C-USA Raises Bar for MTSU Attendance

July 5, 2013

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By: Adam Sparks, The Daily News Journal
Now that the pomp of MTSU’s official entrance into Conference USA has settled just a bit, it’s time to start capitalizing on the move.

On the field, the Blue Raiders hope to repeat success similar to last season’s 8-4 record. Offseason workouts continue, and players are slated to report to preseason camp on Aug. 1.

Off the field, MTSU needs to make a good first impression in the new league by selling tickets and filling up more of Floyd Stadium that previous seasons.

“We want to measure ourselves more with East Carolina and Southern Miss, and (higher attendance) is under that broad conference component that we want,” MTSU athletic director Chris Massaro said. “We can get a lot better. We need to get back to averaging more than 20,000 like we did before, and I think we need to consistently get to averaging 25,000 like a Conference USA school can.”

MTSU’s average attendance for home football games dipped slightly from 18,407 in 2011 to 17,738 last season. Massaro said it was not surprising that sales slipped coming off a 2-10 record in 2011. He has set a minimum goal of a 10 percent increase in season-ticket sales this year (that total number has hovered around 6,000 sold the past few seasons).

That task primarily rests on The Aspire Group, an outsourced yet on-campus ticket sales and marketing firm brought in by MTSU as a new approach to building its fan base while stepping into C-USA.

In the past, MTSU has sold tickets only through its ticket office by phone (1-888-YES-MTSU), in-person and on the school’s official athletic website All three options still exist, but Aspire specializes in proactive sales by seeking, contacting and connecting with potential ticket buyers for football, men’s and women’s basketball, and baseball.

In the bowels of Floyd Stadium — specifically in the office space at Gate 3 — Aspire has been hard at work throughout the summer. Manager Rob Titterington, three full-time sales consultants and one intern man the ticket-selling movement every day. For now, their primary function is reaching potential MTSU ticket buyers earlier in the year, with the consistency that each client desires and an added personal touch.

“It may look like telemarketing, but it’s really not. It’s building a relationship with our fans, each and every one of them,” said Titterington, a sharp 26-year-old manager who has been in the ticket sales/marketing business for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Atlanta Motor Speedway, Rutgers and Georgia Tech.

“And by doing that, we are going to increase attendance, and that will only make the game experience even better for the fans.”

If successful (and it often is in its 26 collegiate properties), Aspire is affordable for MTSU. The athletic department only pays an annual management fee of about $80,000 and a small portion of sales consultants’ commission on tickets sold.

It’s even more manageable with an increase from $100 to $115 for each sideline season ticket, still among the lowest priced at the FBS (Division I-A) level. But Massaro’s hope is that the addition of Aspire will pay for itself and get MTSU’s fan base more comparable to C-USA standards.

Among the 14 schools in C-USA for the upcoming 2013 season, MTSU ranked 11th in average home attendance last season — only beating out UAB and fellow Sun Belt Conference alums Florida Atlantic and Florida International.

Each school in the top half of the current C-USA averaged more than 22,000 per home game last season. East Carolina averaged 47,013, followed by UTEP (29,374), league newcomer UT-San Antonio (29,226) and Southern Miss (25,750).

Eight of the 14 current C-USA schools received a boost by hosting a major conference opponent to pad their overall attendance average. Southern Miss played Louisville and Boise State at home, for example. And Rutgers and Ole Miss came to Tulane, and so on.

This season, MTSU has no such non-conference opponent. But it does host in-state foe Memphis and attractive new C-USA opponents in East Carolina and Marshall at Floyd Stadium.

“The timing of bringing us (Aspire) on board could not have been better with getting into Conference USA,” Titterington said.

Massaro cut his administrative teeth in ticketing at South Carolina more than 25 years ago. He sees MTSU’s approach as a three-prong process: (1) Put forth a good product, or win; (2) sell tickets in a professional manner; (3) properly service those ticket-buyers to produce repeat customers.

The latter two can be greatly aided by Aspire, according to Massaro.

“It’s four full-time people doing nothing but focusing on sales and service,” Massaro said. “And I also think that will free up more time for our marketing department so they can concentrate on marketing to our student body. We need a loud, live and active student body, and we started to see that more last year with our Blue Zoo.”

Some fans may have already seen a difference in the ticket buying experience. All should see it by season’s end.

“We take a pro model and implement it into a college setting,” Titterington said. “It’s all about customer service, and the beauty of this thing is that we contact you as often as you want. We are going to reach out for the first time whenever we get to your name. If you say you want us to check in once a year, that’s fine. If you want to chat every week, we can do that too. It’s up to the client. We are here to provide great customer service for whatever that client needs.

“One dedicated rep will be assigned to the client, so they will build a relationship with that person,” Titterington continued. “The client will have that sales consultant’s email address and direct phone line and in some cases their cell phone number. And during one of those six football games, we will come out and visit each of you, shake your hand and see what we can do to make that experience better for you.”

To view the article and see the video interview with MTSU FRMC Manager, Rob Titterington, please click here.

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