After a rare afternoon kickoff for Arizona this week at Colorado, the Wildcats return to their usual #Pac12AfterDark time slot next week. The UA is slated for an 8 p.m. kickoff next Saturday against No. 15 Washington.
Schools throughout college football have minimal control over start times. Most of those decisions are made by TV networks, whose rights fees provide millions of dollars in revenue for each institution.
Still, one can’t help but wonder how the late start times are affecting Arizona’s attendance. The Wildcats drew fewer than 40,000 fans for the Texas Tech and UCLA games, which both kicked off a little after 7:30 p.m. Arizona hadn’t had consecutive crowds under 40,000 since 1997.
“We can't change kickoff times, as much as we dislike them,” UA athletic director Dave Heeke said. “I have real strong concerns about kickoff times. We have lots of conversations. Those won't end. I'm very sympathetic to our fans. I won't ever take my eye off that.
“But we've got to focus on what we can control: the product on the field; the experience at the stadium.”
Heeke spoke to the Star on Saturday about the athletic department’s “strategic plan,” a 35-page document it released Tuesday that outlines its goals for the next several years. The plan is divided into five pillars. The second is dubbed “Grand Challenges.” The first initiative within that pillar is revenue growth, and the first objective listed is to “develop strategies to increase ticket revenue.”
“You've got revenue streams that need to be more maximized,” Heeke said. “In football, we've got a big gap.”
Heeke knew Saturday afternoon that there would be “a lot of open seats” for the UCLA game – even though Arizona was coming off consecutive victories and facing a Pac-12 rival. He compared the empty seats to “inventory sitting on (a) shelf.”
“We've gotta figure that out,” Heeke said. “That's not just as easy as saying, ‘Win.’ That's a big part of it. But it's been a tough ticket here for a long time to max out.
“Do we have the right mix inside the facility? What other things can we do?”
The UA already has refurbished the east side of the stadium and made minor upgrades to the west side. The next big step is overhauling the latter.
Heeke told the Star earlier this year that finalizing plans would take about a year; that the construction project would take about two years; and that the cost would be at least $150 million. Finishing the project in time for the start of the 2022 season would be the best-case scenario. Heeke on Saturday reiterated a timeline of “three-plus years.”
“It's beyond a rough draft,” Heeke said of the project’s current status. “We definitely have some really good plans and concepts on paper that we've reviewed with our team. We've got to get to a point where we're going to settle on what is most important and get a final figure, a cost figure. And that's what we're trying to do here over this next … 8-12 months.
“And at the same time building a funding model – a very aggressive but responsible funding model that can support that. That's challenging when you start approaching the 150-plus mark. But we can't stand still. We've got to figure out a way to do that.
“I don't want to put us on a timeline, but we're going to try push it as hard as we can.”