When asked how hosting at least two football playoff games this season will help the bottom line, Eastern Washington University athletic director Bill Chaves didn’t hesitate.
“It really doesn’t,” said Chaves, explaining that after meeting NCAA guarantees and subtracting expenses, “we know we’re not going to make a lot of money, but we’re not going to lose any, either.”
And since the NCAA takes three-quarters of that profit, it made sense for the athletic department to set ticket prices “as friendly as possible so people would come to the games,” Chaves explained.
The result: “Incredible,” said Chaves, laughing at his unintentional pun of the “incREDible” posters that in turn play off the Eagles’ signature red field.
“I think the community has really gravitated and the program is on the upswing to the point where people are excited about going to the games,” Chaves added.
Attendance for Eastern’s first-round FCS playoff win over Wagner was 7,039, lower than some people expected but almost double the 3,665 who came to Roos Field two years ago for a first-round win over Southeast Missouri State.
Truth is, the road to Frisco, Texas, was paved with a lot of bare aluminum: a snowy quarterfinal game against North Dakota State drew 4,600, and the semifinal win over Villanova was witnessed by just 6,600 hardy spectators.
And while December in Cheney can freeze the turnstiles, the Eagles’ success has turned heads. When the Cal Poly team played at Eastern for the first time early last month, the team bus tilted when it came over the hill north of campus as players strained for a look at the red turf.
Last week, fans from Wagner – from hard-to-impress New York – were “giddy” to be playing at the Inferno, Chaves said.
What matters most is gaining a larger piece of the pie in Spokane’s sports market, especially as the school hopes to gain traction for the ambitious Gateway Project that envisions, among other things, boosting seating capacity at Roos Field to more than 18,000.
To turn an old movie quote on its ear, Eastern hopes to build it after more people come.
A better fan experience has helped, including a new video scoreboard and a better game-day, tailgating atmosphere in the sold-out parking lot. Chaves credits the school’s marketing department for raising awareness with outlets at the airport and River Park Square.
The success is still largely based on the success of the football team. Coming off a national title, the Eagles averaged a school-record 8,889 for four games in 2011, and almost reached that level this year despite not playing at home until Sept. 26.
Despite frigid, windblown conditions, the Eagles drew 8,714 for Sacramento State on Oct. 20, 8,644 against Cal Poly on Nov. 11 and 6,011 for a bone-chiller with UC Davis on Nov. 10.
Going into Saturday’s quarterfinal game against Illinois State, the Eagles are averaging 8,263 fans this season.
Tickets for Saturday’s FCS quarterfinal game against Illinois State cost $20 for premium seating in sections C and D, $15 for sections A, B, E and F, $15 for end zone and $10 for east-side seating (behind the visitor’s bench).
Tickets may be purchased via www.ticketswest.com or at 1-800-325-Seat. Season ticket holders and fans who indicated to the ticket office that they wanted their tickets automatically renewed do not need to call the Eastern ticket office, but will have their tickets left at will-call.