The doors on JMU football’s first season in the FBS have closed, which ended in a dramatic 47-7 victory over Coastal Carolina and a share of the Sun Belt Conference East Division title.
It’s been pretty quiet on the football front ever since, until an announcement from JMU Athletics on Jan 23.
2023 season tickets are on sale.
But there’s a new element this year — a reseating and reparking process, in which fans get a chance to renew or find new seats throughout Bridgeforth Stadium and to get a new tailgating/parking spot. This chance comes along every four years.
“I’m actually really excited about the ticketing, or the reseating and the reparking because it gives me a little bit more of a shot to have a little bit better seats, or a little bit better parking,” JMU alum Will Macgill (’92) said. “It makes me want to give a little bit more just because of that.”
The whole process of reseating, reparking and everything in between revolves around the JMU Duke Club, particularly the Pride and True Fund, which is the fundraising arm for the athletics budget and student-athlete scholarships. The goal is to allow season ticket holders the chance to move seats for the next four seasons, and to allow ticket holders who weren’t a part of the last reseating process in 2019 to get new seats based on their donations.
“It’s a process we’ve had in place for a while, and it allows us to make sure that fans are getting access to the best possible seats,” Kevin Warner, JMU assistant athletic director for communication, said. “It allows us to also make sure that access to seats matches donation levels.”
Football’s 8-3 season saw all-time high season ticket sales. On the first day, season tickets were already on pace to break last year’s all-time record of 7,708 packages purchased, with roughly 1,100 season tickets sold on the first day.
That number is up to over 2,300 season tickets sold now.
“The first year was like a trial-and-error year,” Warner said. “And this year, it’s like, okay, you’re seeing automatic progression of what are some of those progressions.”
Even though the 2023 home game dates aren’t fully announced, it’s still enough for some fans to get excited for when the fall arrives.
“I think that’s when you look at why we made the decision to join the Sun Belt,” Warner said. “This year’s home schedule validates it. Look at App State and Old Dominion and Georgia Southern and even UConn as a nonconference game. Those are teams people know.”
The visitor’s section
Usually, sections 7 and 8 make up the visitor’s section, located by the Gate B entrance on the side closest to Bridgeforth’s scoreboard. It’s away from the Marching Royal Dukes’ endzone and facing the expanded side of the stadium, while conveniently placed right on their team’s sideline.
That’s not the case any longer.
The visiting section is now in the upper deck in Bridgeforth, which sits in sections 401 and 402. The upper section is frequently one of the lowest-attended sections, but the decision to move the visitors to the upper corner came to fruition after seeing other Sun Belt place visitors in similar areas, namely App State, Georgia Southern and Old Dominion.
“It’s putting our fans in the best position in the best seats in the stadium,” Warner said. “Particularly in this case, it provides us a little bit more room to expand to some general admission possibilities or those really heavy student games.”
JMU fans took immediate notice of the new season ticket plans when announced Jan. 18, with more positive reactions than negative. However, there were some fans who expressed frustrations because they have to change their seats.
“I’m very disappointed because we sat in section 6,” JMU parent Andrea Clay said. “So we were right across the aisle from the student section. And we did that on purpose, because it’s so fun to be over there.”
It’ll still take a while before there’s a true understanding of how many fans will be at each home game. But moving the visitor’s section has been one change that’s intrigued fans for the upcoming season, and puts Bridgeforth in a surrounding environment of purple and gold streamers.
The reseating process JMU undergoes every four years allows newer JMU Duke Club donors and new and long-time season ticket holders to change their seats if they’d like — depending on their donation amounts. The more someone donates, the sooner they can pick seats.
JMU fans have until May 15 to select their season tickets and make their contribution to the Duke Club that matches with their giving level. Then, the JMU ticketing office provides each season ticket holder a short window when each person can go into the system and select their seats.
“This kind of allows a cyclical recycling to make sure that all donors and all season ticket purchasers have access to seats on a fair, open basis,” Warner said. “And then once they do that, then they have those seats for four years. So they don’t have to feel, ‘OK, every year I get to do this again.’ And not sure where they’re gonna sit next year.”
For a lot of fans, they’re usually sitting in the same seat or somewhere in the same section. Occasionally, fans prefer to move toward the center of a section or toward an aisle — but that’s strictly personal preference.
“We had an aisle two years ago, and I really just like that,” Macgill said. “But you know, I don’t know what’s going to be available. If I had to stay in 209, I’m happy doing that. But I’d also love the opportunity to move down.”
There are specific subdivisions and prices for each section. But seat choices depend on how much someone donates to the Duke Club, ranging from $50-$800 or more, along with the price of each seat.
Club (C1-C6) is Duke Club donation of $800+
Chairback (sections 104-108 and 305-308) is Duke Club donation of $300+
Priority 1 (sections 406, 304, 309, 310, 204, 209, 210, 103 and 109) is Duke Club donation of $50+
Priority 2 (303, 311, 312, 202, 211 and 212) is Duke Club donation $50+
To break it down — a Chairback seat totals $650 per seat, a $350 face charge of a seat plus the $300 Duke Club donation. Overall, the prices remain similar to last season, with about a $4-$25 difference, depending on the location.
There are also a few discounts available to use, including faculty and staff, seniors, young alumni and military/first responder discounts, which cuts about $25 off the price depending on which seat is selected.
The goal is to give fans an opportunity to move around the stadium if they choose to. But if someone wants to sit in a Priority 1 section but is qualified to sit in a Chairback section, they can.
Once the priority reseating is done, people can still purchase season tickets. They just won’t have the same options available until the next round to move around the different subdivisions.
But first, they have to find new parking spaces.
Finding the right tailgating spot
To go along with game tickets, there’s also parking. There are multiple parking lots that provide tailgating spaces for four hours leading up to a game. And just like seats inside the stadium, there’s a whole list to choose from as well.
The most popular lots include F Lot next to Godwin Hall, Champions Parking Deck, C4 Lot in Hillside and Convo Lot. Each one also has its own personality of sorts. But each also has its own set of circumstances.
Champions has smaller tailgating spaces and doesn’t allow any open flames. Godwin, on the other hand, is usually one of the most popular lots because of its proximity to the stadium, making it one of the most sought-after lots and one of the most expensive. And Convo, while further away, draws tailgaters with its large, open space.
One lot that’s recently gained traction is the RV Lot across Port Republic Road. It’s slightly hidden from plain sight, but Warner said it was extremely popular during the final games of the season.
“That’s become really popular to the point that we had capacity a couple of times last year with over 30 RVs coming for games,” Warner said. “And some of that most people don’t know about because it’s kind of tucked away … on game day.”
According to the JMU Athletics ticketing information page, it’s a $75 donation to receive one parking pass. And just like tickets, the more you donate, the sooner you can choose your spot and the more options available.
F-Lot requires a Director’s donation ($2,000+)
G-Lot/Champions Deck requires a Gold donation ($1,500 - $1,999)
P-Lot/C9 requires a Bluestone donation ($1,000 - $1,499)
D-Lot requires a Purple donation ($500 - $999)
C4 requires a Duke donation ($350 - $99)
Convo requires a Paw donation ($150 - $349)
C10/D2 requires a Madison donation ($75 - $149)
Just like stadium seats, the donations to obtain a parking spot must be made by May 15 in order to receive the same priority deadline. Single-game parking prices aren’t available yet and won’t be until closer to football season.
The Duke Club gives fans an opportunity to state their preferences in the event they cannot make a reservation during their allotted window — but it’s not guaranteed. On the same wavelength, even if a fan is able to make their reservation themselves, there’s still no guarantee their top choice is available.
The fan experience survey
Aside from the chaos of choosing a season ticket and parking pass, there’s one element of JMU home games still to be determined: the fan experience.
The Dukes have their traditions that won’t go away — streamers, food races, MRD pregame, halftime and postgame performances, etc. But traditions can morph into something different, or into something new entirely.
While JMU is holding on to classic traditions, there might be some smaller changes made. JMU Athletics released a fan survey at the end of the 2022 season asking for feedback from fans on things they like, didn’t like and want changed for future seasons.
While Warner said there wasn’t a specific paper that could be shared, the Athletics department is reading every single response. And there were roughly 1,700.
“I can tell you that we’re reviewing all of it,” Warner said. “It was a lot. We had a great participation. It was across a wide selection of season ticket purchasers, premium seating, clubs, sweets type people, donor and non-donors, students. So a really good cross section.”
Some fans went even further than the survey itself and actually sent emails to JMU Director of Athletics Jeff Bourne or shared their thoughts on social media. Some of the most popular topics included the concession lines, entrance lines and cell service reception.
“Jeff Bourne has gotten two emails from me and only two emails from me,” JMU alum Joseph Franklin (’87) said. “I emailed him about the concessions and stuff along lines at that last game.”
So throughout this coming summer, Warner said the department plans to figure out different ways to address concerns and make the gameday experience more inclusive to what the fans are saying.
“We paid really close attention to all of those things in other venues this year,” Warner said. “So it’s a heavy lift. We spent a lot of time on it as a major focus over the next few months for all of our external operations staff.”
Warner said, obviously, they can’t always fix everything, nor can they have all the answers in just one offseason. He said he likes seeing the passionate answers from the fanbase, both good and bad.
“It means people care,” Warner said. “If people didn’t care and didn’t have strong opinions, we’d be concerned.”
It’s still early in the JMU football ticketing cycle, but Warner said the early numbers are indicating a “validating” response that Dukes fans are excited. The trial year of seeing what JMU football can do in the Sun Belt is over, and fans are looking forward to the chance of seeing what a fully eligible team can do in the conference.
“I think people forget or maybe don’t know what a great gameday environment JMU has with tailgating and the fan support in the band, and you’re not making any kind of sacrifice by not being at Georgia or Alabama or Texas,” Clay said. “JMU’s got just as much excitement on a smaller scale, of course, but their fans are just as passionate and it’s just as fun and game day experience.”
Single-game tickets aren’t available yet, and neither is the full schedule. Fans can still continue purchasing season ticket packages. But that’s part of why the ticketing offseason is so short.
But JMU fans that have their tickets still say one thing — “get on board.”
“I think if you haven’t gotten on the ride yet, you need to get on the ride,” Franklin said. “I mean, you know, if you wait longer, it’s going to be tougher to get tickets. I would say, if somebody’s contemplating it, we’ve got a good home schedule, it’s no better time than now.”