When new Indiana University football coach Kevin Wilson had an on-air run-in with Fox Sports Radio morning hosts Dominic Zaccagnini and former University of Illinois and Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jack Trudeau earlier this month, the IU athletic department braced for the worst.
“We kind of held our breath,” said Mark Skirvin, IU senior assistant athletics director for marketing.
Instead of a backlash, however, the school saw a spike in sales of football season tickets in the wake of the interview, Skirvin said.
The Aug. 11 squabble started with Trudeau poking fun at IU’s football program, which angered Wilson.
"I just don't like being on here with guys cracking jokes about our program," Wilson said in the interview. "I'm not an Indiana alum, but I take a little pride in what we do.''
After the interview on the national radio show was cut short, Trudeau said Wilson came off like "an ass," and said he planned to tell IU higher-ups and anyone else who would listen that the coach was way out of line.
“I think people who support the school appreciated [Wilson’s] stand,” Skirvin said. “After that interview, we definitely saw ticket sales perk up.”
Wilson, who last fall was hired to replace Bill Lynch, is one of the biggest reasons IU’s season ticket sales are far outpacing last year’s sales, Skirvin said. Lynch had a 19-30 record in four years at IU, including a 6-26 Big Ten Conference record.
“We’ve sold 1,500 more season tickets at this time this year than we did at the same point last year,” Skirvin said.
Last year’s season-ticket sales were already at a 13-year high, said IU Athletics Director Fred Glass.
“Our goal is to sell more than 21,000 season tickets, and we’re confident we’ll get there,” Skirvin said.
Wilson, a first-time head coach, represents a significant gamble for IU, which has one of the lowest athletic department budgets in the Big Ten. He’s the first big hire—and the most expensive— for Glass, who became athletic director in 2009.
In December, Wilson signed a seven-year contract that pays him $1.2 million annually, which is significantly more than the $250,000 annually Lynch was paid by IU.
Hiring the former Oklahoma and Northwestern offensive coordinator seems to be paying off in terms of sales.
Last year, IU sold 20,695 season tickets. This year, the school has sold nearly 20,400 with almost two weeks remaining until the Sept. 10 home opener against Virginia.
On-campus sales are fueling much of the rise, with season-ticket sales to students up more than 1,000 over a year ago.
The sales effort has been fueled by an aggressive marketing campaign, which targeted the Indianapolis, Evansville, Terre Haute, Fort Wayne, South Bend, Merrillville, Chicago, Louisville and Cincinnati markets, Skirvin said.
IU hopes to use its Sept. 3 opener at Lucas Oil Stadium against Ball State University to further promote its program. The game is considered a Ball State home game.
IU has sold 10,000 tickets allotted to the school for the BSU game, Skirvin said, including 4,000 of the top-priced tickets.
During former IU Athletics Director Rick Greenspan’s last year in 2008, IU’s average attendance was 31,700 in the 52,929-seat Memorial Stadium. Average revenue generated per home game that year was $445,933.
In 2009, under Glass, IU football averaged 41,833 fans and $698,936 per home game. Those were high-water marks not seen in Bloomington since the early 1990s, Glass said.
Last year, the Hoosiers averaged 42,991 in attendance and $705,573 in cash generated per game for six home games. IU officials are confident with a home slate that includes Penn State and Purdue, they can surpass that mark this year.
Football is an important revenue generator for NCAA Div. I schools. In most cases, it’s the biggest moneymaker for a school’s athletic program, and those funds are often used to support non-revenue generating sports.
In 2009, the last year for which data is available, IU’s football team generated $21.8 million of the $38.9 million in revenue brought in by all its sports teams. The team’s expenses that same year, were $12.8 million.
IU’s football revenue in Glass’ first year was up $1 million over 2008.
Glass said since many costs of hosting a football game are fixed, every empty seat is a lost opportunity.
“When I look outside my office and see empty seats in that stadium, I see money,” Glass said. “It takes as much for us to throw a party for 21,000 as it does for 52,000.”