IOWA CITY — Iowa’s men’s basketball program has stumbled on the court in recent years, advancing to just two NCAA tournaments since 2001.
Financially, the program has faded even faster. For the last four , Iowa’s men’s basketball program’s profits have tumbled by $2.2 million the last four years. From ticket sales to total revenues and profits, the program is in a monumental slide that affects nearly every sport at the university.
In the 2005 fiscal year, Iowa’s men’s basketball program generated a $6 million profit with revenues exceeding $10.6 million. In 2008, men’s basketball revenues slowed to $9.255 million and expenses soared to nearly $5.5 million, giving the program a profit of less than $3.8 million, according to figures provided to The Gazette by Iowa through the Freedom of Information Act. Some of that drop is because of an accounting change that shifts about $1 million annually from basketball revenue to general revenue. But that change doesn’t affect attendance or ticket sales.
Iowa is on pace to post its worst attendance season in recent history. With three home games left on its schedule, the men average 10,372 fans a game. That’s about 400 fewer per game than last year, which is lower than at any time since 1980. And those attendance figures combine tickets sold with fans attending games with free or reduced tickets.
Iowa’s ticket revenue has plummeted to even greater depths. In the 2005 fiscal year, the men’s basketball team generated more than $4 million in ticket revenue. That number drifted to $2.85 million last year. This year, it’s headed even further down.
“I think we’ll see another little drop,” said Rick Klatt, Iowa’s associate athletics director for external affairs. “Ticket sales were flat or had a little drop, and we have not had single-game sales at the full price that we would have needed. There’s lots of reasons for that.”
In an effort to stem the hemorrhaging ticket sales and recover some revenue, Iowa began offering $10 ticket general-admission tickets for the final five home games. That has helped lift Iowa’s attendance average by more than 500 — Iowa had averaged 9,858 fans before the surge. Also, Iowa allowed student season-ticket holders to bring a friend to each game for free.
Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta endorsed the change as a chance to reclaim revenue.
“When we’re talking about our bottom-line budget and we’d taken a look at what we’ve sold so far, we just decided that this made the most sense and it was the right time to do it,” Barta said after the $10 ticket plan was announced.
Barta said he and Iowa’s athletics administration have three goals for changing the ticket policy.
“One is to help out people in tough times by making a very affordable price,” he said. “Two, selfishly, we want people to come out and support what I think is a very young and up-and-coming team. We want to fill the arena.
“Third, we want to make sure we get closer to meeting budget because right now, it doesn’t take much to figure out that our numbers are down and that does affect the budget.”
Iowa Coach Todd Lickliter has little to do with the marketing or financial profile of his basketball program. He just wants to fill the arena.
“I really wasn’t involved, but I did look under our basket, and I wanted some people back there so I think it’s filled that need,” Lickliter said. “I don’t know about all the different marketing strategies. I’ve heard (about) the $10 tickets, maybe that really played a part in it. And if so, hey, I’m just glad they’re there and we did something to get more Hawkeye fans in there. … As a basketball coach, you just let them (the fans) in. You want your fans.”
The reasons are plentiful for Iowa’s attendance decline. Some fans blame former Coach Steve Alford. Others blame Lickliter or his team’s defensive style of play. Ticket prices, the economy, last summer’s natural disasters, winter weather, game times and walking distance from parking lots also are factors used when officials or fans explain why attendance lags.
By providing cheap tickets and some freebies, Iowa administrators hope to grow its future base. Klatt calls it “a sampling opportunity.”
Slow ticket sales isn’t exclusive to Iowa. Indiana has offered $5 balcony seats, and Klatt pointed to Northern Iowa’s sluggish crowd against Drake on Wednesday where only 5,109 fans showed for an instate game with Missouri Valley Conference title implications.
“I think that’s evidence we’re all feeling economic pressures,” Klatt said. “But I think there’s a lot to be said for us operating in the Corridor, who really took the brunt of the tornadoes and the floods.
“We’re under even deeper pressure because a big chunk or our audiences just aren’t in the mood or aren’t deciding to get out and attend basketball.”
Both Klatt and Barta said the department will re-examine the basketball program following the season. That could include different marketing strategies, ticket prices or an assortment of possibilities.
“One of the things that I think we need to make sure of not doing in intercollegiate athletics is taking for granted someone’s entertainment dollar,” Barta said. “Everything is on the table; we’re just trying to make it a better experience.”