Saturday’s season opener at home against Charleston Southern on the horizon, a school official said the Gators have sold 58,000 season tickets, including just 14,500 of 18,500 student tickets available.

This is down around 9,000 season tickets overall, based on figures provided a year ago when UF had sold 67,000 tickets by Aug. 9, including 18,500 to students. Coming off back-to-back SEC title game appearances, the 2017 Gators’ reported attendance of 86,715 per game last season was 11th in the nation — the school’s 13th straight year in the top 12, according to the NCAA.

Mullen’s passion and optimism has energized an apathetic fan base since his late November hiring to replace Jim McElwain. But the combination of last season’s 4-7 finish, a lackluster 2018 home schedule and the nationwide trend of declining tickets in college football have delivered strong headwinds to Mullen’s plan to pack the Swamp on Saturdays.

And in 2017, the SEC led the nation in attendance with an average of 75,074 fans. But this was down from the 2008 peak of 76,844 fans

Knowing the uphill climb he faced, Mullen set out to drum up fan support during a February speaking tour around the state. At UF, Mullen visited fraternities and sororities. Some mornings, the 46-year-old ran with the school’s ROTC members. One day, he surprised students at the campus recreation center and played dodgeball and shot 3-pointers.

Students have one week remaining to buy the 4,000 remaining season tickets allotted them and provide the boisterous student section Mullen hopes sets the tone for home games.

Mullen, though, has little, if any, control of the factors that have curtailed season ticket sales.

The 2017 home schedule was six games rather than the usual seven, but also included visits from rivals Tennessee and Florida State, along with SEC West foes LSU and Texas A&M.

This season, visits from Kentucky, LSU, Missouri and surging South Carolina, coached by former coach Will Muschamp, highlight the schedule. Beyond Charleston Southern, the non-conference schedule features Colorado State and Idaho, schools located two time zones away.

Fans also have to pay a little more to watch the Gators. Following McElwain’s 10-win debut season in 2015, the school raised ticket prices.

Booster season tickets went go from $300 to $330 for the Gators’ seven home games. Students pay $140, up from $105 to $140 – or a $5 increase per game.

In the age of high-definition television, social media and increasing creature comforts, fans have to weigh the benefits of the live, game-day experience. Some also would rather avoid the hassle of parking, the cost of concessions and the lack of comfort sitting in close quarters on metal bleachers.

UF currently is addressing another issue with its younger fan base: the sporadic connectivity with the stadium’s WiFi system. The school is amid a $6.3 million project that will be fully operative by the 2019 season.

Going forward, athletic director Scott Stricklin has said the school plans to update the aging Swamp in the other ways. Most of these areas, though, will be not be addressed until a series of other projects is completed, including a new baseball stadium set to open in 2020 and a stand-alone football facility targeted for the 2021 season.

For now, Mullen and the Gators will look to win fans over by winning more games and scoring more points following eight years of offensive futility and two four-win seasons during the past five years.