IOWA CITY — With thousands of tickets remaining for each of its seven home games during the 2014 season, Iowa director of athletics Gary Barta is searching for solutions.
“The sky is not falling, but we do have tickets to sell for every game,’’ Barta said Friday. “Four years ago, we had sold out every game by July and that’s a great position to be in. We are not in the position often, but it was the case then.’’
That is not the case now — Iowa had just over 10,000 seats left for a Sept. 6 game against Ball State and 2,128 remaining for a game a week later against Iowa State — and Barta and his staff are attempting to dissect why Hawkeye season ticket sales have stagnated.
He said sales to the general public and to faculty-staff remain essentially flat compared to a year ago, but Barta said he is concerned about slow single-game ticket sales this month and a continuing drop in the number of season tickets sold to students.
Iowa traditionally reserved 10,000 seats for students, but saw that number drop to 7,300 a year ago and currently has sold fewer than 7,000 season tickets to students for the upcoming season.
The drop of more than 30 percent mirrors a trend of tumbling season ticket sales to students nationally, but Barta said his concern centers around what is taking place at Iowa.
As a result, any unsold student tickets for 2014 will be placed on sale to the general public next Friday.
“I just can’t sit here like we did last year, hoping that the students will buy them and then find ourselves with more empty seats,’’ Barta said.
Ironically, Barta said the athletics department could make more money if those tickets are sold to the public. Student season tickets are priced at $25 per game compared to the $55-70 Iowa charges for single-game tickets.
“I would always prefer to have those 10,000 seats filled with students, and we’re not at all giving up on that this year, but we will move more quickly to fill those seats than we have in the past if they are not sold soon,’’ Barta said.
Although Iowa finished 8-5 a year ago and is expected to challenge for a division title in the Big Ten this fall, Barta believes the combination of a 4-8 season in 2012 and a decision to re-seat Kinnick Stadium which displaced some season ticket holders who chose not to renew have impacted the overall total.
“If you tie the two together, it probably is a factor with where we sit today,’’ Barta said. “When you lose momentum, it’s harder to get it back. It’s a lot easier to lose momentum than to gain it back.’’
But beyond short-term solutions including some promotional offers that will be announced soon, Barta said his staff seeks long-term answers.
Students who purchased season tickets a year ago but did not renew them are being surveyed in an attempt to learn why.
Barta said the department also continues to work to evaluate and make changes to the game-day experience at Kinnick Stadium, saying that a new sound system installed in recent weeks should make a difference for some fans.
“With the old system, if we would turn it up one level, we would receive complaints from some fans it was too loud, while others would continue to have difficulty in hearing it,’’ Barta said, adding that changes made in parking lots including prohibiting tents in a lot adjacent to the stadium and creating space for tents in another nearby lot are moves made at the request of fans.
Iowa even utilizes “secret shoppers,’’ providing individuals with everything from parking passes to game tickets and then eliciting thorough and direct feedback about their game-day experience at Kinnick Stadium.
“About the only thing you can get 70,000 people to agree on is that they want Iowa to win and even then, for some they may have wanted to see Iowa win by a larger margin,’’ Barta said. “We do listen to what our fans have to say and we make changes based on what we hear from them.’’
Including tickets sold to the public, faculty/staff and students, Iowa sold just over 52,000 season tickets a year ago.
At seven home games in 2013, Iowa averaged 67,127 fans, its lowest average at 70,595-seat Kinnick Stadium since averaging 65,798 fans in 2003.
Despite the drop in ticket sales a year ago, Iowa was one of four NCAA Division I programs to rank in the top-25 nationally in attendance in football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball.