Athletic department makes profitable move

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    By Seth Lewis

    From above his desk, the bold-lettered placard bears Kevin Elzey’s ticket-selling testimony:

    “Butts in seats.”

    “That’s my slogan,” he said. “That’s my job.”

    It has been since October, when the athletic department’s marketing director position was split and Elzey was promoted to become the director for consumer development – or, in other words, BYU’s ticket-hustling guru.

    Elzey has since embarked on a marketing mission to proselytize season-ticket holders, reclaiming the dissatisfied, strengthening the wavering and converting the prospects.

    From hawking tax-deductible courtside seats to telemarketing to door-to-door stumping, Elzey and others have made an unorthodox and unheard of sales pitch for men’s basketball.

    “Ticket sales have gone crazy,” he said.

    Well, sort of.

    Men’s basketball season-ticket sales have increased by 8 percent over last year, but that likely has as much to do with a promising season as marketing maneuvers.

    Still, the efforts of Elzey and his predecessor, Mike Deaver, are a microcosm of a larger push by the athletic department to save its sagging budget – a crusade that recently pulled the department out of debt for the first time in four years.

    Associate athletic director Duff Tittle remembers inheriting the department’s black-and-blue budget when athletic director Val Hale gave him the job a year and a half ago.

    “Val gave me the charge to look at everything we’re doing and maximize revenue,” Tittle said.

    Tittle first tried to shore up relations with corporate partnerships and sponsors. He was effective enough that in the spring Hogi Yogi signed a five-year contract extension – a deal that was something of a revelation for Tittle.

    “It really hit me that if we had eight or 10 big sponsors like that, and see that they were taken care of, then we’d be OK,” he said.

    Then he looked to the deep pockets of faithful Cougar Club members, offering them the courtside seats athletic department officials had always used.

    Cost: $3,500 each.

    Regardless, the tickets were snatched up quickly, and now there’s a waiting list for next season. But then, the price tag has its incentives – namely, as a “donation” to the school, it’s partially tax deductible.

    “We realize that the seat isn’t worth that much,” Elzey said. “We’ve been telling people, ‘Hey, this helps the basketball program out.'”

    Even more, BYU raised ticket prices for basketball – and most sports, for that matter – upping the cost by $2-3 a game.

    Elzey figures it was an obvious move.

    “We’re realizing that season-ticket prices haven’t gone up for eight-plus years,” he said. “We feel it’s time to start moving in that direction.”

    It was the price increase, after all, that salvaged football revenues. Even with it being LaVell Edward’s farewell season, a mediocre team led to a $30,000 dip in ticket sales. Still, the department only saw a $140,000 reduction in revenues – a figure Elzey says would have been drastically higher without price hikes.

    That, he says, is the “reason we didn’t take it in the shorts.”

    In a report released in October, the athletic department grossed $16 million during 1999, just over its estimated $15.5 million in expenses – posting a profit for the first time since 1996. With a decent football season in the books and men’s basketball tickets expected to soar past the 475,000 sold last year, department officials can breath easier.

    “I think we’re going to finish in the black this year,” Tittle said.

    Of course, it didn’t hurt that BYU may have collected as much as $750,000 from its Pigskin Classic loss to Florida State. Or that a sponsorship blitz has raised some $1 million.

    “I think it’s going to pay off,” said Deaver, who has supervised corporate sponsorships since the marketing director job split. “Not only this year, but three years and five years down the road.”

    That is, as long as BYU sticks to Elzey’s slogan.

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