Few disagree that pay-per-view lowers the Aloha Stadium attendance for University of Hawaii football games. It’s simply too convenient an option for many UH fans to pass up.
But for UH, an institution running a cumulative athletics deficit of $10 million, PPV is a crucial financial device — one that has become necessary after nearly a decade of operation with partners Oceanic Time Warner Cable and KFVE.
The bottom line: In today’s economic reality, profit governs policy. Thus, the service isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, despite the benefits that could be argued for the UH football team having more fans cheer them on in person.
With a front-loaded $2.3 million per year to UH in each year of the current contract, PPV’s price ($480 for new Oahu subscribers last year, $400 for returnees) is a far cry from the modest $75 season price it started as in 2002.
The price and content of the 2010 PPV package is expected to be announced by the end of this week. So far, the cost has gone up every year since its inception.
IT’S IMPOSSIBLE to know exactly how many PPV watchers would go to games were there no live coverage; suffice it to say that some of the people representing the 8,238 average buys per home game last year would have made the trek to Halawa.
UH athletic director Jim Donovan counters that with the total PPV revenue, more money is brought in through the service than if PPV were halted and all seven home games last season had instead sold to capacity at 50,000 — or 13,175 higher than the actual 36,725 average tickets distributed (32,404 turnstile).
UH estimates $1.76 million was left on the table in unsold ticket revenue in 2009, vs. the $2.47 million PPV brought in that year. Donovan equates it to overselling the stadium by about 3,000 people every game.
"So when we’re in financial tough times and we’re running a deficit, why would I do something (stopping PPV for a game or season) that lowered our total revenue?" Donovan said. "It wouldn’t be a financial plus for us."
As for the aspect of a larger crowd’s impact on the game via noise disruption and visual intimidation on opponents, the AD stood firm.
"My personal opinion, the last times I’ve been there, the 36,000 to 40,000 — I think we had 40,000 for Navy and 40,000 for Wisconsin (issued) — they were as loud as some of the 44,000, 45,000 crowds that we used to average in the late 80s and early 90s," Donovan said. "And it sure isn’t a lack of being vocal. The Navy game, the crowd was phenomenal."
ARGUMENTS AGAINST pay-per-view as the primary negative impact on attendance are rattled off by Donovan and KFVE general manager John Fink.
Fink pointed out games like the upcoming season opener vs. USC, which will be televised on ESPN and is expected to approach a sellout despite the fans’ option of watching it free on TV.
"If that were the case, why would (UH) be selling out games that are live on ESPN that is free TV?" Fink said. "Obviously it’s because of the game or against a certain opponent. I think you need to look at the games themselves, you need to look at the weather, you need to look at the records of the opponents. You need to look at whatever else is going on around town, rather than making blanket statements about pay-per-view’s effect of this."
Another point made is that PPV reaches a segment of the population that wouldn’t or couldn’t go to the stadium, anyway: the elderly, disabled, or people who work Saturdays.
Of course, Donovan still wants people at the games — "There’s nothing like being there," he said. He mentioned beefed up halftime shows, family ticket packages and overall lowered ticket prices (average of about $20) as reasons to go.
A FEW LOCAL PPV fans polled about going back to the stadium represent a mixed bag. John Yeh, 35, JJ Johnson, 54, and Tony Manzo, 75, have gone to the same house where about 15 to 25 people have gathered to watch PPV games for the last several years.
Yeh, of Hawaii Kai, considers the pay-per-view setup "perfect" for him. He estimated he hasn’t been to a game at the stadium in 15 years.
"If they didn’t broadcast it … possibly (I’d go back)," he said. "Not so much the opponent … just the traffic, and the whole process of a day. It’s a long day."
Johnson, of Makiki, considered no live TV a "deal breaker" on watching UH, and particularly UH’s opponents.
"Not only the convenience of having friends, but food, and Hi-Def TV," Johnson said. "So it’s a little bit more closeness to the game than the stands."
Manzo, of Waialae-Kahala, hasn’t been to the stadium since pay-per-view began. However, he’d go back if he couldn’t watch it live on TV.
"Yes, if there’s no pay-per-view, yes," Manzo said. "(But) it’s confusion, you know? You go there, a lot of walking, the parking … this, this is beautiful, you know?"