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Game day bill adds up

by Rob Peirce

SPORTS WRITER

Maybe it's the fact that West Virginia is 4-2 and in contention for a bowl game. Or maybe you're trying to see Heisman hopeful Michael Vick of Virginia Tech play in nearby Blacksburg, Va.

Whatever the reason, you and the family have decided to go to a Big East Conference football game this season.

However, along with Mountaineer blue and gold, please remember to bring plenty of green -- in your wallet. A Big East game might be an enjoyable way to spend a Saturday, but it's also costly.

For example, an afternoon at Mountaineer Field with the full experience factored in can cost upwards of $160 for a family of four, and that doesn't count parking.

Four general admission tickets run $25 apiece, hot dogs are $2 and 22-ounce sodas are $3.50. A five-quart bucket of popcorn intended for four people is $4.

T-shirts for the youngsters can run anywhere from $14-18, and hats are between $12-18.

Hey, relax. It gets worse for other schools.

Hokie fans in Southwest Virginia pay $164.90 for the same deal, again minus the parking, only subtract the popcorn and add a $5 game program.

Virginia Tech charges $28 for general admission tickets to most home games, except for Virginia and West Virginia. Tickets to those games run $33.

The Miami Hurricanes charge $15 for the majority of home games. But for Virginia Tech and Florida State, the price is doubled. Miami can justify this, because those games traditionally sell out.

But the Hurricanes' $15 ticket price is one of the lowest in the conference.

"We market it as being the best sports value in town," Miami assistant sports information director Joe Hornstein said. "It's fairly reasonable, considering we compete against all the pro teams."

The Florida Marlins, Florida Panthers, Miami Heat and Miami Dolphins all play home games in Miami.

Overall, ticket prices might seem expensive, but times change with the economy.

"We'd all like to have $5 tickets, 25 cent bags of peanuts and 25 cent hot dogs," said David Chambers, associate athletic director for external affairs at Virginia Tech. "But the economics aren't like that anymore."

Family Plans

Many schools have begun to fight today's economics and enticing fans to games with family plans. But these seem to be lacking in the Big East.

Miami has a Publix Family Plan for season tickets. In this plan, two adults and three children can purchase season tickets for $299.

West Virginia doesn't have a family package in place, but it does have a mini-season ticket package for four games, costing $100. Regular season tickets for all seven home games are $175.

The Mountaineers do have a family plan of sorts in place for basketball, however. Four general admission tickets and four meals -- consisting of a hot dog, a coke and a five-quart bucket of popcorn -- runs $30.

A few years back, West Virginia tried this at football games, but it wasn't as receptive.

"People are more interested in a quality seat for football," West Virginia ticket operations manager Debbie Travinski said.

Virginia Tech had a family plan but got rid of it, because the demand for Hokies tickets has become so great that discounts aren't necessary. Fans will buy them at full face value.

"Over time, the rationale for the (family) program gets lost, and it gets too difficult to police an application," Chambers said. "And it's just that the demand for Virginia Tech football is such that we don't need to discount tickets. Football clearly is the life-blood of the athletic department."

Pittsburgh doesn't have a family plan, either. But what it does have is the "Panther Prowl." Two hours before kick-off, the band will strike up, and fans can shake the hands of the Panther players.

The idea here is that Saturdays are an event -- not just a football game.

"There are some additional things other than what's going on between the hashmarks on the field," Pittsburgh sports information director E.J. Borghetti said. "You can't (shake hands) with (NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers players such as) Jerome Bettis or Kordell Stewart."

Comparing ticket prices

Although it's easy to see the similarities and difference among ticket prices around the Big East, it's rather difficult to compare the Big East with conferences around NCAA Division I-A.

That's not something Big East Conference officials do on a regular basis, associate commissioner of communications John Paquette said.

As far as ticket prices within the conference go, it's up to the school.

"It's an institutional decision, because it's their revenue," Paquette said. "Sometimes, the home schedule matters. For West Virginia, I know the Notre Dame game has spurred ticket sales."

West Virginia's athletic department is self-sustaining, meaning it doesn't get financial help from the university like most other athletic departments do.

In fact, in bowl games and NCAA appearances and the like, the athletic department gives money to the university, Martin Schafer of the American Vending Company said.

American Vending, based in Clarksburg, supplies concessions for West Virginia home games.

Fans still coming

Despite the escalating prices for tickets, concessions and souvenirs, the fans still are packing the seats.

Bill Norris of Clarksburg has had West Virginia season tickets since the late '50s. He and his wife have missed one home game, and that was because of a wedding.

Although he admits the high prices might be keeping some fans away from the stadiums and glued to the TV, he'll still go to the games.

"I'm a die-hard fan," Norris said. "But it's not cheap anymore to attend. You just watch what you spend."

What Norris and Gary Poling of Clarksburg do is adjust. They will bring their own food into the game, so they don't have to fork over at the concession stands.

"It's quite ridiculous," Poling said. He also has season tickets to Mountaineer Field and travels to road games within driving distance. "They kind of put the fork in you to see if you're done."

Norris does have a suggestion for West Virginia -- a ticket discount for the lesser-known opponents, such as Idaho. The way ticket prices are now, a game against Idaho costs the same as a game against Notre Dame.

Just as Miami and Virginia Tech charge more for games they know they'll sell out regardless, maybe the Mountaineers could charge less for certain opponents.

"I think they could fluctuate a little bit," Norris said.

Sports writer Rob Peirce can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at sports@exponent-telegram.com

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