A lot of words have been thrown around on this campus in response to the NCAA sanctions on the USC football program. Devastating, disheartening and crushing, to name a few.
And from a fan’s perspective, the sanctions are all of that. Nothing for Trojans to root for, except ruining other teams’ seasons.
But are the sanctions devastating and disheartening enough to stop fans from attending the games?
The magnitude of this question should not go unnoticed. As Jonathan Kendrick wrote in his column last Friday, the USC athletic department has an annual budget of about $80 million. In the fiscal year in which these numbers were taken (2008-2009), the football program turned the athletic department a $35-million gross profit and a $14-million net profit. Despite the $21 million in expenses, it was the only sport to finish in the black.
That means the financial viability of literally every other USC sport is tied to football. If football doesn’t turn a substantial profit, other sports will suffer as a result.
And though some of football’s tremendous revenue comes from game broadcasts and donations, a large percentage is from ticket sales. A loss of sales would not only be harmful to the football program but to all of Trojan athletics.
In light of all the turmoil and trouble USC football has seen in the last year, one could see how a potentially devastating loss of ticket sales is possible. But has it happened?
According to USC Ticket Office Director Debra Duncan, in a word, no.
“There hasn’t really been much of a change [in ticket sales] so far this year,” Duncan said.
She believes the primary reason for this is the attitude of the Trojan fans.
“Our fans are very loyal. They’re not going to stop supporting their team because of one bump in the road,” she said.
That sentiment was echoed by many. Almost without fail, every student who was asked why they still bought season football tickets in the wake of the sanctions responded with some form of the phrase, “Football is football.”
“It’s the culture here,” said Will Blair, a freshman majoring in aerospace engineering.
L.A. native, longtime Trojan supporter and current freshman computer science and business administration major Curtis Speed went so far as to say that the team “could be playing one game the whole year and I’d still buy the tickets.”
For others, the football game is simply background.
“Don’t get me wrong, I love my Trojans,” said Josh Gonzalez, a junior majoring in psychology. “But it’s the atmosphere the game creates that you really can’t miss.”
Some students, however, don’t see it that way.
“I love football,” said Calvin Chung, a freshman majoring in computer science. “Trojan football was one of the major reasons I chose to come to USC. But I don’t want to pay to watch meaningless games.”
Chung’s viewpoint is not a common one.
“We’re right on track with our student ticket sales,” Duncan said. “We’ve been selling right around 12,000 every season and we’re certainly on pace to be right around there this season as well.”
Duncan also said there has been no drop-off in alumni and booster sales. And although loyalty is certainly the largest factor here as well, she admits most fans renewed their season tickets before the sanctions were announced.
“We actually have issued a few [sanction-related] refunds,” Duncan said. “But as I said before, our fans are tremendously loyal.”
She pointed out, however, that if fans don’t renew their season tickets, they lose the seating preference.
The one area where the ticket office has experienced a loss in sales is in single-game tickets.
“In the past, we would sell out entire seasons,” Duncan said. “In recent years, we’ve had as many as 1,000 tickets available on the day of a game. That’s not a lot in an 80,000-seat venue, but it’s still more than we’re accustomed to.”
But Duncan believes this is not related to the sanctions.
“We started experiencing this well before there was even any talk of sanctions,” Duncan said.
She instead attributed the loss of sales to the economy and the fact that the team has not been quite as successful in recent years as it was in the mid-2000s.
Duncan brought up that when the basketball team was doing well last year, sales went up tremendously. However, when the university put self-imposed sanctions on the program, including a one year postseason ban, sales fell rapidly.
“The basketball sanctions may have had an impact,” Duncan said. “Not in season tickets, but in single-game (tickets).”
But football remains king at USC.
“There is absolutely nothing like Saturdays in the fall,” 2007 alumna Alexa Maremaa said.
And although the team might not have anything to play for beside pride, that’s all the fans need to root them on.
Perhaps Dan Kasang, a senior majoring in environmental studies, said it best:
“I love football. I love the Trojans. They’re gonna kick ass like always, and I’m gonna love watching it.”