LARAMIE — Now that a football season won’t be happening at the University of Wyoming this fall amid the coronavirus pandemic, the school is having to give that money back to its season ticket holders.
As of Wednesday morning, the school’s ticket office had issued roughly $102,000 in football season ticket refunds, said Randy Welniak, UW’s senior associate athletic director for development and revenue enhancement. But that’s only one option available to season ticket holders when it comes to their purchase.
Welniak said season ticket holders can put that money toward a credit for a potential spring football season, tickets next fall or even tickets for the upcoming basketball season. They could also let the athletic department keep the funds as a donation — an option that, to this point, has allowed UW to hold on to more football ticket revenue than it has lost.
Welniek said the school has received roughly $117,000 in season ticket donations as of Wednesday. He wasn’t able to provide the Star-Tribune with the number of season ticket holders that have opted to put their ticket payments toward another season.
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“I’ve been in this job for 16 years at the University of Wyoming, and it never ceases to amaze me the kind of generosity our fans have for our program,” Welniak said in a phone interview. “It’s so gratifying or heartwarming, whatever you want to say, to see that from people even though they’re going through very similar, challenging times. A lot of them don’t know what’s next for them with their jobs and their careers, but gosh, they’ll do whatever it takes to support the Pokes and to make sure we continue to have a first-class athletic program.”
According to sales information provided by the athletic department at the Star-Tribune’s request, UW normally generates $2.77 million each football season in ticket revenue, which includes single-game tickets as well as club and luxury suite seating in the Wildcatter Stadium Club, which can cost thousands of dollars.
UW sold 8,442 season tickets for the 2019 football season, but Welniak said the athletic department stopped selling season tickets this year once it had sold 7,900 knowing the school would have to cut back on capacity significantly in order to follow social distancing guidelines inside War Memorial Stadium. Welniak said the school had a plan to allow approximately 12,000 fans comprised of season ticket holders, players’ family members and a limited number of students — roughly 41 percent of the stadium’s 29,181-seat capacity — to attend each game.
Prices for non-Wildcatter season ticket buyers ranged from $159 to roughly $250 for all six home games originally on UW’s schedule depending on whether fans had previously been season ticket holders and seat location, Welniak said. But with the reduction in capacity, the total amount of ticket revenue this season was going to drop closer to $2.5 million.
Either way, the money generated from ticket sales is one of UW’s top revenue sources during the football season. During a typical season, it’s more than corporate sponsorships ($1.7 million), concessions ($395,000) and beer and wine sales ($262,000).
With the athletic department staring at a revenue loss of as much as $15 million with no football season, those involved in UW athletics will graciously take whatever amount they’re able to recoup.
“We’ve had a lot of fans say, ‘Tom, we’re here to help, so I’m going to donate my ticket revenue back as long as it can go toward helping take care of students,’” UW athletic director Tom Burman said. “So we’re putting together a plan right now to use that money to subsidize maybe our nutrition and our training table programs. Maybe summer school. We’re looking at a lot of different options to try to keep some of that ticket revenue.
“We’re going to need help. There’s no doubt that we can’t solve this issue without the university and the state supporting us.”
Follow UW athletics beat writer Davis Potter on Twitter at @DavisEPotter.