SBD/September 7, 2012/Colleges

UMass Taking Big Risk Elevating To FBS, Playing Home Games At Gillette Stadium

UMass has spent $550,000 on advertising, but only sold 2,200 season tickets
With the Univ. of Massachusetts playing its first season as an FBS program, Bob Hohler of the BOSTON GLOBE takes an in-depth look at the program’s decision to play home games at Gillette Stadium. The “longest commute to a home game in American college sports will signal a turning point in the 130-year history of UMass football -- a test of whether relocating the school’s home games to an NFL stadium nearly 100 miles away and investing millions of dollars to try to catapult the state’s flagship university into the gilded realm of big-time college football is visionary management or a misguided gamble.” The fact is, “no one foresees a financial bonanza anytime soon.” However, UMass officials have “crafted a blueprint for the upgrade that aims to limit the risks of a potential failure but offers little promise of a significant payoff through at least 2020.” UMass football has “long relied heavily on school funding,” as “nearly two-thirds of the team’s budget this year -- $4.2 million of the $6.5 million total -- will be derived from institutional support, including student fees and a direct subsidy.” Little is “expected to change, at least for many years” because the university’s plan for the upgrade “forecasts no reduction in the football subsidy until 2016, when it would drop by only $3,000.”

Under the five-year agreement, Gillette Stadium Owners the Krafts will “control ticket, concession, and merchandise sales, and equally split with UMass the first $300,000 in ticket revenues per game.” The Krafts then will “retain the amount above $300,000 to cover their costs of staffing and operating the stadium, an estimated $125,000 per game.” Should “additional ticket revenue exist, UMass and the Krafts would split it evenly.” The arrangement “effectively guarantees the university will earn at least $150,000 per home game, even if attendance lags.” The deal “requires UMass to play all its home games at Gillette in 2012 and ’13, then play at least four games a year there through 2016.” To “sell the upgrade, UMass is spending about $550,000 in advertising,” but ticket sales “have been sluggish.” To date, season-ticket sales “have topped out at about 2,200, compared with about 2,000 last year” and total sales for the home opener “have yet to top 11,000” (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/7).
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