No one ever forgets their first time in the Swamp. Regardless of your tiny seat or the sweltering heat, there is an electricity about the stadium air on fall Saturdays in Gainesville that simply is unmatched anywhere else. I still get chills just imagining seeing that intro video right before the Gators take the field….Only Gators Get Out Alive!
It’s that game day atmosphere that draws 90,000 young and old to Florida home games from across the country. For a lot of long time fans, it’s less about the game and more about the tradition of making the tribute trip to Gainesville. There’s only one thing that stands between a rabid Gator fan and the sea of Orange and Blue inside Ben Hill Griffin stadium, a ticket.
There has been a noticeable attendance drop in recent years in the Swamp. As a former employee of the ticket office, I have heard a number of reasons; the economy, the difficulty of travel, the cheap luxury of high definition television. None are more prevalent then one though, the price.
Apart from the several third party ticket options, Gator fans are faced with rising ticket prices from the UAA and have grown more unsettled as the dollar amounts increase over time. This past year, season ticket holders were informed of a rise in booster contributions, ranging from $25 to $150 per seat per season depending on where your sit. The increase stems primarily from a rise in the cost of scholarships and other administrative fees for the athletic department.
Florida did elect to delay these increases the past four years due to poor team performance and lowered the ticket price for season ticket holders from $50 a game to $40. Beyond general public tickets, athletic departments also generate revenue from student football tickets and student fees which are included in tuition for the University of Florida.
There is no denying the cash cow that is the SEC. 13 Schools athletic department’s exceeded $100 million in revenue for 2012, six were from the SEC (Florida, Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU, Auburn, LSU). That being said, Florida actually declined roughly $2.7 million dollars in total revenue from 2011. At the end of the day, the SEC has the best football, fans know it, television networks know it and the athletic departments know it as well.
Here is a breakdown of ticket pricing at Florida and some of their similar SEC comrades.
As you can see, Florida is on par with most schools of their caliber. The Gators offer one of the cheapest ticket prices in the league yet have some of the highest booster fees as well. Obviously, the better the seats you have, the higher the booster fee you will pay as a season ticket holder. Some contend that Florida is cutting out the lower end of season ticket holders, an argument that is hard to question when the cheapest season ticket package starts at $390, few of which even exist.
Furthermore, those that are able to shovel out the money argue that they are not given a fair chance to access the open seats at Gator games. This opportunity sits on a bed comprised of loyalty and money. The University Athletic Association uses a point system that is derived from the amount of donated money and years of consistently held tickets that a booster contributes. I think it’s hard to say that is not a fair system, most schools in the country conduct ticketing in the same fashion. That being said, money can very quickly override loyalty in the current system. There are many long time season ticket holders out there, if you haven’t had tickets for at least 15 years please sit down, that simply get lost in the fold of the big money donors.
Even with the high price to get into a Gator home game, the other big game for Gator fans is the annual Florida vs. Georgia game in Jacksonville. Unfortunately, expect to see spikes in the coming years from that game as well. As Florida does with most ticket pricing, they gauge the landscape of college football and price their tickets accordingly. Believed to be on par with most big-time rivalry games in college football, tickets to the unofficial World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party will cost you $60 or $100 in regular or club seating, respectively for 2013. Those prices are set to get another $10 bump next season.
Keeping with that same system of pricing, you will pay a pretty penny if you hope to go see the Gators on the road in 2013. The recent success of Will Muschamp’s football team isn’t left unnoticed by opposing athletic departments either. Florida is one of, if not the most expensive game at every away opponent next season.
For instance, if you travel to Miami next season, a team that very rarely fills up even half of the home stands, you will pay at least $40 more to watch their battle with Florida then you would any other home game for the University of Miami in 2013. For your convenience, prices of Florida’s away games next season (UK $60, USC $70, LSU $70, Missouri $75, Miami $85)
But how do we solve this issue? Are rising ticket prices just a sign of the times like the price of gas or a movie ticket?
Florida and Texas A&M are unique in the SEC in that they have some of the largest student sections in the country which occupy some prime seating areas. Inevitably, this drives up the ticket price for non-students even higher. If you ask me, the Gators and Aggies do it right. College athletics was originally created as a form as ambassadorship between schools. Teams would travel and would be cheered on by almost exclusively students.
If it was up to me, over 50% of every college stadium would be devoted to the students and we wouldn’t have these 100,000 seat monsters eating up huge areas of campuses around the country. Not to mention the seating that is given to students in most of these stadiums, Florida and A&M being a rare exception, is packed away in the corners.
I am not here to defend the University Athletic Association, feel free to hurl as many stones as you want if you believe the average fan is being cut of the equation, you may even get a call from Jeremy Foley. That being said, I think it is worth noting the environment the Gators are playing in.
If you want to blame someone for the additional chunk of change you have to find under the mattress, blame the NCAA for not putting a limit on the hundreds of millions that continue to pour into big time college athletics every year.
Every school in NCAA athletics, the SEC especially, are locked in a constant battle to have the biggest, brightest and shiniest new toys to show off to recruits. College athletics have become an arms race between the top competition and if you’re not keeping up, you will inevitably fall behind.
Don’t believe me? Take a look at the explosion of athletic success at the University of Oregon thanks in large part to an estimated $230 million in donations from Nike co-founder Phil Knight. It’s a sad fact but money has the ability to buy success in this day and age of college athletics.
For now, if you can afford it, take a trip to the Swamp. Be a part of the unforgettable moments that grandparents and grandchildren will cherish forever. If you can’t, no one is here to question your loyalty as a Gator fan, it is simply an unfortunate product of what exists in college football today. Until the NCAA or government finds a way to limit the inflow of private money, things will continue to grow at alarming rates and the price to cheer on the Gators will rise along with it.