As a Kansas University graduate, Lee Johnson knows KU football can be a tough sell.
During the six years Johnson spent on Mount Oread earning undergraduate and master's degrees in sports management, the Jayhawks won two bowl games. They also endured three losing seasons and posted a modest record of 38-31 between 1992 and 1997.
Johnson, 28, came home to his alma mater in February as director of marketing. One of his top priorities will be selling KU football tickets.
"It was a thrill to have this opportunity to come back to KU and to take the knowledge I learned in the corporate world and make it fit into college athletics," said Johnson, who spent the past two years at Charles Schwab in San Francisco, working on the company's corporate sponsorships of the PGA Tour, PGA Senior Tour and U.S. Ski Team.
Ticket sales from football and men's basketball are critical for the athletic department, generating funds that help support the Jayhawks' 14 other varsity programs. KU axed men's swimming and men's tennis in a cost-saving move after the 2000-2001 school year.
Johnson isn't daunted by the task ahead.
"It's a challenge that I enjoy," he said. "There's excitement here because of the new coach and excitement around the program."
KU officials hope that new football coach Mark Mangino can generate more victories and more fans. Kansas averaged 39,778 fans for seven home dates last year when the Jayhawks went 3-8, finished last in the Big 12 North and saw coach Terry Allen fired with three weeks left in the season.
Kansas sold 19,418 season tickets in 2001. KU officials declined to reveal how many season tickets had been sold at this time last year, but KU appears to be on pace to top last year's total.
"We'd like to fill the stadium, but a realistic goal is 20,000 to 25,000," Johnson said of season-ticket sales.
The latter number might be within reach. With the Sept. 14 home opener against Southwest Missouri State a little less than four months away, Kansas already has sold more than 10,000 season tickets. That figure does not include student-ticket packages or Jayhawk Business Partners.
Director of ticket operations Diana Grover said those two options should generate at least 7,000 more season tickets.
KU also has not yet solicited recent graduates. That discounted package Â $99 for graduates from the previous five years Â accounted for about 700 season-ticket purchases last season.
Johnson said KU is selling an average of 115 season tickets per day, and that number might not drop any time soon. In a few weeks KU will begin its direct-mail campaign, sending thousands of brochures to Kansas fans.
In addition, KU Picnics will start May 22 in Garden City. Athletic director Al Bohl and other KU officials will make 10 stops around the state to meet fans, talk about the upcoming season and Â of course Â sell tickets.
"Now is a very good time to be buying season tickets because as popularity grows and the team does well, the demand for season tickets will increase," Grover said.
In other words, good seats are still available. But if Mangino turns the program around, prime seats might be harder to come by in the future. Season-ticket holders have the opportunity to renew their tickets each year.
Season tickets for this year's six-game home schedule cost $157, down from last year's seven-game price tag of $175.
KU will have to rely more on its own fans to fill Memorial Stadium's 50,250 seats this fall. Two conference teams whose fans travel well Â Oklahoma and Nebraska Â won't be on the home slate. The Jayhawks play Nebraska (11-2 last season) Nov. 9 at Lincoln and won't face the Sooners at all.
KU's 51-7 loss to Nebraska drew 50,750 fans last November. The only other home game that came close to a sellout was a 38-10 loss to Oklahoma that drew 48,700 in October.
Arch-rival Missouri (4-7) often draws a throng, but the Jayhawks will face the Tigers Oct. 26 in Columbia.
Johnson, however, isn't worried about whose not on the home schedule.
"I don't think it's a tough schedule (to sell)," he said. "We have a good opportunity to win some games."
After opening the season Aug. 31 at Iowa State (7-5), KU plays the following week at UNLV (4-7) before the home opener against SMS (5-5). KU plays host to Bowling Green on Sept. 21, followed by road games at Tulsa (1-10) and Baylor (3-8).
Two home games likely to draw big crowds will be the Oct. 12 homecoming game against Colorado (10-3) and a Nov. 2 date with Kansas State (6-6). In between are a home game against Texas A&M; (8-4) on Oct. 19 and the aforementioned date with Mizzou.
The Jayhawks' 12-game slate doesn't include an open date. After traveling to Lincoln, KU closes the regular season with a Nov. 24 home game against Oklahoma State (4-7).
For more information call 1-800-34-HAWKS or log on to kuathletics.com.