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Posted: August 01, 2011

Sports biz: Bronco-mania, CSU-style

Stewart Schley

The strategy adopted by the marketing team at Colorado State University for the upcoming football season is built around good old horse sense.

Or in this case, Boise State Broncos sense.

Within a realigned Mountain West Conference, an Oct. 15 game at last season's No. 9-ranked Broncos is the marquee home game for the Rams, and CSU knows it. So the athletic department has rigged an interesting preseason ploy around the big game.

Here are your choices for getting a ticket: Be a CSU full-time student, become a member of the Ram Club booster group, make a group buy for 50 people or more (party!) or buy a season-ticket package or multi-game "mini-plan."

What you can't do for now is fire up your Internet connection and buy a solo ticket to the game. CSU opened up single-game sales July 11, but CSU's matchup against the mighty Broncos, which joined a reconstituted Mountain West Conference, is excluded until Aug. 15. Season-ticket holders, on the other hand, will get reserved seats for the Broncos as part of their overall package, which includes seven home games this year versus six last season. Prices are the same as 2010 - a nod to the moribund economy.

Will the stunt work to pull in more multi-gamebuyers? Ben Chulick hopes so. The CSU athletic department's director of marketing thinks the allure of Boise State and its Heisman-candidate quarterback Kellen Moore is so strong that it could compel fence-sitters to step up.

"The strategy is to use that game as leverage to get some of those people to purchase season tickets or the Mini-Plan," he says. Chulick's department also will stage what it calls "Operation Sellout," an effort to recruit local businesses as allies in making sure Hughes Stadium is at its 32,000-person capacity for the 4 p.m. game.

"We're going to do everything we can," Chulick says. "The more people we have, the better it impacts the economy."

As Chulick points out, CSU also is being more creative this year with Mini-Plans. For example, one of them pairs the CU-CSU Rocky Mountain Showdown at Invesco Field with CSU's Sept. 10 home opener (Northern Colorado) for $70, or $10 off the combined face value. And the Mountain West Mini-Plan offers sideline tickets to Boise State, San Diego State and Air Force for $90.

The more inventive salesmanship is designed to put more fans in the seats following consecutive 3-9 seasons under head coach Steve Fairchild. Last year, the number of season ticket holders dwindled to around 7,000, equal to about one-third of CU's season-ticket base. Chulick says sales through mid-July were pacing slightly slower. But there are positive signs: CSU is getting more Denver-based alumni to motor up Interstate 25 thanks to a stepped-up alumni communications program, and last year's homecoming game sellout against UNLV proved fans will respond to the right mix of opponent and promotion.

Chulick's job will get easier, of course, if CSU can win a few early games. He's hoping a more seasoned offensive line and a year under the belt of sophomore quarterback Pete Thomas will help. CSU also has high hopes for linebacker Mychal Sisson, who's frequently mentioned as an All-America candidate.

Still, it's uncertain how the revamped Mountain West will affect CSU's on-field fate and its success in recruiting fans. The conference lost prominent teams including Utah (it defected to the expanded Pac-12) and Brigham Young University (which went independent). There's a lot riding on Boise State's entry, including the hope of BCS recognition, for a conference that's in flux.

"I think it's a wait and see," Chulick says. "People are initially disappointed with the loss of Utah and BYU, but with Boise State coming in this year, and Nevada, Fresno State and Hawaii next season, it looks like it can be a very strong conference."

Oops! Last month's column incorrectly listed Pasadena, Calif., as the site of the Denver Broncos 1998 Super Bowl victory over Green Bay. San Diego (duh!) was where it really happened.
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Stewart Schley writes about sports, media and technology from Denver. Read this and Schley’s past columns on the Web at cobizmag.com and email him at stewart@stewartschley.com

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