Quietly, Florida is doing much, much more than it has in recent years to prop up attendance for its football program — especially for its non-conference snoozers.
The Gators have already put together a slew of initiatives to drive turnout to their season opener against New Mexico State. Last Saturday brought news that Florida students could buy "guest tickets" to the September 5 contest for just $5, likely a discount of $20 on the face value for a ticket to that game. $15 tickets to the East Carolina game are available through the Florida Farm Bureau. Tickets to the New Mexico State, East Carolina, and Florida Atlantic games can be included in three-game packages headlined by a ticket to the Mississippi or Tennessee games that effectively discount each ticket by $5.
And now, via an email I just received, Florida is selling tickets via discount deals site LivingSocial:
Fans can buy two tickets in sections 318 to 329 — essentially, upper-level sections that stretch from the northeast to northwest corners of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium — to either the New Mexico State or Florida Atlantic games for $39, a discount of $5.50 on the face value of $25 per each single game ticket.
This isn't entirely new, and Florida's not the first school — even in the state — with seats available on a deals site, nor will it be the last. Earlier this summer, Groupon offered a package bundling tickets to Florida State's 2015 games against Texas State and Chattanooga with a Bobby Bowden-autographed photo, discounting all the items at least marginally — but that was through secondary ticket broker Official Fan Package, and that deal was a spectacular failure, with Groupon's page suggesting only one such package was purchased.
The LivingSocial deal, on the other hand, quite clearly exists with the backing of Florida's University Athletic Association, with "No vouchers provided by LivingSocial" appearing in the fine print and Ticketmaster ultimately handling the transaction.
I personally can't see the value in paying $19.50 for upper-level seating, especially when a few minutes of searching on Ticketmaster found multiple tickets for $27.25 (including fees) in Section 4, Row 7 — just above field-level on the more northern 15-yard-line. But the deal page suggests more than 100 such packages have been purchased.
If discounts on verified tickets directly from Florida aren't enough to get you out to the game, though, you might consider hitting up any buddies you have who hold season tickets. As Ryan Hinckley revealed on Twitter on Tuesday night, Florida appears to be mailing long-time season ticket-holders extra tickets for the New Mexico State game, along with a note from Jim McElwain.
Without dishing too much about Ryan, he (and his parents) are the sorts of die-hard Florida fans it would make tons of sense to ship extra tickets to; they'll know other people who will actually use them, so forsaking $50 on a pair of tickets is worth the goodwill of pleasing both loyal customers and their guests.
But piecing all of these efforts to sell extra tickets together, it's crystal clear that Florida is more than willing to sacrifice money — potentially thousands and thousands of dollars, given that selling just 100 packages of two tickets through LivingSocial would produce $1,100 less in revenue for the UAA even before LivingSocial and Ticketmaster deduct their cuts — to put fans in the stands.
I'm skeptical, very skeptical, about whether this will actually work. Savvy fans know by now that the market for tickets to these games is very much a buyers' market, and I would be floored if anyone with enough patience and nerve couldn't get a ticket to the New Mexico State game for $5 or less from a scalper on the day of the game — but that's the price that Florida is offering to fans through student guest tickets, anyway, so it might not even cost that much to get a ticket from a desperate scalper.
I can't knock the hustle, though. Florida seems to have deemed the value to the program of fans in seats at a relatively meaningless game as greater than the full monetary value of every ticket, and I think that's wise.