U markets football early

Billboards and yard signs push season tickets.

The athletics department hopes to generate early excitement for Gophers football tickets with an aggressive marketing campaign.

This year’s marketing campaign kicked off in January with newspaper ads. In mid-June, the University unveiled 35 to 40 Twin Cities-area billboards featuring the slogan, “Saturday Rush” and photos of Gophers running backs Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney.

“We’re trying to tap into our large alumni base in the metro area,” said Mark Coyle, assistant athletics director for marketing and sales. “We spread them out in the metro area on major roadways to attract those 240,000-plus alumni who live in the area.”

The advertising blitz comes in stark contrast to last year, when the season tickets campaign did not begin until the middle of the season, Coyle said.

The decisions to advertise more aggressively and earlier this year were made in response to the football program’s recent success, Coyle said. The team’s 10 wins and bowl victory last year make the team easier to market, he said.

University ticket manager Dan Teschke said 25,006 season tickets were sold last year, and sales are already 1,000 tickets ahead this year.

Coyle said he expects a spike in sales in the coming weeks because of the billboards.

“We will see the impact from that in the next few weeks because it puts Gophers football in people’s minds when they’re driving throughout the metro area,” Coyle said.

University Athletics Director Joel Maturi said athletics marketing money is well-spent if it results in higher attendance numbers. With the department battling budget constraints, football provides the best opportunity to increase revenues, Maturi said.

The Gophers averaged about 43,000 fans in the 64,000-seat Metrodome last year, Maturi said. If the University could increase ticket sales by 5,000 a game, it would equate to an extra $750,000 for the department; weekly sellouts would mean an extra $3 million, he said.

“You’re always going to have (budget) challenges, but if I had an extra $3 million in this year’s budget, we’d be sitting pretty,” Maturi said.

But the budget constraints also mean the marketing department needs to be careful about how it spends its money, Coyle said.

“We’re trying to get a lot smarter in how we market our programs and how we allocate the dollars we have to market our sports here on campus,” he said.

One cost-effective marketing approach involves using yard signs to promote football tickets. Coyle said the athletics department paid to print the signs, but the advertising space is essentially free.

The athletics department printed 7,000 yard signs this year and has distributed about half of them.

“It’s a unique way to position our brand out there and get Gophers football out there and celebrate college football,” Coyle said.

Maturi said he was excited to see four or five houses with yard signs while in northern Minnesota this weekend for a golf outing.

Starting in August, the University will also promote season ticket sales with advertisements on the sides of more than 100 city buses that run through campus and around the Twin Cities.

Coyle said the athletics department also hopes to increase its student season ticket numbers to 10,000 this year.

Teschke said the 8,900 student season tickets sold in 1985 was the most in 20 years. Last year 7,500 were sold.

To promote sales of student season tickets, the athletics department participates in orientation events for incoming freshmen and has sent direct mailings to University students. More mailings are planned for later this summer.