Iowa Hawkeyes

Hawkeye athletics seeks more help as ticket sales drop

'Football generates the most revenue and demands attention'

Fans cheer after a 5-yard touchdown reception by Iowa Hawkeyes tight end Noah Fant during the first quarter of NCAA football game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Sep. 15, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Fans cheer after a 5-yard touchdown reception by Iowa Hawkeyes tight end Noah Fant during the first quarter of NCAA football game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Sep. 15, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — Ticket sales are down for the Hawkeyes’ biggest moneymakers — football and men’s basketball — prompting the University of Iowa to seek more help, this time in the form of a digital advertising consultant.

The UI Department of Athletics in January issued a call for applications from firms interested in crafting and executing digital advertising strategies and national brand awareness campaigns in hopes of boosting ticket sales and event attendance, according to public bid documents.

“Football generates the most revenue and demands attention,” according to a UI answer to a prospective bidder’s question about which sports need the most help. “All the other sports need ticket sales increases.”

Revenue from Hawkeye football and men’s basketball season tickets, mini-pack tickets, group tickets and single-game sales dropped from 2016 to 2017, according to athletics data produced for a similar but separate request for proposals in March seeking help improving customer service, fan engagement and sales.

More recent attendance numbers the university provided to The Gazette show average football game attendance dropped from 69,656 in the 2016-17 season to 66,337 in the 2017-18 season.

Kinnick Stadium fits about 70,000, and Carver-Hawkeye Arena’s capacity is 15,500 — well above the average men’s basketball attendance of 11,895 in the 2017-18 season, according to the UI data. Men’s basketball attendance has been slipping since its average 15,000 in the 2013-14 season.

Single-game ticket sales and revenue for both sports fell from 2016 to 2017. Football figures dropped from 103,631 and $7 million to 85,334 and $5.2 million. Men’s basketball numbers slid from 43,241 and $1.1 million to 33,872 and $706,275, according to the UI data.

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Some of the university’s nine ticketed sports have seen stable or improved performance, like wrestling, volleyball and women’s basketball, which in the 2017-18 season tallied its highest average attendance in at least five years of 5,452.

But that’s still just one-third of what Carver holds.

Expectations of a digital marketing firm hired to boost ticket sales and attendance include creating individual sport campaigns, improving search-engine optimization, developing social media initiatives, and employing data analysis and consultation.

The firm would be required to produce weekly and end-of-campaign reports. An initial agreement would expire after one year but could be extended.

The university issued its call for qualifications Jan. 11 and closed the bid window Feb. 4, although it hasn’t yet hired a firm. In response to questions from prospective bidders, UI officials said they don’t have a specific budget for the digital work or a specific timeline for when it could pick a firm and ask it to start — except to identify a 2019 football campaign as a priority.

The similar athletics request for proposals in March sought to hire a firm to employ new technologies to monitor, evaluate and predict ticket and fan trends “to make intelligent sales decisions” and establish “consistent capacity crowds energized to create a wining and entertaining environment.”

The university in August awarded that contract to IMG Learfield Ticket Solutions — a company born of a merger between IMG College and Learfield Communications, which UI athletics has contracted with since 2006 for exclusive rights to sell advertising.

That unrelated existing Learfield contract has been extended through 2026.

The university on Friday did not provide The Gazette with a copy of the new IMG Learfield contract. An award spreadsheet estimates UI revenue for its first year in the deal at $2.4 million, but IMG Learfield’s commission was not specified.

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According to UI athletics data made public through that bid, about 8,000 season tickets are available for football, about 2,700 season tickets are available for men’s basketball and about 10,000 are available for wrestling.

Season ticket renewal rates are about 87 percent for football, compared with 92 percent in 2017; 89 percent for men’s basketball; and 86 percent for wrestling, up from 81 percent for the 2016-17 season.

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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