Iowa budgets for $1 million decline in football ticket money, but early signs promising

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — The Iowa athletic department budgeted for a $1 million decline in football ticket revenue this fiscal year in light of a national trend of fewer fans showing up at stadiums and a home schedule that didn’t appear overly enticing.

“We look at it fresh every year,” Hawkeye athletic director Gary Barta said Thursday. “So if it looks like we’re going to have five games we’re pretty confident are going to sell out, we might raise the revenue (projection). When it looks like maybe we’re going to be a little bit less, we’ll go a little more conservative and bring it down a notch. And I think, this year, we brought it down a notch just based on anticipation.”

Early results look promising for Iowa’s bottom line. The football team, which typically generates about $23 million in revenue, has already sold out games vs. Miami (Ohio), Penn State and Purdue in 69,250-seat Kinnick Stadium. Barta said ticket sales for November home games against Minnesota and Illinois are strong, although plenty of seats remain.

The Hawkeyes are off to a 4-0 start and have earned a No. 14 national ranking heading into Saturday’s game at No. 18 Michigan.

Continued winning would help.

Iowa deputy director of athletics Barbara Burke and athletic director Gary Barta stand on the sideline during the Hawkeyes' win over Middle Tennessee State on Saturday. That game drew only 63,706 fans to Kinnick Stadium, but three other games have already sold out. Iowa is projecting a $1 million decline in football ticket revenue this season.

“We’re on a good pace,” Barta said of overall ticket revenue. “The weather and if we’re undefeated at that time will be big factors” in November ticket sales.

Barta is watching a lot of college football games this fall, and not just those involving his Hawkeyes.

It’s because he’s on the selection committee for which teams will make the playoffs this year.

What Barta is seeing are a lot of stadiums that aren’t filled to capacity. And that includes Kinnick, which drew only 61,808 for a conference game vs. Rutgers on Sept. 7 and 63,706 last week for a blowout win over Middle Tennessee State. Iowa paid the visitors $1.55 million for that contest.

“Some of the stadiums we think historically are always full, I’m seeing a lot of empty seats at some of those games,” Barta said.

Indeed, for the seventh time in eight years, college football attendance declined in 2018. The nation’s 129 FBS programs saw an average crowd of 41,856, the lowest total since 1996.

It’s why Barta took a cautious approach with this year’s budget for his department, which is projected to bring in $125 million. It was $122 million a year ago.

It’s also the driving force behind the way renovations were handled at the stadium, Barta said. When it was apparent that the stands in the north end zone were due to be refurbished, he had no problem making the tradeoff of lowering the capacity of Kinnick in order to give modern fans what they want.

That means wider seats, more bathrooms and concession stands, massive new video boards in each end zone, and club seating.

Barta said the two biggest factors he believes are contributing to the decline of football customers are TV schedules that keep the starting times of games in flux, sometimes until 12 days before kickoff, and the fact that in-home video and audio technology has advanced so far that fans can have a great experience in their own dens.

“Those are things we can’t control,” Barta said. “We can make sure the gameday experience is fun and exciting. … If I’m going to invest the time and the money to come to the game, it has to be fun. Winning is fun. But in addition to winning is the atmosphere, whether it’s the way the team comes down the tunnel, the way we play certain music at certain times, the video boards.

“You need to (handle any renovations) in a fashion that’s consistent with today’s fan behavior and fan desire.”

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.

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