Out of context, an 85% renewal rate for University of Wisconsin football season tickets in 2020 could be seen as a drastic drop from recent trends around 10 percentage points higher.
Add in the COVID-19 pandemic and the uncertainties of whether the 2020 season will be played as scheduled and whether fans will be allowed to attend at all, however, and UW was welcoming the figure it reported Tuesday.
In a story on the Badgers’ web site, football coach Paul Chryst called the renewal rate “amazing.”
“It says a lot about their support for everything,” Chryst said. “We like to think we’ve got great fans that care and see a little bigger picture. To me, that’s a statement by them.”
A Badgers spokesperson said 85% of account holders renewed their tickets for the 2020 season, including general public seats, club seats and suites.
General public sales so far are at 39,967 this year, according to figures provided by UW. That’s a 16% drop from the 47,726 sold in 2019.
The number of club seats and suite tickets sold to date totaled 2,279, 42 fewer than in 2019.
In an apparent acknowledgement of the looming question of whether UW students will be back on campus full-time in the fall, the date for student sales for the upcoming season hasn’t been determined. The allotment of about 13,000 student tickets routinely has sold out in short order.
The 85% renewal rate includes everyone who has paid at least part of the cost for season tickets in installment plans introduced this year.
UW offered options including a $30 deposit on season tickets payable by the renewal deadline of May 11, which was extended by three weeks from the original date. The remainder of the cost could be paid in three equal amounts at the start of June, July and August or in full by July 10.
The renewal rate could drop if some of those who paid the deposit later decide not to follow up on the full purchase.
General public season tickets cost $324 per seat for six games, not including an additional donation of between $100 and $400 per seat required for some sections in Camp Randall.
UW also offered an outlet for fans who didn’t want to buy tickets for the 2020 season but also didn’t want to lose their seating location. They could pay $50 per account to keep their seats, a fee that can be applied to 2021 season tickets.
About 500 people used that option, according to UW.
The Badgers have said that they’ll refund both the cost of tickets and associated required contributions if the 2020 season is canceled in full. They’ll pay back a prorated amount of the ticket cost if only some home games are wiped out.
The 85% renewal rate, which was down from a more normal 94.5% in 2019, provides a budgetary indicator for the Badgers’ upcoming 2021 fiscal year, which starts July 1.
Football ticket sales are a major financial driver, generating as much as 16% of the department’s total operating revenue in recent years. The 2020-21 budget, totaling $186 million in full or $139 million without capital projects funded by donations, projected more than $25 million from football tickets.
But there’s no telling yet how much athletics would suffer financially if home games are limited in capacity to allow for distancing.
UW has started planning for a different experience at Camp Randall Stadium in light of worries over transmission of the coronavirus. One of the details the athletic department has released is the installation of hands-free faucets and dispensers for soap and paper towels in restrooms.
College and pro teams have been examining how distancing practices can be used in venues that are known for packing fans elbow to elbow in seating areas and seeing them wait in lines for entrance, concessions and restroom facilities.
UW hasn’t detailed any plans for a decreased-capacity environment — or how choices would be made about who gets to attend — for games at Camp Randall, which holds 80,321.
The Badgers’ 2020 season is scheduled to start Sept. 4 at home against Indiana.