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Trib: Hiring Holtz hasn't helped USF ticket sales


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Hiring Holtz hasn't helped USF ticket sales

By SCOTT CARTER  | The Tampa Tribune

Published: July 15, 2010

Updated: 03:00 am

TAMPA - The hiring of football coach Skip Holtz in January ushered in "A Holtz New Era'' at the University of South Florida, according to a high-profile marketing campaign.

Shortly after Holtz pulled on a green USF cap and responded, "That's why I'm here'' when a fan yelled "beat Florida" at his introductory press conference, those billboards and advertisements featuring Holtz began to pop up all over town.

USF had a specific goal: use Holtz's hiring to quickly move past the messy ending of Jim Leavitt's tenure and create excitement about the football program and upcoming season.

And, of course, to sell season tickets.

"We spend a part of every day thinking about how to fill 65,856 seats,'' USF executive associate athletic director Bill McGillis said. "We constantly analyze that. There is a lot of room for us to grow.''

Based on season-ticket sales figures obtained by the Tribune, Holtz's hiring hasn't helped USF match the record pace of 2008 when, coming off a season in which it climbed to No. 2 in the national polls, it sold a school-record 27,879 season tickets.

Through the end of the day Wednesday, USF had sold 21,576 season tickets, about a 5 percent drop from the total at this time a year ago. While sales are slightly off last year's pace, USF will launch its latest 2010 season-ticket marketing campaign by the end of the month with hopes of reaching last year's final total of 24,185 and perhaps the record 2008 total.

USF's current figure includes 3,143 season tickets reserved for staff, trade partners and other game-day groups.

"When we hired Skip, we launched some outdoor advertising and he was very visible,'' McGillis said. "He has been super-well received. I think our fans are excited about him. I think the community is excited about him.

"Then we kind of took a hiatus because it's just hard to sustain and fund a six-month campaign. Over the next (several) weeks, you'll see much more intensity to the ad campaign.''

In its quest to regain momentum entering the season, USF is working with Clearwater-based FKQ Advertising on its next round of promotions, featuring Holtz, quarterback B.J. Daniels and other elements. FKQ has worked with the Lightning and Florida State on marketing campaigns in the past to boost season-ticket sales.

A recent survey of season-ticket prices by Rivals.com among the 120 Division I schools revealed that for the second consecutive year USF has the cheapest season-ticket option in the Bowl Championship Series. USF's $75 end-zone package edged out a $77 offer at Illinois.

Season-ticket sales are slow at several major schools, according to various reports, including Tennessee, which has more than 1,000 seats still available after many years of long waiting lists, and traditional SEC power Georgia.

The Tallahassee Democrat reported last month that, much like USF's hiring of Holtz, the promotion of first-year head coach Jimbo Fisher hasn't provided an automatic boost to sales. FSU is on pace to sell about 35,000 season tickets before its home opener Sept. 4, about the same number as last year.

At UCF in Orlando, the number of season tickets sold has dropped from 21,000 to about 15,000 since UCF opened its new on-campus stadium in 2007, prompting the launch of its "UKNIGHT" marketing blitz earlier this month.

Florida, thanks to the state's largest fan base and two national titles in the past four seasons, has sold out its season-ticket allotment for a 31st consecutive year. However, to help ensure the streak continued, Florida opted not to raise season-ticket prices this season.

McGillis said increasing season-ticket sales is a top priority every year, with the challenge unique in this market because there are so many entertainment options. In USF's inaugural season of 1997, the school sold 20,619 season tickets according to figures released Wednesday, not far below the current figure.

McGillis points out, however, the typical USF student's experience has changed drastically over the past 13 years as the Bulls' football program evolved into a BCS member. USF officials are counting on the bond between the football program and future students to be passed from generation to generation, helping build a larger season-ticket base.

"When we rose to No. 2 in the polls in 2007, the remainder of that season was not a huge challenge,'' he said. "But once that season was over, we were still facing a challenge. We just want to keep chipping away and building our fan base year after year.''

The man on all those billboards around Tampa Bay understands the role of fan support. During his five seasons at East Carolina, attendance grew more than 20 percent and led to a 7,000-seat expansion project at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium that is set to be complete by this season.

Holtz seeks the same support at USF.

"Everyone keeps asking, 'What can we do? What can we do?' Buy season tickets, support this team and come to the games,'' Holtz said. "It's a big puzzle that we're trying to put together now. There are a thousand pieces to it. The piece that everybody here can contribute and that we can control, come to the games and support this team.''

While Holtz has yet to coach a regular-season game at Raymond James Stadium, he recalls watching the Bulls on TV play home games against West Virginia in 2007 and last year's Miami game, both sellouts.

He said that type of atmosphere is crucial for recruiting.

"If the best recruits in the state are going to be there that week, I want them to see the same thing here at South Florida that they're going to see when they go to the other schools in this state that have competed for a national championship,'' Holtz said. "When they come in and watch us play a nonconference game, and it's packed, and the crowd is in it, and there is great emotion and excitement and passion inside that stadium, that's when recruits start to say, 'I want to be part of this.' ''

USF officials are hoping more fans feel the same way.

Reporter Scott Carter can be reached at (813) 259-7928. You can follow him on Twitter @TBO_USF_Bulls and check out his blog at tbo.com/sports/colleges.

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if he wins

they will come

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I agree that if we win they will come but more people will buy individual game tickets. The economy is still recovering and there are many in our state that dont have the luxury to fork over for season tickets.

I also thiink that the administration will have to rethink its thinking for future scheduling, lets face it

a 1AA team, WKU and FAU are NOT an attractive OCS for home games.

The 1AA game is going to stay and I understand the financials of it, but at least one of the others WKU,FAU has to be replaced with alower BCS squad. Lets try to get Vandy, MissState, Iowa State etc

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Yes, we've lost site of trying to get the 1 and 1's with lower level BCS opponents.  I really loved that KU game, and that was a 1 and 1 opportunity.  UCF just signed one with South Carolina.  We need to strive to get a few more of those, or at worst some high level non-BCS opponents like TCU, Houston, or Colorado State.

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Kansas was awesome

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"If the best recruits in the state are going to be there that week, I want them to see the same thing here at South Florida that they're going to see when they go to the other schools in this state that have competed for a national championship,'' Holtz said. "When they come in and watch us play a nonconference game, and it's packed, and the crowd is in it, and there is great emotion and excitement and passion inside that stadium, that's when recruits start to say, 'I want to be part of this.' ''

Well Skip, I know this isn't your fault, but the out-of-conference home schedule this year is pretty bad. In fact, out of the entire home schedule, only Pitt is an opponent that I'm really excited to see USF play. I'm sure this is mostly because of the unique circumstances of having two road games against BCS foes, so it's understandable, but the fact that there may be a valid reason isn't going to make people want to pay to see ****** opponents.

That said, the introduction of Holtz got me excited enough to buy season tickets for the first time (OK, having the money to actually buy them this year was a factor as well).

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has anybody thought that maybe there are some fans that renewed because of holtz? just a thought.

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:Duh

The Florida unemployment rate is around 17% over all and in 3 surrounding counties the rate is at 15-16%+... the true number is much higher since what the government reports is false because it does not account for those that no longer receive unemployment.

Thus the economy has more to do with USF ticket sales then Skip could ever...

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The economy isn't hurting ticket sales at UF or FSU.

I think it has more to do with the bandwagon nature of the local fans. 

USF does not yet have enough TRUE DIEhard fans and its too easy to get GREAT seats day of game from scalpers. 

There just isn't a huge demand for USF Season tickets. 

The economy plays a VERY SMALL part in this.  IF we had the fanbase that larger programs had we wouldn't notice much of a decline due to coaching changes.

I'd say the weak home schedule is more to blame then a new coach or bad economy.

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Win

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