Q&A: Stricklin says reducing seating capacity at stadium in Florida’s plans

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Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin says his team is studying ways to revamp the student section at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. [Brad McClenny/Staff photographer]

Scott Stricklin has been the Florida athletic director for 27 months, so his feet are plenty wet in his job. In addition to pushing for better facilities and making a big coaching change in football, Stricklin last season was a member of the College Football Playoff committee. Sun sports columnist Pat Dooley sat down with Stricklin for a conversation about ticket sales, scheduling and all things Gator.

Sun: There was a tax overhaul that went into effect in 2018 that — among other things — eliminated the write-off for contributions tied to the purchase of season tickets. What impact have you seen from this?

Stricklin: Well, 2018 was the first year and a lot of it is still unknown. People are still filing because of last year. There are two components. One is the ability to deduct your booster contribution for tickets has gone away. We’ll see if there is an impact.

Then, there is the excise tax for anyone making more than a million dollars in salary. We have five (football coach Dan Mullen, basketball coach Mike White, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, baseball coach Kevin O’Sullivan and Stricklin). We’ll probably have over a half million we’ll have to pay for the department.

There has been some impact on the booster fee part. I don’t know that we have a real sense of how significant it is. The other side is people got other tax breaks in other places. I don’t think anyone was coming to Gator games for the tax break. I think it’s still too early to tell.

Sun: How are ticket sales coming for the 2019 season?

Stricklin: Our ticket sales are up. It’s early still, but we’re a couple of months ahead of where we were last season. There’s a lot of momentum that has nothing to do with the tax plan. It has to do with our season last year and our home schedule. I don’t have the numbers right now, but it’s trending well ahead of where it was last year.

Sun: Have you discussed student attendance, the no shows, the late shows?

Stricklin: We’ve had a lot of discussions about it. I don’t know if we have had any solutions yet. I think we won’t really have a legitimate solution until we do some other things in the stadium which will be a couple of years away. I think the reserved seats for students doesn’t incentivize them to get into the stands early. It encourages them to show up late. There’s not incentive for them to show up early.

Sun: Is it not a simple thing to do something about that?

Stricklin: Under the current setup of the stadium on the seat map, there needs to be a way when the student walks into the stadium, this is where I can go. If they just had general admission seats, they’d be walking into reserve seating sections, because the student section is kind of meandering if you go across the seat map. We need a defined student section like we have in basketball. If you come, ‘this lower section right here, first come, first serve. You can sit right here.’ We don’t really have a way to do that under our current configuration of our seating for football.

To come up with that, you’re looking at either fencing in their current thing which doesn’t really work or you’re having to relocate season ticket holders to locate students somewhere where you can do that. That’s not an easy fix. I think we’ll get there, but it won’t be overnight.

Sun: Do you ever think about putting them in the south end zone and putting season ticket holders in better seats?

Stricklin: We definitely have looked at that. That’s one of the things that has some potential. There’s an expense that goes along with that. For one thing you want to give the people a reward for season ticket holders and give them more room. That’s one of things we want to do is expand seat width for season ticket holders and put chair backs in where we can. We’d rather do that at one time rather than piecemeal.

Sun: At one point you said it might be 10 years before those kind of things take place. Is it still that far away?

Stricklin: I don’t think 10 years. I think we can do it in less time than that.

Hopefully less than five. I think there’s some things we can do within the seating bowl itself in a short time frame.

Sun: And that would reduce seating capacity. Do you have a number on that in mind?

Stricklin: Really don’t. We want to be north of 75,000. Essentially, we have 88,000 seats. Of those, we hold 8,000 for the visitors. The way visiting teams travel now that’s probably 5,000 seats too many so right there you get rid of 5,000 seats and you’d never miss them because visitors aren’t coming.

And I think student seating, we probably have a couple of thousand there. We could get to 80,000 real quick right there and wouldn’t impact anybody coming to the game. You haven’t touched supply and demand at that point. So if you wanted to tighten up supply and demand to make supply and demand more valuable probably between 75 (thousand) and 80. Hopefully we have a great year selling season tickets this year and we reassess that number, but based on where we’ve been the last three or four years that’s probably the number you’re looking at.

Sun: Within less than five years?

Stricklin: I think it needs to happen.

Sun: In this plan, would all the seats be chair backs?

Stricklin: You can’t fit chair backs in a lot of spaces especially as you go to the upper areas. The only way to correct that is to tear down the structure and we don’t have an appetite for that.

There’s a way you can do something on the lower 30 rows or so and that’s what we’re looking at. Put chair backs in and where you don’t put chair backs in you expand seat width to benefit others.

We have an opportunity to provide a better experience with just seat width alone. There’s enough evidence out there that fans have a different expectation of comfort and we have to be mindful of that.

Sun: There was a lot written about UCF and that school wanting a home-and-home series. And it got pretty ugly. Did that stuff bother you?

Stricklin: I don’t think it was fair for either school the way it came out. It’s just part of it. I’m asked a question and (UCF athletic director) Danny (White) is trying to respond to what I say and it took on a life of its own.

Sun: Would you do home and home with a Power Five school?

Stricklin: Yeah. It’s hard to do because of Georgia and FSU on our schedule.

Our schedule is unique. We have unique challenges. We’ve had some conversations, but the problem is people are scheduled out well into the next decade. And because we play an SEC schedule and FSU every year you have to be really strategic as to who it’s going to be. It’s not going to be a team that’s competing for a national title year in and year our. I’d rather play those teams in the playoff.

But I do think there are opportunities to play a team that makes your home schedule more interesting and then when you have to go on the road making it a place our fans might want to travel to. This is all about bringing more value to your schedule.

The 2-for-1 with USF I think was an attempt to do that even though that’s a Group of Five school. I think that’s a more interesting non-conference game than what some of the others are.

Whatever you can do to make it more attractive and at same time — year in and year out — we play one of the toughest schedules in the country and we want to make sure our team is challenged, but at the same time gives it the best chance to win a championship.

Sun: Did you enjoy being on the CFP committee this season?

Stricklin: It was a fun experience. The people in that room really take that role seriously. Watched a lot of football and tried to make sure we were fair to all the teams.

The critics want to take out one part of a team’s resume and point to that as the reason why they should or shouldn’t be where they are. We spend a lot of time looking at the entire schedule. It’s been rewarding work.

It’s frustrating any time people want to assume intent. In that room, the integrity piece is really important, doing what’s right and not because of the conference you represent or what’s best for your own school. Doing what’s fair for the teams under consideration.

Sun: One subject that has come up a lot is the SEC playing eight conference games. Do you sense any movement toward going to nine conference games?

Stricklin: Not on the nine games. Since the playoffs started, of the 20 playoff spots 11 have been filled by teams that play eight conference games. That’s been a pretty good model.

But we need to find a way as a league to provide more variety in our SEC schedule. It goes back to what I was talking about earlier — creating more value and interest in what you’re asking your season ticket holders to support.

I’m open for suggestions, but in a two-year period with eight home conference games every two years, seven of those eight are the same. There needs to be more rotation. Some annual games would have to go away, but there are some other great games that will come on the schedule. Auburn-Florida is a good example. We used to play every year.

Our league has so many great brands, you’re going to pick up great games. I think it’s going to be more compelling. You probably get rid of the permanent (opponents). I’m in favor of having the conversation. I don’t know what my colleagues think.

I’m sensitive to the tradition piece, but we have to do what’s best for the whole league and I don’t think we can walk on eggshells around one or two games. You think about players who are here four or five years and never see some teams.

Sun: Now that you have been around it for a couple of years, what are your thoughts on Florida-Georgia in Jacksonville?

Stricklin: Jacksonville is really unique and special. It’s something not many schools have. It would be nice to have Georgia on our campus and go to their’s, but we have to weigh that against what Jacksonville means to that series. It’s pretty important now. But you never say never.

Sun: Is there one thing that has been a surprise to you in your time here at Florida?

Stricklin: I don’t know if there’s anything that’s been a big surprise. I’m reminded daily what a special place Florida is. There is an outside perception that — because the Gators won so much in football under Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer — any time they weren’t winning there is this angry mob of a fan base.

I haven’t found that. I think the fan base is incredibly supportive. That’s probably the biggest misnomer from the outside.

Gators are really good people. That’s been a pleasant surprise.

49 COMMENTS

  1. I know a “student incentive” for them to get there on time, it’s called, “the 1st quarter.” Perhaps those free oranges given out back in the day in the 80’s, that ended up pelting the Miami Hurricanes (by the U.F. “student section” (which I laughed my butt off, to be honest) may have had something to do with the students’ seating arrangements? They’re just too rough on the opposing sideline? Too bad!
    Go Gators!

  2. There’s a cost to everything. Turning UF into an Ivy League school has affected the culture. Back when they let more kids in who wanted to experience all UF had to offer, the East side filled up. Not many of my successful friends could get in now, but man, did we help make the Swamp something to fear a generation ago.

    • I wouldn’t say UF is an Ivy League school. I think the goal is to make it into a Michigan – in other words, one of the top 10 Public research universities in the country. Hey, I love college football, and if we are going to play it (and all the other intercollegiate sports), we need to play at an elite level. But a top-10 research university means more to the economic future of the state than the football team.

      And being an “elite” academic institution does not rule out strong student support. If you’ve ever been to a Stanford home game, the students can get pretty rowdy, but then maybe they come to see what the Band will do at halftime.

      • It’s an expression frequently used, the “Ivy League school of the SEC”. And it has become more elite. My SATs (back in 80s) wouldn’t get me in today. Your use of a fictitious goal for UF to be like Michigan is pure blasphemy. Take it back! 😉

        • UF has been called the Harvard of the south. I was involved with some things there a few years back. The kids trying for Harvard that don’t get accepted many come here. UF had one of the highest if not the highest rate of youth who transferred to Harvard after the 2nd year graduating. WHY? they were receiving a top notch education. Also many that came here as a second choice finished their undergrad here and were accepted to grad school at Harvard. Again with many continuing on here instead. UF is well regarded now in medicine, veterinary, law among others. While I am sure Harvard prestige is important who wouldn’t want to go to school where the sun is out (most of the time) it is warm (ok well baking hot some time) but one could never say we are short of vitamin D, save the new gens that never go outside. They may never see the game but once the Wi-Fi is up and running there may be bodies in the stands.

  3. The deleted scene:

    Pat: Don’t you hate these spoiled Gator fans? Do you realize they paid no regard to the fact that Muschbrain was a nice person who went Oak Hall? They just kept focusing on how terrible of a coach he was, as if he were getting millions to win games or something? SPOILED! And then with Uncle Yellow Teeth it was the same thing– they were all like ‘we get blown out by FSU every year’ never taking into account that the players liked Uncle Yellow Teeth and said he was sweet and adorable!!!! How can you prioritize winning games over being an adorable shark pervert! SPOILED! SPOILED! SPOILED!!!

    Strickland: I think the fan base is incredibly supportive. That’s probably the biggest misnomer from the outside. Gators are really good people.

    Pat: I miss Larry Guest. I miss him sooooo much!!!!!!!

  4. Ever since we started seeing large numbers of empty seats at the Swamp, I’ve thought that reducing seating capacity to 80,000 comfortable seats would promote more butts in those seats, even for early season games vs. “directional” schools. Stricklin’s proposals for dealing with the empty seats problem at the Swamp all make a lot of sense. Making seats more comfortable for season ticket holders by reducing the number of available visitor and subsidized student seats is definitely the way to go if they don’t want to add another deck to the stadium.

    I’m a little disappointed to hear they can’t put chairbacks on upper section seats without tearing down that part of the stadium. I guess if they widen those seats and replace the hard metal benches with something a little more “fanny friendly” it’ll be way better than what we have there today.

    Stricklin’s idea for consolidating the student section in one area of the stadium and making all student seats available on a 1st come 1st served basis is a good incentive for showing up early. However, it won’t deter no-shows for the less exciting games vs. “directional” schools. I would have returned to the old policy of allowing students to sell their tickets by not asking ticket holders to show student IDs at the gate, but I guess that concept is just too capitalistic for a modern day university to tolerate.

    Go Gators!!!

  5. I’m all in for making the stadium experience more comfortable and if that means less seating capacity to accommodate chair backs, then I’m all in. I used go to more than a few games up here in Neyland and I can tell you, the overall experience of being stuffed in bleacher seating that seems to be about 18″ wide just so they can stuff in 100,000 fans is ridiculous. My comfy recliner and 60″ tv works a lot better for me now.

    I love tradition. And I love football rivalries. But I would be 100% in support of more rotation and flexibility in SEC scheduling. It’s crazy that SEC schools visit the other (non permanent)division opponents once every 12 years. I’d give up an annual game against Vandy or South Carolina, or really anyone, to get more variety.

    Finally, I get that having FSU on our schedule every year takes away scheduling flexibility, but smarter minds than me (Mr. Stricklin and his SEC brethren) need to figure out a way to improve scheduling. I’m not a season ticket holder any longer but when I sit down before the season and plan which game(s) I want to attend, I will NEVER plan to attend a game against an FCS/Directional School opponent. Surely if ALL SEC teams improved scheduling quality, we could make it work. There are Power 5 schools that aren’t named Oklahoma that we could play and there are higher quality Group of Five schools we could play. I get that the SEC has done nicely in setting up their championship chances with the current scheduling modus operandi but dang, it sure isn’t as much fun for the paying customer to have to endure UF vs Northwestern Somebody for 3 homes games. YUCK! Make the schedule better (and tougher) and let the chips fall where they may. Get Miami and UCF and USF on the schedule more often. It’s ENTERTAINMENT folks!!!

    And finally finally, count me in (a small minority?) of those that say, let UF-UGA play on campus. Give us 4 true SEC home games EVERY year. At worst, rotate every four years: Gainesville, Jacksonville, Athens, Jacksonville.

    Whew 🙂

    • Rog, the UF – UGly game in Jax is my absolute favorite game to attend. I believe there are only three games like this in the US played on a neutral field, and this is arguable (don’t discuss with OU of UT) the most important of the three. It’s a 50/50 sell out, and truly some of my fondest memories are of the good natured ribbing between us and those clad in red and black. It’s a thing of beauty to see the other side of the stadium emptying after three quarters (it’ll be coming back under CDM).

      • I surely don’t disagree with you Gelco. I’ve enjoyed a game or two in Jacksonville in my lifetime (not to mention my first rock concert was at the Memorial Coliseum….telling you the band would date myself but it was a band named after the largest city in Massachusetts 🙂 ) and I agree that the spectacle of the experience is amazing. And no, the Red River Shootout surely can’t compare. That said, I love big SEC games on campus. Lots of pageantry there too plus you get a taste of other traditions and atmosphere….. and how sweet would it be to kick the snot out of UGA in Gainesville. This is not my biggest gripe by far with scheduling. But, it has been used as an excuse by past administrations as a reason to have to schedule cupcakes for a home game in the years our UGA “home” game is in Jacksonville.

    • There are only two traditional rivalry games played at neutral sites every year. Both are special and have very colorful traditions. They’re the Red River Shootout and the Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in the World (I’m NOT PC.) I wouldn’t EVER willingly give up the experience of mixing it up every year with the Georgia crowd just for the sake of hosting a 4th SEC game every other year.

      Hotel room in Jacksonville, $250/night. Tickets to the Cocktail Party, $600/pair. Being able to shout “I don’t hear no barking!!!” to despondent, departing UGA fans after spanking their Dawgs’ hinies, PRICELESS!!!

      Go Gators!!!

  6. The problem with attendance by students is much more than just winning. Alabama is dealing with the same problem and they have been winning at a record pace. Society is different than the old days. Ride down University Avenue any day and count the number of kids walking while looking at their phone. Keeping kid’s attention for 3-4 hours is tough.

    • TRUE! Younger folks just aren’t as interested in live sporting events. For many, the only reason for going is so that they can have “content” for their social media apps. It’s all about “sharing the moment” instead of “enjoying the moment”.

      • Rog, Sparky, the student apathy issue has been around for a long time. My final years at UF (74-75) I lived in the Towers, and it was a nice walk across campus to the stadium on game Saturdays. Across from the Towers was a large swimming pool, about 8 tennis courts and a couple of basketball courts. As I passed on my way to the game, I always noted that the pool was filled, every tennis court being used and full basketball games going on. I would pass other rec areas on the walk and it was pretty much the same everywhere. If memory serves me correctly, student tickets at that time were free ( or must have been really cheap, because I was paying my own way through and lived on soup and hot dogs!) The west stands with the alumni was always full and the east stands for students was maybe half or a bit more. And this was when there was no seating in the south end zone. I feel the same way as you guys do about how today’s students are so disconnected, and they have a lot more distractions than we ever did. It just seems to be a generational eb and flow I guess. For me today, what keeps me from going to games is distance and my 65″ LED TV on which EVERY Gator football gamel is there for me to watch thanks to the SEC Network.
        As our favorite poet (not singer) Bob Dylan says, “the times they are a changing”!

          • Don’t I know it. Changes in the military to be more “inclusive” with their self esteem issues are going to be a real problem someday. BTW, I like your suggestion below.

          • Amen!!! Our younger and future generations are in for a bad time one day when the easily offended goes up against an enemy of the US that isn’t easily offended and knows how to fight…and offend. Maybe that’s why our kids are being required to learn foreign languages….

          • Rog, we can only hope that our current crop of Senior NCOs, Sergeant Majors, and to some extent, field grade and general officers recognize that too.

            Now, I don’t know about the foreign languages angle, but it’s probably not a coincidence that my admission application to UF way back when was rejected on the grounds that they thought English was my second language!

  7. Here’s a wild and crazy idea, Scott. Instead of removing seats and therefore erasing potential income how about leaving the seats and lowering the prices so more fans could afford to attend the games and take their families out on a Saturday afternoon excursion? Well, I think I can answer my own question. The UF elites don’t want to rub elbows with the unwashed masses that make up most of the Gators’ fan base and buy most of the Gator gear. Stupid me.

  8. dooley wrote this in a tweet about this article…
    Important to note that these are tickets sold by UF’s SEC visitors this season:
    Kentucky 938
    LSU 1,856
    Mizzou 949
    South Carolina 2,383
    this problem needs a little more discussion. we have to share revenue with programs like south carolina and they cant do any better than this. the other schools are more than a days drive, but still, the math doesnt work for us imo. im like the english, ready for brexit if someone doesnt fix this. but then ucf makes a fool out of me and chickens out playing us after all that whining; sometimes it sucks being the best.

  9. We can make all the excuses we want about why there are empty seats. The solution is simple. It boils down to simple economics. Tickets prices which the universities control are too expensive. I understand they can’t control certain prices like lodging and other necessary amenities but there are certain prices they can control. Make the stadium experience a BETTER VALUE than the home theater experience. I guarantee that every game will be sold out if the ticket prices are low enough. Sure there are many fans in which price is of little concern. But to the average Joe and the majority of fans, why would they pay $100 or whatever the current ticket price is to see a game when he can see it for free at home? For example, how many people would leave their couches to see the game if the tickets are just $1? I’m not advocating it go that low but I throw that out there to make the point.

    • And it’s a good point at that, Sly. I’ve wondered the same thing myself, but it has been a very long time since I was able to get to Florida in the fall, so I really don’t know other than what I hear other people discussing. But I would think that (a) the stadium is paid off many times over, (b) routine and extended costs of operation are well established, and beyond that the reasonable profit ratios are fairly easy to establish. I would think that this could be done to everyone’s benefit, and certainly within a 100 mile radius of G’ville alone there are more than enough Gator fans to fill the Swamp every game — if the average guy could afford it.

      Historically, in my “world” we only dealt with base ops expenses (using dollars for accounting purposes but never having to actually spend them on real property) and never had to deal with factors of profitability, but my sole venture into the business realm after retiring from the Army did teach me enough to understand that there are several different ways to measure that concept once costs have been factored in. I’m probably missing something, I’ll admit — but what?

  10. Doc – We both could miss something but I can’t think of it either. It’s Business 101: The relationship between supply, demand, cost, price, and profit. There’s probably a mathematical formula to illustrate the relationship. When there is a demand, the business can command higher prices and realize greater profit. The converse is true. As demand decreases, the business needs to reduce prices to drive up or maintain demand. To sustain a profit as price is reduced, they need to figure out how to reduce cost. I don’t see the UAA reducing cost though. I see coaches salaries have risen significantly. I also see the cost of facilities upgrades keep changing in the up direction. I haven’t seen the UAA taking any strategy to reduce ticket prices. If anything, I foresee ticket prices going up with nicer, roomier seats and stadium Wi-Fi. I would imagine as ticket prices keep going up, it will squeeze out more and more fans who have been going to games. Their assumption is that the 70,000 fans will keep coming if they make it more comfortable but where is the assumption that less fans will attend once the price goes up. What will happen once the 70,00 fans reduce to say 60,000. The UAA can’t print money like the federal government to cover their expenses.

    • Sly, let’s say for the sake of argument all tickets are 50$. And 70k show up that is 3.5 million not including food and licensed items. Since we know ticket prices are more than that and the attendance might be lower a conservative number may be 5 million before food and licensed items. Add half that for those and there would be approximately 7 million per home game. I’m thinking that is conservative. Times 5-6 home games is over 35 million. Using the long forgotten formulas from business classes they plug in figures to calculate supplyvdemandvprofit. Demand is a variable that is cost driven with a lot of other factors, game v who?, weather, competing events, record, degree of fun (competing for disposable income). You are right free or cheap would bring some but value for the buck is important too. For Young graduated fans with a family say of four a 200.00 day may be beyond their limit. Since that figure is likely a hundred more for tickets plus food that is a 400 day. That you could watch from home for the cost of cable or satellite. I go to some of the games (work& life permitting) because there is nothing like being in the swamp.

      • Gator65 – Assuming life/work permitting and the targeted average fan lives within a reasonable commuting distance to the stadium, at what ticket price would it be a better value to attend the game than watching it at home? It would be interesting if there’s a poll that asks at price fans would pay to attend home games over watching them at home broken down by several seating levels like lower level, 50 yard line, middle tier, and nosebleed sections. I would also ask the same questions to differentiate between a Power 5 opponent and the less desirable cupcakes. That data would go a long ways in setting prices that balances maximizing profit and filling the stadium to capacity.

        • Sly that is what should happen. It could go from there is not interest doubtful but possible, below revenue threshold undesirable, fill the stadium with crazed gator fans that support the team and they still make money ideal as it perpetuates the brand. They are getting ready to spend millions on the stadium should have already done this. Seems it would be a good project for the business school.

          • Why don’t you guys start a Special Topic (ie, Recent Topics on the right side of the screen) and poll these very questions? Might be very illuminating.