When the university announced the decision to dish $26.3 million into DakotaDome renovations last October, the fall 2019 season became one that required sacrifice.
In many ways, it has. The Dome’s normal 10,000-seat capacity is halved, ticket demand among both students and fans increased and every game day, the cheers of the USD crowd ricochet off a concrete backdrop filling the Dome’s west side. Despite this, the university hasn’t sacrificed ticket revenue: fall 2019 ticket sales have already exceeded last year’s total.
Thanks to an extra home football game, USD has garnered $410,000 in fall sports ticket sales for the 2019 season — $4,000 more than last year’s final figure and $16,000 short of this year’s $426,000 season goal, according to Deputy Athletic Director Mike West.
“My personal goal is to exceed that $426,000 mark by $25,000,” West, who joined the USD staff in spring, said. “If we get to $450,000, that would be a 10% increase (in revenue) in a year we have fewer seats.”
Rounding up the region
Season tickets comprise over half of USD’s annual sales revenue. In 2018, USD made $213,000 of its fall ticket revenue from season tickets. That figure increased to $287,000 for the 2019 season; though the Dome hosted 5,000 fewer seats, USD reserved more for season ticket-holders.
Each year, USD markets season ticket sales to residents within Vermillion. Over the summer, however, the athletic department attempted to bolster season ticket sales by targeting bases settled outside of Vermillion with an initiative called “Town Captains,” West said.
USD identified 32 towns, not including Sioux Falls or Sioux City, within a 60-mile radius of Vermillion. USD recruited “captains” in each to promote football, volleyball and basketball ticket sales by hanging schedule posters and flags in businesses.
The department is hitting Sioux Falls and Sioux City just as hard. 22,000 alumni reside inside the two cities, West said, meaning roughly 8% of the combined populations graduated from USD.
“There are 73,000 people within 60 miles of here. If we can get 3% of those households, we will triple our attendance,” West said. “We have boots on the ground. We are going to work hard to engage the folks in those towns.”
Crowding the court
Four home volleyball games remain in the 2019 season, and volleyball ticket sales have nearly doubled the projected amount. Before the 2019 season, USD budgeted $15,000 in volleyball ticket sales; the actual number, as of Oct. 15, sits at $28,000.
“You can definitely tell people are coming out more consistently,” said Leanne Williamson, head coach of the 17-1 Coyote volleyball team. “Obviously winning helps. We’re reaching out to more people. We’re trying to get more people interested, involved and coming back.”
This year, an average of 938 people have attended USD’s six home volleyball games, including two games eclipsing the 1,000
“A lot of people don’t really realize the impact a fanbase can have on a team,” Williamson said. “We go on a three or four-point run, it gets really loud in there and it absolutely fires up our team. You love, as a coach, to say that’s not the only reason for some of the success we’ve had, but it’s a big reason.”
Hitting the $40,000 mark in volleyball revenue by the end of the season is West’s goal, he said, a 150% increase from last year’s final mark.
“We’re doing reserved seats this year, and that makes a big difference, but winning is a big deal,” West said. “And they’re doing a great job.”
USD is using the same strategy for basketball, West said. The department is aiming to increase the average attendance to 3,500 to 4,000 people per game. For reference, USD women’s basketball matchup with South Dakota State on Jan. 6, 2019, the only SCSC sellout of the year, reached full capacity at 6,000 people.
Getting people into a newly-renovated Dome and the “best 6,000-seat facility in the country,” as West calls the SCSC, is one thing, but getting them to come back is another. The secret the athletic department strives for? Making every a game a “broadway production.”
“We have to make this a show. The Coyote Crazies, the dance team — they’re actors in the production,” West said. “When people walk in here, we have to entertain them from the minute they walk in until the minute they leave, and everything we do has to be entertaining.”