Feb 122009
 
Authors: Sean Star

Earlier this week the Athletics Department announced next fall’s football season-ticket prices.

Other than the exclusion of the CU game, which is not included because the game will be in Boulder, nothing changed.

No surprise there. After all, prior to CSU’s win over Fresno State in the New Mexico Bowl, the Rams hadn’t had a winning season since 2003. That span of losing seasons equated to a steady and very apparent decline in attendance over the last couple years. Therefore raising prices was out of the question.

So even though the recently-released ticket packages reveal nothing new, they are certainly worth keeping an eye on.

Whether sales increase, decrease or remain the same will largely determine how the financially frail department is affected by the nation’s ever-struggling economy, said Jeff Collier, the Athletics Department’s business manager.

Under normal circumstances, a new coaching staff that orchestrates a four-win improvement and the first bowl victory in seven years would easily create a much-needed boost in sales for one of the department’s biggest moneymakers.

But as even the most well-off of us know, we’re living in anything but normal circumstances. The economy, or lack thereof, is affecting sports at even the most elite level – though Manny Ramirez may not realize it.

It appears that locally, one of the biggest measuring sticks will be calculated in the coming months.

“(Season ticket sales) will be the first real clue to us, because going from a 3-9 season to a 7-6 season, including a bowl win, one would think our season ticket numbers would actually go up,” Collier said. “Over the next few months, even if we hold steady for season ticket numbers, that would probably show a negative effect because of the economy.”

What could also play a factor in season-ticket sales is the product the department is selling. As noted, next season’s package does not include the CU game, a major selling point in the past. Also, CSU is slated to play a rather lackluster non-conference home schedule with games against Weber State and Nevada — not exactly marquee match-ups.

The other thing to keep an eye on, Collier said, is donations. The university relies on donations to help pay for the millions of dollars in scholarships for its student-athletes, one of the department’s biggest expenses.

Last time I checked, donating money definitely falls under the category of discretionary income.

Early indications from CSU’s athletic donation organization, Ram Club, reveal

slight declines in its January figures compared to last year, according to Joel Cantalamessa, a Ram Club board member.

But while new membership, renewed membership and total membership are all down at least seven percent, the club’s total cash is only down two percent.

“The numbers didn’t drop so drastically. They’re still in the same ball park, which is a good sign,” Cantalamessa said. “I think going forward it remains to be seen… Buying tickets is one thing: you’re getting something tangible out of that. And donating towards scholarships funds is another thing: you’re not actually getting something out of it. You’re doing it out of the goodness of your heart because you care about CSU.”

Collier said he understands if people aren’t able to donate like they have in the past.

“It just kind of depends on a family’s decisions,” he said. “I think we have a good group of core fans at this university. I think if they can financially support us, they will. But sometimes they have to take care of their families first and us second.”

One thing the Rams do have working for them, though, is the opportunity to build on last season’s success. First-year coach Steve Fairchild and his staff exceeded expectations, and there’s a sense of energy surrounding the program that has been noticeably absent in the recent past — bad economy or not.

Next year I will not be writing this column, and will be buying tickets to games instead of sitting in the press box or student section for free.

I’ve never been a season-ticket holder to anything before. But with a price tag as low as $125, I’m sold.

Sports columnist Sean Star can be reached at sports@collegian.com.

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