DeKALB – For the second consecutive season, the Northern Illinois football team struggled to keep attendance up since the departure of beloved star quarterback Jordan Lynch.
However, for the second consecutive season, Northern Illinois' per-game revenue for football games went up.
It's been thanks to the addition of several premium seating options at Huskie Stadium, most of which have been added since Sean Frazier took over as athletic director in 2013. According to Jay Vickers, Senior Associate Director of Athletics for Sport Administration at Northern Illinois, the premium seating has been invaluable to keep revenue going while the Huskies are one of several college football teams around the country struggling with attendance.
"It all helps across the board," Vickers said. "We have some work to do. We're never satisfied with where we're at. I don't think you get too much diminishing returns when you have the demand. That's why we try to be very strategic and analytic about how much you build out. We're nowhere near being near premium area fatigue."
According to Vickers, Northern Illinois raised more than $530,000 in revenue from the premium seating area – which include the Sky Club, the Sky Box below the press box, the Terrace Club outside of the Yordon Center, the End Zone Club on the south side of Brigham Field, the Coaches Club below the west grandstands and the chair-back and bench-back seats on the west side of Huskie Stadium.
Vickers has said that there's been a 138 percent increase in donations since 2013 with the premium seating.
The 2013 season – the final year of Heisman Trophy finalist Lynch – had an average attendance of 20,669 for five games, giving a total revenue of $948,370 ($189,674 per game).
A year later, the Huskies attendance plummeted to 13,563 per game in five contests, but had a total revenue of $1,124,114 ($224,822.80 per game).
With a renewed focus to boost attendance this past season, the Huskies bucked the trend of continuing to have a decline in crowds, but only gained around 400 more fans per game. Over the span of six home games in 2015, the Huskies had an average attendance of 13,942 per game. With the additional game, the revenue went up to $1,372,642 ($228,773.67 per game) on the season.
Vickers said the exclusivity of premium seating has been part of the reason for the popularity of the areas.
"I think it always plays a role when it comes to premium areas. I really do," Vickers said. "It's the exclusivity to say I'm going to the club."
Vickers said there's strong popularity in the Sky Club and Sky Box – which is located below the press box and has been wait-listed. The Sky Box features 114 seats inside for $1,250 per season and the Sky Club has 36 seats just outside the Sky Box for $900 per season.
Vickers said the Sky Box has a waiting list of between 25 and 50 people.
"I don't see frustration," Vickers said of those on the waiting list, which is determined by annual donation rate and "priority points," which is how much the person has given in lifetime. "It tells me the reason why we built more premium areas ... because people want to have access to more premium areas where they can entertain their friends or themselves."
While the Huskies have ramped up their efforts into premium seating in the past few seasons, Vickers has said that Northern Illinois has taken notice from universities around the country.
"It's always an arm's race. No matter the sport," Vickers said. "If we're in this business and you look at what other people do. Of course we're looking at it. End Zone Club wasn't invented here. We saw it at other universities. We liked that model and we tried it out and I think it's been well received."
While Vickers said there was no immediate plans for new premium seating next season, he added there is different promotional deals – including being able to combine the End Zone Club and Coaches Club into one pass as a discounted rate.
With 2015 being the first year of the End Zone Club – which are the heated tents on the south side of the Huskie Stadium that cost $125 per game and $600 for the season – Vickers said it didn't sell out, with 46 total passes being sold and plenty of promotional tickets being given out, but was optimistic for the future of the place.
"It met expectations to people getting interest," Vickers said. "As far as dollars accrued, no, we're not satisfied. There's still work to be done."