rebels football:

UNLV finding creative ways to push football season tickets, optimistic crowds will be improved this fall

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

A sparse crowd attends the UNLV vs. Wyoming football game Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012 at Sam Boyd Stadium.

Updated Friday, July 19, 2013 | 5:24 p.m.

UNLV vs. Wyoming Football

UNLV running back Bradley Randle gets past Wyomingn cornerback Marqueston Huff during the first half of their game Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012 at Sam Boyd Stadium. Launch slideshow »

Season football tickets starting prices for Mountain West schools

  • UNLV $90
  • UNR $90
  • Air Force $150
  • Boise State $230
  • Colorado State $150
  • Fresno State $140
  • New Mexico $78
  • San Diego State $66
  • San Jose State $75
  • Utah State $95
  • Wyoming $198 for new ticket holders; $190 for renewels

The UNLV football team’s mid-November home finale last season was similar to most end-of-the-year games in recent memory — the stands were virtually empty.

Already guaranteed their 12th-straight non-winning season, just 10,717 fans were in attendance for the Rebels’ 28-23 loss to Wyoming. When the players desperately needed a boost from the home crowd with the game in question, there simply weren’t enough fans at Sam Boyd Stadium to make an impact.

Tina Kunzer-Murphy, in her first month as UNLV’s interim athletic director, hopes to help change that. She was formerly the executive director of the Las Vegas Bowl, helping take the event from the verge of being canceled to sellouts in multiple seasons in more than 20 years working with the game.

It’s impossible to expect a similar impact with a UNLV football program some locals have no interest in supporting, but Kunzer-Murphy is determined to be creative in finding ways to improve attendance. The home opener is 7:30 p.m. Sept. 7 against Arizona.

“We want people to come out and make a difference,” she said. “Game days would have such a different feel by getting people out to the stadium and cheering for our team. When you get 30,000 people in that stadium, it’s a game-changer. It creates an atmosphere everyone wants to be part of.”

Season tickets were already very reasonable at $90 — that’s for all seven home games, not one. Then, in the initial promotion under Kunzer-Murphy’s watch, she helped make it even more affordable with an online offer of tickets to two games for just $30. One of those games must be against Arizona or Oct. 12 against Hawaii — two nights officials anticipate will be the best crowds of the season.

“We are working to set the tone for that first game against Arizona,” she said. “We’ll do everything we can to make sure you have a good time at the stadium. We have to get people to say they want to come back and check it out again.”

Last year, there were about 4,000 season ticket holders — tickets priced $90 to $115 are for the end zone; other seats cost up to $365 for prime spots on the sideline and require a $150 donation to the Rebel Athletic Club.

Kunzer-Murphy reports nearly 80 percent of the season ticket holders from last year have been renewed. Additionally, another 250 have been purchased, helping them reach 96 percent of their revenue from last year.

“To be honest, we aren’t where we want it to be and we know that,” she said. “We are heading in the right direction. We just have to keep moving there.”

Last season, UNLV ranked last out of 10 teams in the Mountain West in averaging 15,208 fans per game, or 41 percent of Sam Boyd’s 36,800 capacity. In seven home games, they had a total attendance of 106,456 — which is less than Michigan had for any of its six home dates.

When you consider the Rebels have lost 22 consecutive games away from Sam Boyd, defending their home turf is paramount.

Click to enlarge photo

Tina Kunzer-Murphy has resigned as the executive director of the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas. She held the position since 2001, when ESPN Regional Television took over ownership and operation of the game.

That creates a similar problem each season. UNLV needs more fans to help create a true home-field advantage, but locals traditionally won’t support struggling programs regardless of the team or sport. They’ll jump on the bandwagon once a team starts winning, but as witnessed by the empty seats against Wyoming, steer clear of losing programs.

UNLV isn’t the lone Mountain West program faced with poor attendance. And, in following the same pattern as Las Vegas, league teams struggling at the box office also struggled on the gridiron.

Wyoming and Colorado State each averaged less than 20,000 fans per game in 2012, and New Mexico averaged 22,307 fans with less than 18,000 in its final two games. Three teams went a combined 12-25 last year; UNLV, of course, is 6-32 over the past three years.

As for the winning teams: Perennial league power Boise State averages nearly 32,000 per game to fill 95 percent of Bronco Stadium and UNR averages about 23,400 per game, or 75 percent of the capacity of Mackay Stadium.

Those numbers help fuel Kunzer-Murphy’s quest to fill Sam Boyd. It’s an easy formula — winning teams play in front of respectable crowds; losing teams resemble the Rebels’ game against Wyoming. Making tickets affordable, especially when the stadium isn’t even half-full, is a no-brainer decision.

Other teams in the Mountain West have similarly priced season tickets. At San Diego State, general admission season tickets range from $66 to $95, while other schools have season-ticket plans starting at less than $100 — San Jose State ($75), New Mexico ($77) and Utah State ($95).

Boise State, which almost always plays in front of a near-capacity crowd, demands the most for season tickets in the Mountain West starting at $230 for the end zone. Season tickets at instate UNR start at $90, just like UNLV.

“That’s a great value for seven home game,” Kunzer-Murphy said.

In comparison, season tickets for students at Nebraska are $189 dollars — at UNLV they are free, and the school still struggles to get students to the stadium because it's located off campus. At national power Ohio State, which plays in a 102,000-seat stadium, regular-season tickets begin at $989 in the nose-bleed section.

It’s easy to see why Ohio State is competitive each year, or why Boise State is a perennial league power and also in the conversation nationally. Profits from season tickets give the programs money to continue growing — from recruiting to facilities and hiring quality coaches.

UNLV doesn’t have that luxury, but Kunzer-Murphy and her crew are working on reversing the trend. They’ve also offered two-for-one tickets for graduates, run a Father’s Day promotion and have contacted several businesses about hosting events at the stadium.

“Our marketing department is working hard and they are focused,” Kunzer-Murphy said. “The good news is we are nearly at 80 percent at renewals at this point. Coming off last season, that is something we can be proud of.”

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.

CORRECTION: The story has been updated to correct a reference to the number of people who attend UNR games. | (July 19, 2013)

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  1. security needs to get better. Im not taking my wife and kids there to be insulted and bombarded with thrown crap every time. no thanks