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CU Buffs nearing football ticket sales target

New coach, higher ticket prices and attractive schedule have helped generate nearly $4.5 million increase in sales from 2018

Cliff Grassmick/Staff photographer
The hiring of new head coach Mel Tucker and a strong home football schedule has helped ticket sales.
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With a new head coach, an attractive home schedule and an increase in ticket prices, the Colorado athletic department budgeted for a major spike in football ticket sales this season.

Halfway through the home schedule, the department is already nearing its target.

As of Friday, when the Buffs began a two-game road swing with a trip to Eugene, Ore., the CU athletic department was at around $19.8 million in football ticket sales. That includes season tickets, student tickets and single-game sales for the three previous home games, as well as the three remaining at Folsom Field.

CU budgeted for $19.813 million in ticket sales for this season and expects to easily exceed that with single-game ticket sales later this season. Tickets are still available for the remaining games at Folsom: Oct. 25 vs. USC, Nov. 9 vs. Stanford and Nov. 23 vs. Washington.

Last year, the Buffs’ final football ticket revenue was $15,383,021.

The roughly $4.5 million increase in sales is much-needed for the Buffs, who still have a final payment due to former head football coach Mike MacIntyre, who was fired last November. CU and MacIntyre settled on a $7.238 million buyout in March, payable in two lump sums. The first, for $3.542 million, was paid last spring. The second, for $3.696 million, is due by Jan. 20.

The 2019 fiscal year, which concluded June 30, showed an athletic department deficit of $3.696 million – the first deficit since 2014 – but only because the second payment to MacIntyre had to be counted towards the last fiscal year.

“All in all everything else was pretty on task,” said Cory Hilliard, CU’s senior associate athletic director for business operations.

So far this year, the Buffs are off to a good start.

CU’s hiring of Mel Tucker generated fan excitement in the program last offseason. The Buffs also had an increase in ticket prices (which was installed before MacIntyre’s dismissal) and a home schedule that included Nebraska’s first visit to Boulder in 10 years, Air Force’s first visit since 1973 and Pac-12 games against Arizona, USC, Stanford and Washington.

The Nebraska game, on Sept. 7, generated $2.55 million just in single-game tickets sales, shattering the previous program record of $1.42 million.

Largely because of the projected ticket sales, CU budgeted for revenue of just over $94.2 million for 2019-20, an increase of nearly $5.4 million from last year’s revenue.

“Most of it is football revenue,” Hilliard said. “We knew the Nebraska game was going to drive it. We have arguably one of the better home conference schedules we’ve had in the last few years.”

A scheduled increase of roughly $850,000 in Pac-12 distribution was also budgeted, as well as a second concert at Folsom Field.

The Dead & Company played at Folsom Field in July and CU is still trying to set up a concert at the stadium for next spring or early summer.

“I think the challenge with that in the long run is the marketplace in Colorado is getting pretty aggressive,” Hilliard said. “There are multiple venues (in the area) and Folsom Field needs to be the right fit.”

Also budgeted for this year is $1.5 million in naming rights partnerships for CU’s facilities. That’s a major part of the budget that is up in the air.

“If that were to not matriculate, then we would have to figure out how to balance that,” said Hilliard, who added, “There’s been some active dialogue and we’ve used vendors to source those opportunities. We’re optimistic.”

Hilliard believes that the Denver Broncos recently completing a naming rights deal for its stadium is encouraging for CU.

“It helps us in this market to show that there’s value in that,” he said.

Overall, Hilliard said CU continues to be pleased with its financial situation. Athletic director Rick George made it a priority to balance the budget when he was hired in the summer of 2013. CU had a nearly $8 million deficit in 2013 and a $76,000 deficit in 2014. CU had a balanced budget in George’s first four full years on the job, fiscal years 2015-18.

“Following the strategic plan, expectations of being fiscally responsible, managing budget growth, unexpected expenses have all been very much shared across the department at the highest level,” Hilliard said. “The strategic plan is the backbone of that. You can see the financial fiscal responsibility piece to that is the underlying tone and Rick is champion of it better than anyone.”

With a spike in football ticket sales this year, the Buffs are tracking toward another good year with the budget. CU budgeted for a surplus of $3.77 million, which would allow the department to start rebuilding its reserves, which were depleted with a $915,133 transfer to close out the 2019 fiscal year.