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San Diego State Calling for a Team Effort : Selling Football Tickets Is Now Top Priority for All Athletes, Coaches

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

The caller was a member of San Diego State’s rugby team, but he wanted to talk about the American brand of football.

Specifically, Greg Blumenfeld was attempting to sell SDSU football season tickets.

Why would a rugby player want to sell football season tickets?

Try money, which is a scare commodity these days in the SDSU athletic department. For each season ticket sold, 25% of the money goes directly to the athlete’s team.

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Fred Miller, SDSU’s athletic director, has mandated that every Aztec team sell football season tickets. That’s why athletes such as Blumenfeld may be asked to spend one night a week on the phone talking football, American style.

Each weeknight at SDSU’s athletic administration offices, the building becomes a Phone Central Station of sorts. Athletes, coaches and Aztec boosters are there phoning prospects with past ties to SDSU in regard to buying season tickets.

The ticket campaign began March 15, but the results won’t be definitive until football season begins in September. Phone Central Station has accounted for 264 season-ticket sales.

“It has been slow, but anticipated slow,” Miller said. “There has been a lot of apathy here. Would we like to have better success? Yes. Are we disillusioned? No.”

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The SDSU football team had a 5-6-1 record in 1985--and mediocre season ticket sales to match. The Aztecs sold 8,708 season tickets last year, but just 6,811 were renewed for 1986 by the March 15 deadline.

Miller, hired as athletic director in December, implemented the season-ticket sales plan. He said the Aztecs would like to double their season ticket base, but they would “feel good” if they sold 14,000 season tickets.

Among the new concepts for selling season tickets:

--Each coach was required to put together a sales team of at least 10 people. There are 20 teams involving 300 salespersons.

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--Each sport had its budget frozen for next year but will receive 25% of the money from every season ticket the team sells. The team receives 20% if the ticket is renewed for a second year and 15% for each year thereafter.

Each sport was given a choice when to have its campaign--March 11 through May 8 or June and July. Football and basketball, the two most visible sports teams on campus, have chosen to make their pushes in the summer. Football is now involved in spring practice and basketball is still in recruiting season.

The callers normally begin working at 7 p.m. Jim Herrick, the ticket sales consultant, gives each solicitor a list of people to call.

Herrick, formerly a sales representative for the Sockers, was hired to organize the campaign.

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According to Herrick, three groups are target audiences: (a) former Aztec season-ticket holders, (b) individuals who have bought Aztec tickets through Teleseat and (c) alumni living in San Diego.

In addition, SDSU students will be given summer jobs selling football season tickets and be paid on a commission basis. Their target audience will be businesses in the vicinity of SDSU, according to Herrick.

On the first call to a prospective buyer, solicitors attempt to get current addresses so they can send brochures. If that step is achieved, return calls are made a week after the brochure is mailed.

“I think it’s a good concept,” said Dr. George Holland, a longtime Aztec booster and team dentist. “I know it is very time consuming. The ones doing it are longtime boosters who believe in the program. I believe in the program, Fred Miller and what he has done. I think a lot more positive has been going on in the last four or five months than in a long time.”

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SDSU coaches have been made aware that, from now on, selling football season tickets will be part of their job. Henceforth, whenever SDSU hires new coaches, the job description will include marketing and sales, Miller said.

“Is it necessary? Yes,” Miller said. “Do we need a sales force? Yes. Do we expect people to run to our doors? No. We have to go ask people.”

Rudy Suwara, women’s volleyball coach, said he attempts to spend two hours a day selling tickets. Suwara, who said the campaign cuts into his free time, considers it necessary.

“I’m not going to be hired or fired on how I sell football season tickets,” Suwara said. “I’ll be hired or fired by how well volleyball does in the fall. I know if I sell football season tickets, I’ll get money for my program. If you have money, you’ll be successful. You can recruit and have an attractive schedule.”

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Initially, selling football tickets did not sound like a good idea to Suwara.

“The way I thought at first, I thought maybe I should be selling volleyball season tickets,” he said. “The truth is, more people are football fans. I’ll make more money than if I was selling volleyball tickets.”

Though Herrick gave Suwara a list of people to call, Suwara said many of his calls have been to volleyball acquaintances. Likewise, Carol Plunkett, the women’s tennis coach, said she has been calling local tennis contacts.

“They generally want to know why tennis people are calling to sell football season tickets,” Plunkett said. “I think the community as a whole is aware of the situation where football funds our program. People understand that concept. If they don’t have an interest in football, some of them will donate to our program.”

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Though the nights have been tedious at times because of a lack of positive responses, they have not been without memorable--albeit touchy--moments.

Plunkett said: “One of our girls is Danish, a really excellent player and a super kid. She chatted with one person for quite a while. When she hung up, she asked, ‘What does deceased mean?’ ”

When Plunkett explained, her player sheepishly said, “Oh, that’s too bad.”

Though Blumenfeld is a veritable novice when it comes to phone solicitation, he seems to have the technique down.

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Blumenfeld gave this example: “I called one guy who used to have tickets with a buddy. I talked to him and said that his buddy wanted to buy tickets. Then, I called the other guy, and told him that his buddy wanted to buy tickets.”

Whether such a “buddy” system works is inconclusive. The two buddies involved have yet to respond concerning a renewal of the Aztec season tickets they had canceled.

Because rugby at SDSU is not funded, Blumenfeld said he told “sob stories” to people. “The thing is, I try to make them feel sorry for us,” Blumenfeld said. “One response I hear a lot is that the football team has been bad. I tell people we have a new coach, Denny Stolz. If it’s a man on the phone, I’ll start talking football. One guy started griping because Coach Stolz’s (Bowling Green) team had an 11-1 record last year but lost, 51-7, to Fresno State (in the California Bowl.) I told the guy that Denny Stolz still has a better record than (his SDSU predecessor) Doug Scovil.”

Thus far, apathy has been the major obstacle. Aztec season-ticket holders have felt betrayed by two moves of the past. Some did not renew their tickets in 1980, when seat locations were moved from one side of San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium to the other because the team bench had moved from the south side to the north side. And some more canceled their tickets in 1982 when SDSU switched from night to day games for one season.

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“A lot of people were jostled before,” Herrick said. “The fact that they liked Aztec football might transcend their grudges. Some of them might give us another chance.”

Denny Stolz, SDSU football coach, has not been among the phone solicitors because of spring practice. However, Stolz said he has returned 20 to 25 calls from people who asked specifically to talk with the head coach.

Stolz said some people have called with “suggestions” on how to run the football team, but he wouldn’t elaborate on specifics.

“I think there are several attitudes out there,” Stolz said. “One is, ‘Boy, I’m glad somebody is finally calling me.’ Then, there’s a show-me group in any community. But the thing we enjoy is when people say it’s the first time anyone has called and encouraged them to buy tickets.”

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In the long run, the football team has to do the ultimate selling job.

“This is all a gamble that the football team will improve and become successful,” Herrick said. “If football doesn’t do well, people won’t renew their tickets.”

Said Stolz: “A lot of teams in the NFL draw huge crowds because fans feel they are trying hard and are exciting to watch. We hope you don’t have to win every game to draw a following. Michigan has played to total sellouts for 10 years, and so has Ohio State. They didn’t win all of their games.”

However, neither university ever had to have its entire athletic department peddling football season tickets, either.

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