PULLMAN - A deal to move the Apple Cup to Qwest Field, which seemed so close a week ago, is dead, killed not by fan outrage, but by a lack of seats.
“It became evident an understanding on ways to maintain the neutral-site atmosphere in regards to ticket allotment could not be reached,” Washington State athletic director Jim Sterk said in a release Friday that announced WSU was ending discussions to move the game, “therefore, our student-athletes and Cougar fans would not be best served without this key component.”
According to sources in the WSU athletic department, the original agreement gave WSU and the University of Washington each 31,000 seats in Qwest Field every year. But in the past week, UW expressed its desire for about another 7,000 additional seats, the sources said, in an attempt to mollify season ticket holders.
The University of Washington has sold some 38,000 season tickets for this fall already and expects to come close to last year’s 43,500, according to athletics department spokesman Richard Kilwien. The school has sold as many as 56,200 season tickets in a single season since 1995.
“A big part of what we believe is important to us,” Kilwien said Friday before WSU’s announcement, “is to try to work out a system that would make our season ticket holders whole. We want to be able to accommodate everybody that’s a season ticket holder at Washington.
“That’s our ultimate goal. Obviously, to be able to increase our bottom line with a substantial financial guarantee but to also to service our fans in the best way possible.”
WSU’s goal of a neutral site and UW’s desire to accommodate its fan base ultimately couldn’t be reconciled.
“I was not going to continue following a path that was not in the best interest of WSU Athletics, the university and our fans,” Sterk said in the release. “What made this possible agreement attractive were the additional number of tickets available to our fans, the financial gain seen by the athletic department, and the tremendous exposure created by playing a game of this magnitude at one of the premier sporting venues in the country.
“However, the final details could not be ironed out.”
The deal called for WSU, UW and First & Goal, which runs 67,000 seat Qwest Field, to stage the Apple Cup in the Seattle facility each year. In exchange for the six-year deal, each school was to receive more than $10 million above what the game would have generated in the same time period.
When the news broke nine days ago that the schools were in the process of putting this deal together, both WSU and Washington message boards exploded with outrage over the possibility of moving the rivalry game from home sites. In the past few days, however, as more details emerged, the financial considerations began to take center stage.
This week Sterk talked about the possibility of losing sports, employees and other cutbacks and brought up the specter of WSU’s Pac-10 membership being in jeopardy. Washington State’s $30 million athletic budget is about $14 million less than the conference’s next lowest, Oregon State.