With the Rutgers football season kicking off just two weeks from now, there is a lot riding on the 2019 campaign for the program and the entire athletic department. Keith Sargeant of NJ Advance Media reported on Thursday that season ticket sales have declined 27% from last year, with 16,585 sold heading into the 2019 campaign. It’s not a surprising stat coming off a 1-11 season, the worst record for Rutgers since 2002. However, the numbers in Sargeant’s report highlight a steep decline in the number of season tickets sold and thus the revenue that the program has generated in the years that Chris Ash has been the head coach.
I guess somewhat of a positive is that 64% of season ticket holders renewed for this year, which to be honest is better than what I expected. The fact that Rutgers football has lost about 50% of it’s season ticket holders since Ash took over makes it clear how much the toll of losing has taken on the fan base. Ticket revenue dropped from $12.8 million in Ash’s first season to $8.4 million in 2017. Ticket revenue wasn’t reported in Sargeant’s article for 2018 or 2019, based on the current number of season ticket holders, but it’s obviously declined even more. For an athletic department that has bled red at a higher rate than almost any power five school in the country for a period of years, this is obviously a troubling trend.
Aside from revenue, a telling stat from Sargeant’s article was the actual attendance from last season versus reported attendance. The difference is tickets actually scanned on game days versus total tickets sold. Based on actual attendance determined by tickets scanned, Rutgers averaged just 20,071 last season versus a reported attendance of 37,799. That’s a 47% discrepancy in actual versus reported attendance from last season. The more upsetting part is the reported attendance is still the lowest for Rutgers football in over a decade. It was also the 12th worst reported attendance in the Big Ten last year, better only than Illinois and Maryland.
The fact that only 16,096 fans actually attended the homecoming game last season against Northwestern is truly sad.
The bottom line is nothing will change or stop the bottom from continuing to fall until Rutgers starts winning again, or at least become competitive again. What will be interesting to watch for is if Rutgers can get into October with or close to a .500 record, how much will overall attendance improve? While significant improvement is needed this season and is likely tied to Ash’s future at Rutgers, fielding a more competitive team is an absolute must if there is any hope that actual attendance remains close to last season.
The only true cure for boosting ticket sales, whether for the season or individual games, is obvious. Rutgers needs to start winning football games again. Until that happens, the program will continue to struggle to generate revenue through ticket sales and it will continue to put a strain on the financial health of the entire athletic department. Pat Hobbs has done a great job at Rutgers in many areas, but this is an issue that he ultimately needs to solve for him to be able to take the athletic department to new heights in the future.