PULLMAN – A deal to move the Apple Cup to Qwest Field, which seemed so close a week ago, died Friday – not from fan outrage, but of a lack of seats.
“As of this morning, those discussions have ended,” Washington State University athletic director Jim Sterk said. “We felt, as far as Washington State going into this, a neutral site was important, very important to us.
“Basically, I wasn’t going to continue down a path if that was not the case.”
Word leaked less than two weeks ago that WSU and Apple Cup rival the University of Washington were working with First & Goal, the company that runs Qwest Field, on moving the game to the Seattle facility.
To entice the two schools to leave their campus sites for six years, First & Goal was offering each a guaranteed increase of more than $10 million over what they would make playing the game in either Husky Stadium or Martin Stadium, Sterk said.
The draft agreement gave WSU and the University of Washington 31,000 seats each in 67,000-seat Qwest Field each year, Sterk said last week. But in the past week, the University of Washington expressed its desire for about 7,000 additional seats, according to a WSU source.
“Some issues about tickets and how they were distributed were at the forefront,” is all Sterk would say Friday.
The University of Washington has already sold some 38,000 season tickets for this fall and expects to come close to last year’s 43,500, athletics department spokesman Richard Kilwien said.
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 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, so Washington State is moving forward.
“As far as President (Elson) Floyd and myself, we feel we need to move on,” Sterk said. “Never say never, but we’re moving on and not planning to revisit this in the near future. But I can never say it won’t be revisited again.”
With Washington State deciding not to pursue the move, Sterk said, there will be even more pressure on the athletic department, which receives 8 percent of its $30 million budget – the Pac-10’s smallest – from the university in the form of tuition waivers and benefit support for employees.
Proposed state budget cuts and tuition increases could mean a $2 million hit to the department’s 2009-’10 budget that begins July 1.
“There are financial challenges,” Sterk admitted. “Over the next month and a half we’re going to be … looking at our budget and how we can reduce expenses and increase revenues.”
WSU will try to boost the latter partly through more intense fundraising. Sterk said the discussion over the possible Apple Cup move has motivated Cougar fans.
“Over my period of time at WSU, we’ve doubled our donor base, but we really need to double that again,” said Sterk, who is in his ninth year as athletic director. “If we can double our annual support, then we have an opportunity to minimize (cuts).”
But income from staging the Apple Cup at Qwest Field isn’t part of the equation.
“We put a lot of time and energy into this,” Sterk said. “However, once it was determined it was not the right thing to do, I can move on and I am.
“I need to look to the future of WSU athletics. That’s why this game was important to consider.”