How are Ole Miss football’s season ticket sales comparing to a record-setting 2016?

Published 6:00 am Thursday, June 29, 2017

 With a little more than two months remaining until Ole Miss’ football season begins, there are still season tickets for sale.

It’s not surprising considering everything swirling around the program, but that’s also why school administrators are content with where the numbers are in the middle of the summer, particularly after last season’s record-setting sales.

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Fresh off a 10-win season capped by a Sugar Bowl win, Ole Miss sold out its allotment of 46,946 season tickets for the 2016 season by late June, the most the school had ever sold in a season. Things are different heading into the 2017 campaign with a bowl ban already in place as part of the penalties stemming from the NCAA’s infractions case.

Yet as of Wednesday, the school had sold 43,941 of its public tickets for the upcoming season. Public tickets don’t include student tickets, the visiting team’s allotment or the band, which make up the rest of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium’s capacity of 64,038.

“Right now, I know we’re behind where we were last year at this point in time, but we’re only a few thousand away from another sellout,” Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork said.

Of the 43,941 sold, 1,990 are new tickets, or tickets that have been sold to people who have never had season tickets before or upgraded their ticket package, but renewals declined after the Rebels’ 5-7 showing last season — Ole Miss’ first losing season under head coach Hugh Freeze. The NCAA investigation isn’t helping with results of a survey recently issued by the school to fans that chose not to renew their season tickets by the March 31 deadline revealing the long-running probe as the second-most popular reason.

Ole Miss’ allotment has also been a sliding scale in recent seasons with expansion of the South end zone in 2015 followed by the North end zone’s expansion last season pushing the stadium to its current capacity.

“I think it’s, one, we expanded our stadium and we had a lot of first-time season-ticket holders, so I think a lot of the people that chose not to renew are in that category of being a first-time ticket holder,” Bjork said. “I think it’s a combination of how the season went last year and then you add the NCAA layer into that. I think it’s a combination of a lot of different factors.”

But Ole Miss is like every other program when it comes to the main reason season tickets are becoming a harder sell. Lucrative television contracts have resulted in nearly every game being broadcasted live, making it more convenient for fans to watch games from home and eliminating season tickets as a necessity.

“The distribution of our live content is basically maxed out,” said Michael Thompson, Ole Miss’ senior associate athletic director. “You can watch any of our games live on TV. We’re just seeing the secondary market where people can kind of say, ‘Hey, I don’t really have to commit to all seven (games in a season-ticket package). I may go to all seven, but I’ll just go to StubHub and grab four tickets to this game.’”

Similar to previous years when Ole Miss hasn’t sold out its season tickets by this point, the school has launched a digitally focused marketing campaign aimed to reach people with online advertisements. Bjork is hopeful the natural progression toward the season will also help close the gap, but he’s being realistic about the school’s chances for back-to-back sellouts.

“I would say as we get closer to football — the talk of SEC Media Days helps and drives the narrative around football — I think we’ll see more sales toward that number,” Bjork said. “We have anticipated not being fully sold out of season tickets but really, really close.

“Knowing that our challenge is there and real, we have to face that and hit that head on and we are, but I think the Ole Miss fans will continue to respond.”