As the country slowly begins to open back up, plans are being put in place for sports to return to our daily lives. All professional sports are in negotiations with player unions to return in some form or fashion and conferences and NCAA officials are trying to navigate unchartered waters of the COVID-19 pandemic.
West Virginia Athletic Director Shane Lyons has been an integral part of those discussions, being the chair of the NCAA Football Oversight Committee.
Lyons has been optimistic from the outset that there will be a football season, but without more data, there still is no definitive answer.
Nonetheless, Lyons and the athletic department have been preparing with different fan attendance models, although no details have been released. Recently, the Iowa State athletic department announced that its football stadium will be at half capacity and the only way to get a ticket is by purchasing season tickets.
Lyons admitted that they have looked at those numbers in a recent interview on Mountaineer Sports Insider Podcast with host Dan Zangrelli.
“Obviously, there's a lot of questions - a lot of unanswered questions as we go through this. I think it's too early to determine here in Morgantown,” said Lyons. “Have we had these conversations? Yes. April Messerly, who runs my event management staff, is obviously working on this daily. We don't know what that number is. I mean hopefully, we're 60,000, but realistically, I don't think we're going to be there, so we have different models that's going out. I think the important part is, that season ticket holders, those who purchase it, they're going to have first priority. So, if we're at a 50% capacity like you mentioned Iowa State, that first go of people that's going to be allowed in the stadium are those who are season ticket holders. We're going to take care of those first along with our students that we get to that capacity first.”
Now, that’s with the half capacity model and again, nothing has been determined. Lyons also stated that it wasn’t a guarantee that you would get a ticket with that model because, if they were to sell more tickets than 50% capacity, then there will be a refund. And, in the worst-case scenario that the season gets cancelled, all purchases would be refunded.
Lyons also stated that looking at past season ticket sales, the number has been around 25-26,000 season tickets and then add the student section that gets roughly 12,000 spots and cut that in half, that hits the 50% capacity mark.
Naturally, athletic directors around the country are pushing for some sort of fan attendance (in a safe manner) because in an instance for West Virginia, it's one of the biggest revenues for the athletic department.
“If you really look at our revenue lines within the athletic department, I don't think West Virginia is any different than any other institution is.,” said Lyons. “Your biggest revenue line obviously is coming from the conference distribution. The second-largest line has been coming from ticket sales both in football and basketball, and season tickets are very important. One, because they are tied to a donor gift aspect of it, and that those tickets are actually sold going into the season, and what your capacity as a stadium or Coliseum is going to look like. And so, it gives us a better read as a financial picture as we move through this to say, ‘this is what it's going to look like here’. West Virginia - our ticket sales account in football specifically is about $15 million and combined with men's basketball, you're probably looking at 16 to $18 million. And then, you tie that to say into the Mountaineer Athletics Club, and into donations and that's another tie in at about $15 million. So, it's a huge chunk. It's, as I mentioned earlier, it's the second-biggest revenue line that we have. And it's important to sustain the financial stability of our department as a whole.”
If you're unfamiliar with why it is a big deal to bring in the revenue, it's about sustaining all sports within the athletic department.
“I have football and men's basketball that are revenue-generating sports, I have 16 other sports that are not. They’re sports that do not generate any revenue whatsoever,” said Lyons. “So, the ticket sales, the donations that go into that, obviously help fund those other sports. They fund scholarships. They fund to operate in the expense’s unit for those sports so, that's the operation of a department as a whole.”
“I think you're seeing this around the country as we speak. You know the number of schools here in the last week or so and I think you're going to see more in the coming weeks, that are actually cutting sports,” continued Lyons. “One, because they don't have the revenue and that's why it's important to talk about ticket sales and how we operate this department, and the last thing an athletic director wants to do is cut sports and take away opportunities from young men and young women.”
As Lyons said, “There is a lot of unanswered questions as we go through this,” and there’s a lot. I, for one, am puzzled why there is even a restriction on tickets being sold or half capacity if they’re allowing fans in. While I understand it would decrease the chances of spreading by tens of thousands of people, how is exactly going to insure the people in the stadium safety? Are they moving season ticket holders around the stadium away from their normal seats? If they successfully do that, what about the concourse, concessions, vendors, ticket gates, bathrooms, and tailgating. Feel free to mention anything I may have missed.
One thing is for sure, I’m glad I’m not the men and women making these decisions because there are a lot of details that have to be worked out and if the virus is still active, I’m not sure how they accomplish fans in the stands without it becoming an epidemiologists nightmare.
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