Editor’s Commentary: Arkansas State Loses Sight of Building Football Fan Base


What should a college football program with only one winning season in the past five years and only two bowl appearances since playing in the Pecan Bowl in 1972 do to increase their fan base?

If you are the Arkansas State Red Wolves you increase ticket prices.

Makes sense right? Not really, but let’s try to put the pieces together to make sense of it all.

ASU is coming off a 10-3 record during the 2011 season, an appearance in the GoDaddy.com Bowl, and made national headlines by hiring former Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn.

Malzahn won a BCS National Championship in 2010 calling offensive plays for the Tigers. His background as a former Arkansas high school football coach makes him a success story any Arkansan can route for, especially since he is no longer coaching at a competing SEC West school.

The bigger story is should ASU raise ticket prices just to increase revenue?

The football expenditures for the Red Wolves are set at $3.25 million. Any price increase will help fund those costs with the primary increase paying for Malzahn’s annual salary of $850,000. In 2011 former ASU head coach Hugh Freeze made $200,000.

Red Wolves athletic director Dr. Dan Lee is taking a big risk on a hometown name that has never been a head coach at the collegiate level.

Dr. Lee is banking on making money off Malzahn’s name but the bigger concern is can Malzahn improve ASU’s win total from last year? Another question is will Malzahn be a program builder or will he take the next big job opening at an AQ school if he is offered?

Perhaps Red Wolves athletic director Dr. Dan Lee should let Malzahn build a program then increase ticket prices?

Last year ASU sold 7,042 season tickets. Instead of looking at a cost per ticket sold revenue increase, which really hurts the previous season ticket holders, whatever happened to just selling out the stadium? Why punish the fans that have supported the program through the down years?

Increasing the ticket prices for the fan base comes with increased fan expectations. If selling 7,042 season tickets in 2011 was an average season for ASU and the hiring of Malzahn increases the ticket sales to 10,000 or better the financial terms of the deal are starting to workout but far from being a top tier college football program.

If the Red Wolves produce a 6-6 season in 2012 will season ticket holders spend their hard earned cash in 2013 renewing their season tickets for an average college football team playing in a non-AQ conference?

The other part of the equation is the pricing point has now been raised for Red Wolves season tickets going forward regardless of wins and losses.

Should Malzahn leave in another year or two and the program takes a downturn in wins has their new pricing strategy taken ASU out of the realm of disposable income spent by their fan base on Red Wolves’ football games?

More questions remain than are answered with the pricing increase. Has Dr. Lee set a standard that after each 10 win season or bowl appearance the school will increase ticket prices?

If and when Malzahn leaves for another program will ASU be able to hire a quality coach at $200,000 a year similar to what Hugh Freeze received or will the athletic department make another name higher to improve the programs success?

In fairness to the Dr. Lee and the athletic department the price increases were not overly drastic. Platinum Suite tickets are priced at $175 in 2012 as opposed to $145 in 2011. Seats with a back attached to the chair have also increased by $30 rising to $175. Children wanting to see the Red Wolves play will have to fork over 10 more dollars out of their allowance to pay the new $75 per ticket price.

With higher ticket prices that must mean the quality of opponents coming to Jonesboro, Ark. has increased as well. The only name school playing at ASU Stadium in 2012 is Memphis.

ASU has “payout” road games at University of Oregon on Sept. 1 and at University of Nebraska Sept. 15.

Is it too late for ASU to reconsider the price hike and aim for selling out their season tickets at last year’s pricing? Have they already killed any momentum they may have gained by winning 10 games last year and hiring Gus Malzahn with the price increase?

Hidden within the above commentary could be the biggest obstacle facing the Red Wolves, the Arkansas Razorbacks. Thinking of Malzahn as no longer being a coach of a SEC West foe comes from the mindset of a Razorback fan not a Red Wolves’ fan. In the state of Arkansas and the area surrounding Jonesboro there are far Hog fans than Red Wolves fans.

Sticking fans with higher ticket prices is never a wise choice. But if ASU were to ever raise their ticket prices now is as good of a time as ever. There is a lot of positive attention and hope centered upon the Red Wolves football team heading into 2012.

Malzahn should feel pressure to succeed early. After all another former high school head football coach won 10 games at ASU last year. Can Malzahn do the same?