Empty seats: Students didn’t buy enough athletic passes this year, but Athletics says they won’t kick them out yet

K-State fans cheer on their football team during their homecoming football game against OU in Bill Snyder Family Stadium on Oct. 26, 2019. The Wildcats upset the No. 5 Sooners with a final score of 48-41. (Logan Wassall | Collegian Media Group)

The student section in Bill Snyder Family Stadium has been considered one of the best features of the game day experience in Manhattan for some time. The Bleacher Report puts Kansas State in the top 20 football student sections, citing its small but mighty presence at the 50-yard line.

But that could change.

For the first time since 2009, student athletic pass sales dipped below 7,000 — the threshold at which K-State Athletics can remove students from midfield at home football games.

Athletics and the Student Governing Association entered the agreement in spring 2018, when the department formally terminated their Privilege Fee agreement and stopped receiving student dollars.

“The agreement was based on the student fee, which we no longer get anymore, and I think we decided to continue the agreement because we want students to come,” Athletics Director Gene Taylor said.

In the agreement signed by SGA and Athletics representatives, students will keep their seats on the 50-yard line if — and only if — 7,000 student athletic passes are purchased and an average of at least 4,000 students attend each football game.

At this point in the season, average attendance for football games sits at 4,456, according to K-State Athletics data last amended on Oct. 6.

But, when it comes to pass sales, students are about 300 passes short at 6,701 passes purchased.

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Data used to support this graphic were provided by K-State Athletics. (Infographic by Kaylie McLaughlin | Collegian Media Group)

“We realize that we’re in violation of the contract and are simply trying to figure out a way to get students more involved at games and more interested in our athletics as a whole,” Dalton Willbrant, SGA’s Athletics liaison and junior in civil engineering, said in an emailed statement.

Why aren’t students buying as many passes?

Student pass sales have been declining semi-steadily since they peaked at 9,587 in 2013.

Willbrant said there are any number of reasons students might forego passes this year, specifically referencing the football record in recent seasons and the changing values of college students.

Taylor said it’s possible student pass sales fall with enrollment.

“I’m sure if you were to look at the numbers from a percentage perspective that the number of students that are declining in enrollment, our attendance, it probably does match that,” Taylor said.

(Emily Lenk | Collegian Media Group)

What comes next?

Student body vice president and junior in chemical engineering Ali Karamali said the decline has opened conversations

“I don’t think they’re going to immediately terminate our contract and kick us in the corner of the stadium, but I do think we’ll open up a conversation about renegotiating that contract,” Karamali said.

Taylor said Athletics does not want to take away the student-designated seats in Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

“The bottom line is, we don’t want to change what we’re doing,” Taylor said. “We don’t want to take seats, we want to do everything we can to entice our students to come and they drive the atmosphere in both football and basketball, they drive the enthusiasm.”

That being said, Taylor said the status quo might change if things do not turn around.

“It’s in conversation simply because we need to talk about it, it doesn’t mean anything different is going to happen next year, but I think as we continue to see the numbers go down, we want to do everything we can to get the numbers back up. The conversation is more about that right now,” Taylor said, “but at the same time there is reality — if it does continue to decline, at some point, we may have to look at adjusting. That’s kind of like the last thing we want to do.”

Willbrant said SGA leadership and Athletics are kicking around ideas.

“There has been talk of moving us to the north end zone and selling that 50 yard line marker to alumni to boost revenue and also … to simply keep it as it is and hope that by next year, we can turn around this ongoing trend of declining ticket sales,” Willbrant said.

In the meantime, Taylor said Athletics has spent about $100,000 marketing passes to “entice” students and plans to keep doing so. Other tactics include giveaways and focus groups. Additionally, Willbrant said plans are in the works to send surveys to the student body to find out what they want to see from Athletics and the game day experience.

“We are doing everything we can to try to entice the students to keep coming,” Taylor said. “We would prefer to have that section filled every game and we’re continuing to increase our marketing efforts toward our students.”

For now, students can expect to keep their 50-yard line seats at football games and mid-court at basketball games.

“We really don’t want to change anything. If our attendance continues to decline then … we will have to look into and see what options are available,” Taylor said.

My name is Kaylie McLaughlin and I'm the ex-managing editor and audience engagement manager of the Collegian. Previously, I've been the editor-in-chief and the news editor. In the past, I have also contributed to the Royal Purple Yearbook and KKSU-TV. Off-campus, you can find my bylines in the Wichita Eagle, the Shawnee Mission Post and KSNT News. I grew up just outside of Kansas City in Shawnee, Kansas. I’m a senior in digital journalism with a minor in French and a secondary focus in international and area studies. As a third-generation K-Stater, I bleed purple and my goal is to serve the Wildcat community with accurate coverage.