When South Carolina unrolled its Yearly Equitable Seating (YES) plan nearly two years ago, it had no idea the economy was on its way south. Those elements combined, football season ticket sales slipped more than 12 percent in 2009. That left the athletic department, and deputy athletics director Marcy Girton, with the task of boosting ticket sales through innovative advertising and marketing campaigns. It's worked to an extent, with ticket sales nearing their 2009 mark, and still time before the Sept. 2 opener against Southern Miss. Season tickets will be sold as long as there's a demand. Single-game seats, for the first three games (Southern Miss, Georgia, Furman), go on sale Monday to the general public. Three-game mini-packs are also on sale.

Can you describe the challenges of selling football tickets in an unstable economic climate?

"Most of our SEC and regional competitors are facing similar issues. But ours might have been a bit more exaggerated because of the implementation of the YES program. We've had to work harder. College athletics, for most people, that's discretionary income. When money's tight, discretionary income is something everyone evaluates. Our guys have done a good job articulating the value (of South Carolina football)."

In what ways have you gone about articulating that value, as you say? What can you do, or what have you done, to increase both information and stimulation about Gamecocks football?

"We have really increased our emphasis on advertising tickets -- season tickets, mini-packs and single-game tickets. Eric Nichols, who we hired from Vanderbilt, did a very job of that there in a place where it's tough to sell tickets. So Eric had the expertise, and he's done a nice job with advertising. We've sunk more ad dollars into it, really. We did this first in and around Columbia, through billboards and an online presence, as well as through the newspaper and cable TV and local TV stations."

What was the next step from there, once you saw that the advertising was somewhat successful in the Columbia area?

"We wanted to broaden our reach throughout the state of South Carolina. This summer, we used Greenville as a test market. We had an online presence. We had three billboards. We also partnered with the Greenville Drive (baseball team). In a five-game package, we ran various ads throughout the park during games. The results are not fully realized, but at this point we feel pretty good about the efforts that were made in Greenville. We're hoping to expand more in the future."

Would Charleston be one of the next places you'd like to explore in that way?

"Oh, absolutely. That's another place we're looking."

Overall, how do you feel like you've adapted to the changing marketplace, concerning tickets?

"We're going to be at least at the level where we were last year and should be a little ahead of last year. The advertising was very helpful for us. Our guys did a nice job of reading the landscape and adjusting. A lot of folks don't even realize you can buy tickets. We really struggled with that last summer. For 10 years, you couldn't get a ticket or a season ticket. I think there was a high level of education. You could get a ticket and it was actually affordable."

Steve Spurrier said he understands why fans wouldn't want to buy tickets, because of the Gamecocks' poor showing in the bowl game. That might be exaggerating, but how important is winning to ticket sales?

"Well, for us, I think the baseball championship was a positive force. It gave some folks some tangible evidence that we can be successful. We've had a lot of positive media for the football program this year. I think people are acknowledging that things are building here in a positive way."

Beyond tickets, I understand that you all have done some things to spruce up the gameday experience at Williams-Brice.

"We've worked very hard on improving the fan experience. If people are going to spend the money to come, we want them to enjoy their time at the stadium. We continue to upgrade the facilities themselves. That's going to continue. We've implemented, too, a new customer service policy, so that the ticket-takers and event staff and concessions staff are more customer-oriented and customer-friendly. That's been a big piece to make the experience better. Obviously, the coaching staff has done its part to make the on-the-field experience better. Let's be honest -- if we're doing very well, a lot of these other initiatives aren't as important for us. People will come for the core reason of being involved with a winning program. Coach Spurrier's staff is working hard to get us there."