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Illinois making changes to season ticket purchasing process

Jun. 5—CHAMPAIGN — The business model around college athletics is changing.

Revenue sharing with athletes is coming — a reality the Illinois Division of Intercollegiate Athletics spent the last year preparing for in attempt to further capitalize on growth it had seen in monetary support of the football and men's basketball programs.

More than 10,000 new season tickets were sold for the 2023 football season, which is part of a 38 percent growth in season-ticket sales the previous three years, according to Illinois. The 2023-24 men's basketball season featured 11 sellouts at State Farm Center, the most season tickets sold in a decade and a third straight year of record revenue.

Changes are coming to how fans access both programs. Illinois is shifting to what it deems a more modern approach to season-ticket sales that will provide fans more control over their ticket-buying experience with a corresponding lower entry point price to become a season-ticket holder.

"We knew we needed to modernize the approach we take to our fan engagement," Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman said about changes that were announced on Wednesday. "Fans expect a more efficient, more technically savvy experience. This is not reactive to some of the news that came out (last month). ... We didn't know what it would be, but we knew some changes would be coming.

"It puts us in a stronger position to engage with our fans more effectively, which, at the end of the day, does help our business. Business under increasing needs to generate revenue."

Some things won't change about the season ticket-buying experience. Twenty-three percent of the available seats at Memorial Stadium require a priority seating contribution on top of the season-ticket cost. Sixty-three percent of the seats at State Farm Center require the same.

The change? Those priority seating contributions have decreased in price and don't require the purchase of multiple season tickets. The latter is a prominent change given Illinois found just two percent of season-ticket holders use their maximum ticket allotment in the current system.

Illinois is stressing its new approach, which won't take affect until the 2025-26 athletic year, as "one seat, one price," where a projected 82 percent of fans will pay the same or less for similar seats.

Changes to the season-ticket-buying process, though, will come with a full reseating of Memorial Stadium and State Farm Center in 2025 and continued reseating in 2031 and 2035 for football and 2029 and 2033 for men's basketball.

Illinois worked with a third-party firm, Elevate Sports Ventures, to elicit feedback of the proposed changes from 1,000 fans via surveys and focus groups. That group included long-time season-ticket holders, significant donors, new season-ticket holders and fans that are likely to buy tickets for a few football or basketball games each season.

"For us to continue to grow and bring on new fans, we have to have a simpler approach," said Tom Moreland, Illinois' chief commercial officer. "We need our fans to experience that when they go to . If there are seats available and they want to purchase them, we have to have a system where they can."

Moreland said the surveys and focus groups revealed that parking for games, tailgating and the necessity to buy six, eight or 10 tickets depending on giving level were top of mind for the fans. Moving to a per-seat system, which Moreland likened to buying a seat on an airplane or for a concert, was seen as the most significant change needed.

"That's something our fans really weighed in on," Moreland said. "'Hey, I just want to be able to buy two seats, tailgate in lot 31 and go to the games and support the program. I don't necessarily need six or eight seats.' They wanted to make sure they could drive and customize the experience they had coming to games. That's what we responded to.

"We need a system that is a per-seat system. For so many people, buying six and eight tickets maybe isn't as realistic as it used to be. They want to buy two or buy four. They want to have a more customizable approach when they come to games. For us, to provide the best fan experience possible and best customer experience possible, we're going to change to this approach, which I think every fan will benefit from."