STILLWATER — Adam Barnes remembers the way the combination of rust and rain would ruin a white shirt when he attended Oklahoma State football games at Lewis Field as a student in the early 2000s.
And the way the stands were never close to full.
So Barnes, now OSU's director of sales, admits he never would have imagined the Cowboys would ever be pushing toward selling 50,000 season tickets, a number the school could legitimately hit by kickoff on Sept. 1 after setting a new public sales record for the second consecutive year.
As of Monday afternoon, OSU had sold 36,668 public season tickets, an increase from last year's mark of 36,651. Compare that to 2008, when OSU sold 30,309 public season tickets.
“It's a goal of ours to grow our fan base and to retain our fan base,” Barnes said, “and we're beginning to do that like we never have at Oklahoma State.”
The next key number to surpass is the total number of season tickets sold to the public and students of 48,714. OSU's figure as of Monday afternoon was 41,229, a number that is skewed right now because students usually wait until returning to campus for the fall semester to buy tickets.
Of course, the Cowboys' 41-11 record over the past four seasons, capped by last season's historic run to their first Big 12 championship and a dramatic overtime victory over Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl, makes the job easier for Barnes and his staff in the marketing and ticket offices. But they have also used other means to try to increase ticket sales.
For the first time, OSU hired a three-person staff of retention representatives this year to focus on working with season-ticket holders to ensure they would renew for 2012. Additionally, OSU extended its “Fun Zone,” a discounted area in the 300 level, by three sections, while any seat in the 300 level came at a discounted price when a four-pack of tickets was purchased.
“When you have a product as good as what we're putting on the field, it's an easier sell,” Barnes said. “We don't rest on our laurels on that, though, because obviously we've had a good team for a long time, but we're 10,000 tickets ahead of where we were five years ago.”
Barnes said continuing to increase public sales is still a major goal, since those patrons are the most likely to retain their tickets for a number of years. But in order to reach that 50,000 mark, OSU needs to turn a greater focus to student tickets.
As of Monday afternoon, 4,561 student tickets had been sold. But classes begin Monday, which should lead to a sharp increase in student sales beginning this week as they make their way back to Stillwater. OSU also will welcome its largest freshman class this fall.
Barnes expects between 12,500 and 13,000 student season tickets to be sold, which would give OSU a total figure between 49,168 and 49,668 without any more increase in public sales. That would set a school record.
And if that magic mark of 50,000 season tickets is hit before Sept. 1, Barnes said his staff “will go crazy.”
“I knew that the paradigm had shifted, because of what Mr. (Boone) Pickens had done,” Barnes said of the progress over the past five years. “He had given us the shell. He had kind of set the table, I guess is the best way to say it, for what OSU could do.
“And under the leadership of (athletic director) Mike Holder and (coach) Mike Gundy, they fed us.”