Vanderbilt ticket sales way ahead of 2007

After the Commodore's first bowl win in over 50 years Vanderbilt's season ticket sales are slightly behind last year's sales at the same time, however, they are way ahead of 2007. Despite the small drop from last year's sales Vanderbilt's Rod Williamson says there is reason to be encouraged by this year's numbers.

Vanderbilt's Rod Williamson has been around McGugin Center for over 25 years and he knows what his talking about when it comes to Vanderbilt athletics. Williamson, who serves as the Director of External Relations for Vandy, has been wearing a second hat lately, that of Marketing Director. VandyMania spoke with Williamson about this year's Commodore season ticket sales.

Vanderbilt cheapest season tickets sold for $99 last year but the price has increased to $109 this year. Williamson said the cost of doing business was the reason for the increase, "You have to keep in mind too that there are a lot of factors that goes into the ticket price. Our costs are going way, way up. The cost to rent a charter flight, for example, has just gone through the roof. Contrary to what people think there is not a pot of gold buried on this campus; we need to pay our bills."

As for season ticket sales, Williamson admitted they were a little slow, "We are a little bit behind last year," said Williamson. He said that by August 27th Vanderbilt had sold approximately 15,600 season tickets. By contrast last year Vanderbilt reported that they had sold 15,385 season ticket packages by August 5, 2008, some three weeks earlier. Vanderbilt went on to sale about 19,000 total season tickets in 2008.

In explaining the small drop off in sales Williamson pointed out that comparing this year's sales is not really an "apples to apples" type of comparison. He commented that the schedule was much more attractive last year, "We had Florida with Tim Tebow, Tennessee, Auburn and South Carolina and Coach Spurrier." This year those SEC teams are replaced with less fan travel frenzy teams such as Mississippi State, Kentucky, and Ole Miss.

Williamson also mentioned the poor economy as a having a negative impact on sales and said that Vanderbilt wasn't the only SEC school with a drop in season ticket sales, "It's just because people are so crazy about the SEC that some schools haven't had an issue with that but many have, South Carolina I know is off significantly and so is Tennessee." Williamson also mentioned that for the first time in his tenure at Vandy he's seen the University of Tennessee advertising their season ticket packages in Nashville.

Despite the drop in sales Williamson said there is reason for hope. A better indicator of this years' season ticket sales is to compare them with the 2007 ticket campaign. That was a season with a schedule like the current upcoming one, with no Tennessee and no Florida on the schedule. Williamson revealed that current season ticket sales are already 13 percent ahead of sales for that year. When you add in the fact that in 2007 Vandy hosted Nick Saban's debut at Alabama and Tide fans were snatching up VU season tickets to make sure they had a seat, it makes this double digit increase even more impressive.

EXCERPTS FROM WILLIAMSON INTERVIEW

DY: When Vanderbilt women play Tennessee there's 70 percent Tennessee fans there. How come we can't do a promotion where when somebody buys a Vanderbilt football season ticket they get an opportunity to buy two tickets to the Vanderbilt-Tennessee women's basketball game for only $10 more? Something to get more Vandy fans in there.

RW: Something like that might be an okay idea. Sometimes the ideas that seem pretty reasonable can get a little sticky. We have talked about something similar to that, even informally. We don't want to scare somebody away from buying a football ticket because now they are getting charged for basketball tickets, I guess you are saying make it an option, but there are a lot of things we can explore and we'd love to do that. I guess one of the realities is that the University of Tennessee has a very special coach who's from this area; she has a very large following. She's been there for what, 30, 35 years? I don't know. You know last year we won the game and we are probably more focused on winning the game than that. We'd love to have the place solid black and gold.

DY: How many students normally come to games?

RW: We have about 2,000 or 2,100 for men's basketball games. That may not sound impressive to someone from a state school but when you realize that that represents one-third of our undergraduate population I think that is pretty spectacular. If the University of Texas had one-third of their students come for a basketball game they'd have 25,000 students there. In football, I might need to get back with you Don; I want to say that we have about 4,000 student seats.

DY: That's not included with season ticket numbers, right?

RW: That's separate number, yes. That's why when we say we could sell X number we'll add 16,000 public seats with four or five thousand student seats and then there's faculty seats and single game seats. Then there are sponsors and some things like that that add seats. All those things get thrown into the total. 15,600 public sold tickets right now.

DY: As far as stadium improvements what phase is now completed and how many phases total will there be?

RW: Second phase. I think we announced four or five on the website. Right now where we are is that we are not going to start building until we've raised enough cash to pay for the installments; we are not going in debt to do this. The next step, as I'm understanding it, is that we will enlarge McGugin Center. On the football part, kind of on the Natchez trace-Jess Neely corner, we will add a first floor, which will be a very wonderful Hall of Fame display area for our Hall of Fame members. The other floors will football related facilities. When that starts will depend on how successful our development people are with fund raising… the economy has hit everybody including the wealthy. They could still have a lot of options, obviously, but many of them have kind of lost their portfolio in the market and they are just now kind of getting their legs back.

DY: What about all this ESPN money that's going to be coming in? What's the plan for all that money? Is some going to be used for the stadium?

RW: I don't know that it's going to be used that way. I don't know that it's been completely determined. Some of the money, in some form or fashion, will be rightly shared with our university. It gets kind of complicated, let's put it this way, athletics is getting financial assistance from the general university. After a while, you are trying to figure out where this dollar came from. It helps us. We are trying to expand our teams, make them more successful and give them better budgets to be more competitive in every way possible. It may seem like there's a lot of money, there certainly is but nobody is wasting any, that's for sure.

DY: What about plans for the stadium. Are there any plans to expand it?

RW: Not right now. I think it would depend on kind of a longer-term look. I don't know that we are trying to get the biggest or best; we want it to be very, very nice and comfortable. Until we would get to where we were having consistent sellout I think it would be a little foolish to worry about expanding.

DY: Is there any talk about doing something with the North end zone, doing something like the big Wake Forest field house?

RW: Not right now. We are trying to be progressive and current so I wouldn't eliminate any options. If anybody is wondering if in the next year, two or three if there will be something spectacular in the North end zone I think the answer to that is ‘no'.

NOTE: Williamson also revealed that Vanderbilt has hired new Director of Marketing.

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