FSU athletics department anticipates attendance increase in football, hockey

BIG RAPIDS —On the heels of one of its most successful years in recent memory, the Ferris State athletics department are looking for new ways to capitalize on the buzz surrounding one of the hottest brands in the GLIAC.

The Bulldogs captured at least a share of five conference titles during the 2011-12 sports year, including the second ever CCHA title in ice hockey that brought national exposure to the university.

Now the FSU athletics department must find a way to translate that success on the field to revenue through ticket sales, which will begin when the Ferris State football team takes the field on Sept. 15 for its home opener against Ashland.

BIG STAGE: Ferris State’s Andy Huff looks to put a shot on net against Union in the NCAA national semifinal. FSU’s appearance in the Frozen Four could help ticket sales for the program this fall. (Pioneer file photo)

“We’re looking for innovative and creative ways to make the experience better for our customer,” FSU associate athletics director Jon Coles said.

Coles believes tickets may be easier to sell this season because of some of the success the Bulldogs have had in a number of sports. FSU finished with a third place finish in the GLIAC President’s Trophy Race (the school’s highest finish in four years). It also finished with a school all-time best 15th ranking out of nearly 300 NCAA Division II institutions in the final Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup standings for 2011-12. The finish was the best in school history and tops the previous highest set during the 2004-05 campaign.

“This is the most buzz I’ve heard and felt surrounding Bulldog athletics since I’ve been here,” said Coles, who has been with FSU since 2008. “With the five conference championships to the hockey run we made — there’s a definite buzz surrounding the program.”

To attract more fans to Top Taggart Field, Coles and the athletics department have worked with area businesses and organizations in recent years to create special theme days to attract more casual fans to games.

This season will be no different, Coles said, with the addition of several promotions in hopes of increasing game day attendance.

One that should create a buzz, Cole said, is a partnerships FSU athletics has made with the university’s Music Industry Management Association and The Gate in Big Rapids. The groups will bring a tailgate concert series to Top Taggart, which will provide pre-game entertainment from bands prior to each home game.

Every game, weather depending, there will be a concert in the parking lot, where tailgating is traditionally done.

“Once the band plays for us in the afternoon, they’ll play at The Gate that evening,” Coles said. “It’s a good partnership that we have in store with both (MIMA) and The Gate.”

FSU’s attendance numbers in recent years have been steady for home football games — bringing in between 2,400 and 3,000 fans per contest since 2007, according to the athletics department.

Last year, FSU had an average attendance of 2,651 for its six home football games. That was down from 3,050 in 2010, but comparable to numbers throughout the last five years.

With a new coach on board in Tony Annese, Coles believes that number could grow for a number of reasons: The buzz surrounding the hire, Annese’s winning reputation and his connection to the Grand Rapids market, which could lead to more interest from the casual fans an hour south of Big Rapids and beyond.

“I think it helps, especially with the Grand Rapids market,” he said, also mentioning the hire of Grand Rapids area women’s basketball coach Colleen Lamoreaux-Tate. “That market will be following us more closely. If we get rolling, which I think we will, I think you’ll see Big Rapids become a destination point now, because (fans) have a tie now.”

To put more people in the stands, Ferris State is attempting to get people interested in purchasing their tickets ahead of time, Coles said, by implementing advance and gameday ticket prices. Adult tickets will be $7 in advance and $9 on gameday, while FSU facults/staff, seniors and K-12 students can pay $5 in advance or $7 on gameday.

“We want to get our patrons in a mindset of buying early and not waiting until the last second,” Coles said. “We, like our customers, don’t like having to stand in line on gameday.”

Another revenue opportunity that will result in a better gameday experience for fans is the ability to purchase chairbacks along with season tickets for an additional $55.

The department’s biggest source of ticket revenue, Coles said, continues to be hockey. Although Ewigleben Ice Arena attendance numbers have been steady in recent years, Coles and the department expect those numbers to rise with the recent success the Bulldogs have experienced with a CCHA title and a trip to the Frozen Four.

In 2011-12, FSU had an average attendance of 1,932 for its home games — the highest average since at least 2003-04 (the last year of attendance records available).

The visibility of the hockey team’s success along with the buzz it has created could make attendance numbers equally impressive this year, Coles said.

Student ticket sales, where FSU experiences its highest volume of sales, continue to rise, reaching 417 last season — the highest total since 2003-04.

It is with the students that the team’s success has had perhaps the greatest impact, Coles said, noting that FSU already has sold more than 100 student tickets to incoming freshmen.

“They’re now coming to school kind of expecting to be a part of the fanfare,” he said of the student population. “They want to be a part of it without even really knowing what it is. Nothing sells better than winning — you can come up with all the gimmicks you want to sell tickets, but people want to be a part of and see a winning program.”

Season and single-game tickets for the 2012 campaign are currently on sale now. For more information on ticket sales, contact the ticket office at (231) 591-2888 or visit

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