America's Home for College Sports

Led by Vols Deal, Ticketing Solutions' Rolls
IMG College Ticket Solutions helps schools with custom programs ranging from consulting to comprehensive outsourcing
Aug 04, 2011

About seven years ago, Matt DiFebo set out to transform college athletics ticket sales.

Following successful stints filling seats for the Seattle Super Sonics and Tampa Bay Devil Rays, DiFebo realized his model--recruiting a dedicated professional staff and providing them the tools, tracking, training, and incentives for year-round, relationship-focused selling--was perfect for college athletics.

The University of Florida graduate joined University of Central Florida (UCF) as an associate athletic director in 2005 to roll out the concept. In short order, the school increased its season ticket base to more than 23,000--a jump of 13,000 season tickets. In one year, UCF added more than $4.5 million in ticket revenue and nearly $3 million in additional fundraising.

Others started to notice, and UCF allowed DiFebo to learn about the challenges of "putting butts in seats" at schools in markets big and small. He formed the DiFebo Company with UCF as its anchor client in 2009.

IMG College took notice as well, acquiring the company in 2011 and integrating it into the Business Ventures Division.

Already, the deal is paying dividends. Following the signing of Duke in early May, the University of Tennessee, San Jose State, and University of Texas San Antonio also asked IMG Ticket Solutions to manage their respective school's athletics ticket sales through a full-time sales staff located within the school's athletic department.

Current partner Temple University, which increased football season ticket sales by over 100% in one year, also signed a two-year extension.

While more Americans purchase tickets to college athletics events than any other sport--each year more than 100 million fans attend events and top college football programs routinely exceed the leading NFL teams' average event attendance--the overall ticket marketplace is increasingly competitive. IMG College Ticket Solutions helps schools with custom programs ranging from consulting to comprehensive outsourcing.

"In four months, schools from all corners of the U.S. have committed to our `in-house, privatized' solution," DiFebo said. "It's `in-house' because we operate within and as official representatives of the athletics department, and it's `privatized' because the staff is recruited, managed, and compensated by IMG College."

"Taking a more aggressive and professional approach to selling tickets is long overdue in college sports," said Chris Fuller, Sr. Associate Director of Athletics at Tennessee, home of three premier venues: Neyland Stadium, one of the nation's largest football stadiums; Thompson-Boling arena, at one time the largest U.S. facility ever built for basketball; and newly renovated Lindsey Nelson stadium for baseball.

"Tennessee has loyal, generational fans, but like all Americans, they have less discretionary time and income," Fuller said. "Unlike professional sports, many universities are asking fans to invest in multiple sports. Achieving a greater reach in our ticket sales efforts through creative, commission-driven outside experts is a great step for not only Tennessee but college sports in general."

A.J. Arem, who worked alongside DiFebo at UCF, was appointed general manager of the school's program.

In the highly competitive Bay Area, San Jose State University (SJSU) is the Ticket Solutions Division's first west coast partner, primarily targeting the school's large student and alumni base--95,000 alumni living in San Jose and 175,000 alumni in the Bay Area.

"The upside to this partnership is enormous," said Tom Bowen, director of athletics at SJSU. "Matt DiFebo's proven track record and IMG's expertise form the basis to upgrade our marketing and increase our visibility and home game attendance. This is the right way to go about dramatically increasing our ticket sales as our overall athletics program gets better and better."

Matt Harper will serve as GM for SJSU's ticketing partnership.

"Schools of all sizes and fan bases recognize the value in having a specific ticketing sales force to complement the marketing and development efforts of the athletics department," said Mark Dyer, IMG College SVP and Chief Innovation Officer. "While college sports have never been bigger or more successful, today's sports entertainment market is also more competitive. Our fan-centric model helps colleges compete more effectively."