SBJ/Dec. 2-8, 2013/Colleges

An alarm for college football

Study finds satisfaction of ticket buyers lagging

A national survey has delivered a sobering view of college football, finding it lacking in areas such as customer service, game-day experience and affordability.

The findings are among the key results of an extensive look by Turnkey Sports & Entertainment and Ohio University into the satisfaction level of college football ticket buyers. They surveyed more than 75,000 fans representing 68 schools from the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision and every major conference in the sport over the past several months.

The effort is thought to be the largest single study into college football attendance, which among FBS schools has fallen three of the past four seasons. The study looked at both season-ticket holders and ticket buyers of all types.

Season-ticket buyers at Baylor, enjoying a big year, topped the satisfaction numbers.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
The survey put ticket buyers’ satisfaction level far behind the levels for fans of many other competing sports properties. College football ticket buyers produced a Net Promoter Score, a customer loyalty measurement gauging how likely a brand is to be promoted to others by its consumers, of 19, roughly one-third the comparable figure for the NFL. That number is also a mere fraction of the score for leading consumer brands such as Amazon and Southwest Airlines, and far less than many individual teams, properties and events in the sports industry.

Net Promoter Score operates on a scale of negative 100, in which every customer is a detractor, to positive 100, in which everyone is a promoter.

Among the specific levels of concern: Fans lack a feeling their specific program is committed to winning, they don’t feel sufficiently valued by their program, and many game-day amenities in college football are not keeping up with those found in other sports. In total, the respondents averaged a 7.1 on a 10-point scale on their overall satisfaction with their college football ticket purchase versus their expectations.

Any response less than a 9 or 10 is seen as being passive or a detractor to the brand. As a result, the findings in the college football study showed at best lukewarm support for the current fan experience. The composite figure takes into account an array of related purchasing factors, such as pricing, customer service, facility amenities, and game-day experience.

“We’ve simply got to make games more enjoyable for fans,” said Dan Butterly, Mountain West Conference senior associate commissioner and an adjunct professor at Ohio University. “The expectations that fans have, particularly in light of what costs now are, have gone up measurably.”

Three major factors were seen as contributors to the relatively low satisfaction score for college football ticket buyers: price, heightened consumer demands fueled in part by the improved TV viewing experience at home, and college football holding less of a unique position among many fans.

“Before, college football was more of a thing unto itself. But now, it’s competing like everything else against all the other entertainment options out there,” said Len Perna, Turnkey president and chief executive.

The survey did not filter between internal ticket sales and those schools that outsource their sales efforts, which in recent years has become increasingly popular in the collegiate ranks. The study did find, not surprisingly, a direct correlation between fans’ intent to renew their ticket purchases and a sense of feeling valued by the organization.

The participating schools in the study have received access to the findings in an extensive dashboard presentation that shows their own scores versus those of their conference and the survey at large. The research findings are free for the participating schools this year, but will carry a cost of $4,900 per university next year.

Normally Turnkey has required weeks, if not months, to compile and present data from net promoter surveys such as this. But the company turned around the data finding in this project in roughly a week.

Among the individual schools that showed particularly high scores in the survey, Baylor University posted the highest measures of overall satisfaction by season-ticket holders. The University of Central Florida posted the highest score for customer service satisfaction, and UNC Charlotte, a program in its first year of play, posted the highest scores among season-ticket holders for game-day experience.

“A big takeaway for us from this was the need to stay focused on the fundamentals. Parking, your traffic flow, core game experience and so forth,” said Zack Lassiter, University of Central Florida senior associate athletic director for external operations.

“When you’re working to convince fans to consume the in-person experience versus staying at home, it’s not necessarily the next new gadget or marketing trend that’s going to win, but rather those fundamentals. And you need to keep your resources and spending proportionally aligned against that.”

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