University of Kansas

The Les Miles effect? KU says season-ticket sales soaring with new coach

KU’s Les Miles on his first recruiting class after a coaching layoff

Kansas Jayhawks coach Les Miles discusses the emotions of having another recruiting class following a head coaching layoff since 2016. He spoke to reporters on Feb. 6, 2019.
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Kansas Jayhawks coach Les Miles discusses the emotions of having another recruiting class following a head coaching layoff since 2016. He spoke to reporters on Feb. 6, 2019.

The hiring of Les Miles appears to have already made an impact on Kansas football ticket sales.

Athletic director Jeff Long said Thursday that KU had sold more than 9,000 season tickets for 2019; that number is 97 percent of the total that the department secured last season.

“Very excited and enthused,” Long told The Star following KU’s Athletics board meeting Thursday. “And I think that momentum will build.”

The numbers are especially promising because of the timing. Last year, KU Athletics had not made an option available in February for football renewals and new ticket sales.

This year — thanks in part to a new ticketing strategy from deputy athletic director Chris Freet and changes with its ticket marketing firm — Long said KU opened up the process earlier. The results have been positive so far, according to Long, with KU nearly matching last year’s season-ticket total with seven months left before the season.

Long said that in previous years, KU had seen a steady decline in football season-ticket sales.

“I think obviously this year, we will redirect that number,” Long said, “and be headed in the positive direction.”

The potential ramifications are significant. According to the school’s financial documents released for the 2018 fiscal year, KU brought in $3,987,802 in football ticket revenue last year, compared to $15,855,254 from men’s basketball.

One only has to look across the state to see how much more is possible with football. Kansas State reported $12,593,046 in football ticket sales compared to $2,744,394 in men’s basketball.

“Football is where you have all your growth possibilities,” Long said. “Basketball ... you’re not creating any more seats in Allen Fieldhouse. There’s 16,300 in there, and they’re already filled. Because of Coach (Bill) Self’s unbelievable success, 14 straight conference championships, we have a high ticket price and we have a high donor level for that. Basketball is producing at a very, very high level.

“So now the focus needs to be building that football side of the revenue.”

KU showed some creativity in how it marketed season tickets. One of the most popular plans was the “Three-Year Loyalty Guarantee” introduced immediately after Miles was hired in November. The option allowed fans to lock in their ticket prices at 2019 rates for three years.

“To us, it’s a loyalty piece,” Long said. “Get on here at the front end, and we want to be loyal to you and hold that price steady.”

Freet reported Thursday that 81 percent of KU’s season-ticket holders from last season had renewed. And while it was difficult to compare year-over-year numbers — KU football season tickets weren’t available to buy in February 2018 — KU’s belief is that it’s about 25-30 percent ahead of the last few years’ pace.

“That’s where we’ve been lagging behind as a program in the Big 12 is revenue generated from our football ticket sales,” Long said. “That allows us to start planning our budgets for next year. With football specifically, it allows us to continue to focus on investing in the program and meeting the needs to fund a successful football program.”

KU Athletics chief financial officer Pat Kaufman spoke during Thursday’s meeting about some of the difficulties created when football isn’t successful. He said, through six months of the current fiscal year, KU was down $500,000 on the revenue side “due to football season ticket sales being lower, for last season, than what we expected.” KU was able to make up for some of that, Kaufman said, with about $200,000 extra coming from donor contributions and another $200,000 above expected brought in from the Big 12’s distribution to its members.

Long, who was hired in July, said during the meeting that one of the department’s main goals was to “restore pride” in KU’s football program.

“We haven’t had that,” Long said. “ ... We’re working very hard there, we’re seeing some positive results, and we’re excited about that.

“But there’s much work to do.”

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Jesse Newell — he’s won an EPPY for best sports blog and previously has been named top beat writer in his circulation by AP’s Sports Editors — has covered KU sports since 2008. His interest in sports analytics comes from his math teacher father, who handed out rulers to Trick-or-Treaters each year.