The highly anticipated Lehigh-Lafayette rivalry packs stadium stands with students from both Lehigh and Lafayette, alumni, and community ticket holders each year.
Lehigh Dean of Athletics Joe Sterrett said the game is projected to net upwards of $65,000 dollars this year.
Rich Haas, assistant athletic director for sales and marketing, said for the past 15 years or so, The Rivalry revenue system has operated on a 60% to 40% split, with the home team taking the larger portion.
“We used to do a 50-50 split after expenses, and it was complicated and took a lot of time to settle because everybody had different circumstances relative to the costs of staging the game and how they get billed,” Sterrett said.
The majority of expenses for the home team are staging costs, which for Lehigh includes mowing and painting the grass; paying ticket sellers and ushers; and arranging porta potties, trash cans and trash clean up.
Haas said this revenue allocation smoothes out each school’s budget annually.
Sterrett calls the money The Rivalry generates “modest.”
“We’re talking about somewhere in the neighborhood of $100,000,” Sterrett said. “It’s not like millions or anything close to what you would find at some of the high profile, more commercial kinds of programs.”
In 2021, Lehigh’s revenue share was $148,000 dollars, while Lafayette’s revenue share was $99,000 dollars.
In 2018, the last time Lafayette hosted with a full audience, their revenue share was $108,000 dollars and Lehigh’s was $72,000 dollars.
Rivalry games hosted at Lehigh tend to bring in more revenue because Goodman Stadium has a larger capacity than Lafayette’s Fisher Stadium.
Sterrett said the COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted the revenue of the past two Le-Laf games. Even now, the athletics department is struggling to re-energize students.
“Historically, it’s a sell-out,” Sterrett said. “The last few years were obviously impacted by COVID-19. We had a game with no attendance (and) a game with more modest attendance because people were still a little bit reserved about going out in public settings.”
Haas said Lehigh students haven’t been to a Lafayette game in four years.
He said undergraduate students haven’t been to a Rivalry game at Lafayette because of interruptions posed by COVID-19.
In 2019, the game was at Lehigh; fall 2020’s matchup was postponed to spring 2021, and played in front of a limited crowd; and the fall 2021 game was back at Lehigh.
“In the past, juniors and seniors kind of told the first years and sophomores what the deal was. It just made it easy to sort of follow. Follow the crowd. We have none of that,” Haas said.
However, Haas said that about two-thirds of student tickets have already been sold eight days prior to the game.
Lanie Fenster, ‘24, said she’s buying a ticket because all her friends are going.
“To be honest, I don’t really want to go,” Fenster said. “But all of my friends are going, and I don’t want to be left here alone. I think it’s going to be a good experience, though.”
Sterrett said students are notoriously late ticket purchasers.
“I think next week it’s going to surprise a lot of people,” Sterrett said. “They’ll see there’s some enthusiasm and it is a big event that people tend to go to, and there may be some scrambling for tickets and rides.”
Sterrett said the funds from The Rivalry game are a small part of the overall athletics department revenue for any given year. The largest income generator is annual gifts from alumni. The income is used to fund Lehigh’s athletic programs.
Haas said a big focus of the department is educating students on what a game at Lafayette entails, including how to get to Lafayette and what The Rivalry is all about.
Haas said that the department has been reaching out to different student groups to spread the word.
“It’s been a lot more difficult to get kids to commit and go to the game,” Haas said. “We just want to try to educate kids and give them the confidence that OK, this is easy. I can do this,” Haas said.