It might not be quite fair to say Lucas Oil Stadium is the house that Peyton Manning built, but it’s safe to say it’s the house he filled.
And now that No. 18 has left for Denver, the Indianapolis Colts are hustling to sell enough season tickets to assure all the games for the upcoming season are sold out.
This month, the Colts hired Indianapolis-based ticket sales company, Get Real Sports Sales and six summer interns to help sell 3,000 season tickets to fill the 63,500-seat Lucas Oil Stadium.
It’s the first time in team history it has hired an outside ticket sales firm and the first time in a decade summer interns have been hired to bolster ticket sales efforts, Colts officials said.
The six interns will cull the team’s season ticket waiting list and call previous single-game ticket buyers, while Get Real Sports will reach out to potential new corporate clients, said Greg Hylton, Colts vice president of premium seating and ticket sales.
In the first two weeks, the two-pronged effort has resulted in the sale of 900 season tickets, but much work remains.
“I’m not going to lie, it might take until late July or early August, and it hasn’t taken nearly that long in recent years, but I’m confident we’ll sell out,” Hylton said.
Hylton is less confident the team will top last year’s attendance mark.
By selling extra standing-room-only and suites tickets, the Colts last year averaged 64,800 fans per home game. Exceeding the home venue’s capacity has been the norm during Manning’s tenure with the Colts, when the team was a perennial playoff contender.
“As far as beating last year’s attendance,” Hylton said, “I can’t make any promises at this point. It’s too early to tell.”
Just five years ago, the Colts boasted a season ticket waiting list of about 30,000. Part of that was diminished by the move from the 54,000-seat RCA Dome to the 63,500-seat Lucas Oil Stadium.
In 2010, Colts officials said they still had 16,000 who paid a $100 deposit to be on the waiting list.
With the season ticket renewal rate dropping six percentage points to 87 percent this off-season compared to a year ago, that number has shrunk to about 7,500.
After last year’s 2-14 season and facing an uncertain future with a new general manager, coach and quarterback, many on the list took a pass on available tickets. Some told the Colts they passed for financial reasons while others said they wanted to wait for better tickets to become available.
Sports business experts say the balking from waiting list members shows a softness to the local market for Colts tickets, pointing out that fans on waiting lists in cities like Green Bay and New York would never pass on season tickets.
“We try to explain to people once you buy tickets, you get preference on seat improvements before the people on the waiting list get a shot,” Hylton said. “More than anything else, though, we hear that people are taking a pass right now due to the economy and personal finance issues.”
About 90 percent of the available tickets are along the sidelines in the upper deck, with a smaller number of mid-level tickets in the corners available.
Upper level tickets cost $690 per seat per season for eight regular season and two pre-season games. The mid-level seats cost $990. The Colts haven’t raised ticket prices since 2010.
From 2007—the year after the Colts won the Super Bowl—to 2010, Colts season ticket renewal remained between 95 and 96 percent, team officials said, about 5 to 7 percentage points above the league’s average.
In 2011, as the economic swoon dragged on, the Colts renewal rate dropped to 93 percent. Manning’s departure accelerated the trend, making about 8,250 tickets available this off-season.
Manning was unable to play for the Colts last year due to a neck injury, and the Colts opted to cut him after the season. He later signed a five-year $96 million deal to play for the Denver Broncos.
“We’ve heard from some season ticket holders who have left with Peyton Manning,” Hylton said. “Of course, people were attached to him, and understandably because he did so much for this team and community. We knew that was going to happen.”
Josh Boling is one of the loyal Manning fans—and Colts season ticket holders—that was upset that the team didn’t retain No. 18.
“I have such strong feelings about Peyton Manning, it’s difficult to separate whether I’m a Peyton fan or a Colts fan,” Boling said. “I suppose I’ll always be a Colts fan because I’m from here, but [Manning’s absence] leaves a huge hole here and I’m not the only Colts fan that feels that way.”
Edward Holloran III, another Colts season ticket holder, estimates that one-fourth of the people that filled Lucas Oil Stadium in recent seasons were there solely because of their attachment to Manning.
Despite the strong feelings for Manning, Hylton says he’s hearing increased excitement from ticket holders about the upcoming season and No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Luck, who will replace Manning at quarterback.
“Ninety-five percent of what we hear right now is positive,” Hylton said. “The positive response has really been building since the draft.”