Women’s college basketball has a harder time attracting an audience than popular sports like football. For several decades, the University of Tennessee Lady Vols was a rare exception. A powerhouse D1 basketball program, they dominated on the court under their iconic coach Pat Summitt, winning eight national titles and enjoying incredible fan support at the turnstiles. The Lady Vols are also the only team to appear in all 36 NCAA Tournaments to date.
Much of the credit for the success of the Lady Vols goes to the late Pat Summitt, who inspired, motivated and coached the team on and off the court for 38 years. Shortly after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2011, she stepped down as the winningest D1 coach in NCAA history with an incredible 1,098 victories.
While remaining among the attendance leaders for women’s basketball, fan support at Lady Vols games began to slip. The strong alumni season ticket base that Coach Summitt had helped to grow was gradually aging out. Since her retirement, Tennessee’s attendance has decreased every year except one since the 2007-08 season when the Lady Vols drew an average of 15,796 fans per game. At the same time, attendance at Tennessee Volunteers men’s basketball home games has been following a similar trend for the past decade.
In 2015, a sports writer for Time magazine declared that Americans “seem to be falling out of love with college basketball.” Tennessee’s established fan base, comprised largely of alumni who bought season tickets, was waning over time. And today’s students are increasingly following sports from a distance; on television, smart phones and other digital devices. Getting them into the stands is a growing challenge.
Recognizing that subscriptions like Spotify, Netflix, HBO and iCloud Drive are winning with younger generation consumers, with many willing to spend small amounts on things that interest them, University of Tennessee Athletics decided to create basketball ticket subscriptions, for both its women’s and men’s teams.
Enter the Lady Vol Pass (and Vol Pass for men’s basketball) – an entry-level subscription with a twist – priced at $99 for the season.
Holders of a Lady Vol Pass or Vol Pass were guaranteed a seat for all 17 home games. Instead of having an assigned seat for the season, they had the opportunity to pick their own from the best available seats 48 hours prior to each game. On top of the extremely attractive price, the Lady Vol Pass offers the opportunity to test drive different sections at Thompson-Boling Arena.
For each game, fans also had the option to pay the single-game price to purchase extra seats for friends, family or co-workers next to the one they had chosen.
The new subscription option became available for the first time in the 2016-2017 season and was incredibly successful.
- Over 800 Lady Vol and Vol Passes sold in 2016-2017 season, when subscription was first introduced.
- Sales more than doubled for the 2017-2018 season, with over 1,900 Lady Vol and Vol Passes sold.
- Approximately $250,000 in total incremental revenue generated by Vol Pass sales for the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 seasons.
- Vol Pass subscribers spent an extra $5,000 buying seats to bring a friend, family member or colleague in 2016-2017.
- The National Association of Collegiate Marketing Administrators (NACMA) recognized Tennessee’s Vol Pass with a bronze medal in the revenue generation category in 2017.
- Exposed the game to new fans and younger attendees.
- Affordable option for those who like the idea of opting in without committing to a traditional, full-price season ticket.
“The $99 season passes were created to cater to fans’ needs, providing flexibility, affordability and a seamless way to support the teams,” said Jimmy Delaney, Associate Athletics Director for Fan Experience and Sales. “What makes the Vol and Lady Vol pass something we’re proud to offer is that the end goal in both plans was to bring a great fan experience to Vol Nation.