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UO ticket sales still lagging

EUGENE — Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens wants to go streaking again.

The hard part is talking everyone else into rejoining the party at Autzen Stadium.

“We have a lot of work to do to start another sellout streak,” Mullens said.

Oregon sold out 110 consecutive games at Autzen Stadium (54,000 capacity) from 1999 until drawing 53,817 fans for the 2016 opener against UC Davis.

Despite the buzz first-year coach Willie Taggart has created on the recruiting trail and with his energetic approach to retooling the program, there are plenty of seats available for six of the seven home games this fall, including the Sept. 2 opener against Southern Utah.

“The challenge we have typically for that first game is the students aren’t back yet,” UO senior associate athletic director Craig Pintens said. “So we’re tracking a little behind where we need to be, but that (opening) game usually sells a couple thousand in the last week. And it’s the lowest-priced game.”

According to data provided by the athletic department, the average renewal price of a season ticket is down by 3.9 percent, with 65 percent of seats decreasing in price and the other 35 percent remaining flat at 2015 rates.

As of Monday, Oregon had sold 36,840 season tickets, which is down from last year’s total of 37,404. The program’s record was 43,295 in 2011, the season after Chip Kelly’s Ducks played for a BCS national title.

The six games in 2016 at Autzen Stadium averaged 54,677 fans, a decrease of 5 percent from 2015 and 9.5 percent from 2014 when Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota led the Ducks to the national championship game.

Michigan led the FBS in average attendance (110,468) and was one of seven programs to average over 100,000 fans per home game in 2016.

Oregon ranked fourth in the Pac-12 behind USC (68,459), UCLA (67,459) and Washington (64,589).

“We’re very fortunate to have an extremely passionate fan base,” Mullens said. “Obviously I wear green and yellow glasses, so I would say we have the best fans certainly on the West Coast and I would stack them up against anybody in the country, except for maybe size.

“Autzen will always be a tremendous home-field advantage.”

Mark Helfrich and his assistant coaches were fired after a 4-8 finish, the program’s worst season in 25 years. The low point was when a crowd of 58,8422, the only sellout at Autzen Stadium in 2016, watched as the Ducks’ 12-game winning streak against Washington ended with a 70-21 defeat.

The downward spiral in football didn’t prevent Oregon’s best-ever finish in the Director’s Cup, which scores athletic departments based on each institution’s collective finish in up to 10 men’s and women’s sports.

During the 2016-17 athletic calendar, Dana Altman coached the Ducks’ to the men’s Final Four for the first time since 1939, the women’s basketball team made a surprising run to the Elite Eight, men’s golf finished as the NCAA runner-up and softball returned to the Women’s College World Series.

But revenue from the football program pays for about 70 percent of the athletic department’s budget.

“We need to sell football tickets,” Mullens said. “It’s the economic engine that allows us to support these other sports that can finish ninth in the Director’s Cup, which is remarkable, almost unbelievable in a certain sense.

“So it’s not to where we want it to be. We’re exploring everything that we possibly can to make that happen.”

Season ticket prices range from $348 to $499 for seats that don’t require an additional donation to the Duck Athletic Fund. The more premium seats range from $649 (including a $150 DAF donation) to $2,371 ($521 season ticket, $1,850 DAF donation) for a seat in the Charter Box.

Oregon’s marquee nonconference matchup on Sept. 9 against Nebraska is an official sellout. Pintens said sales of three-game “mini-plans” are also up significantly from last year.

The Ducks’ Pac-12 home schedule includes California (Sept. 30), Washington State (Oct. 7), Utah (Oct. 28), Arizona (Nov. 18) and Oregon State (Nov. 24).