Tennessee is nearing its first sellout in four years as it prepares to host Ole Miss on Saturday.
As of early Monday, fewer than 2,000 tickets remained available for the Vols’ second SEC home game of the season.
There is plenty of intrigue surrounding Tennessee’s visit from Ole Miss. The game will feature Lane Kiffin’s return to Neyland Stadium for the first time as a head coach since he bolted Knoxville for Southern Call in January 2010. The game will also feature two of the nation’s top offenses in Josh Heupel’s Vols and Kiffin’s Rebels. And, not least of all, it’ll be a night game, kicking off at 7:30 p.m. on the SEC Network.
Saturday’s game will be just the second night game at Neyland Stadium this season, and the first on a Saturday. The Vols opened the season with a 7 p.m. kickoff against Bowling Green on a Thursday night. Neyland Stadium’s renovations for 2021 include colored LED lights and fireworks that shoot from the top of the stadium rather than from across the river, both of which make night games even more spectacular.
Of course, the biggest driver of increased ticket sales isn’t LED lights or fireworks or even Lane Kiffin, but the Vols’ much-improved offense. Since settling on Hendon Hooker as the starting quarterback, Tennessee has emerged as one of the top offensive football teams in the nation. Statistically speaking, Hooker is the SEC’s top quarterback, and the Vols have put up 28 first quarter points in back-to-back conference games, finishing with 62 points in a win over Missouri and 42 points in a win over South Carolina.
As Tennessee’s stock has gone up over the course of the two SEC victories, so have ticket sales. As of early Monday morning, only 1,670 tickets remained for Saturday’s game through the UT Ticket Office. Neyland Stadium’s capacity is 102,455.
Most of the remaining tickets are in the south end zone upper level — which was half-empty for a noon start against the Gamecocks last week, even though a season-high 89,437 showed up to see the Vols defeat their SEC East rival.
Only 123 lower-level tickets remained through the UT Ticket Office as of early Monday, all of them singles.
The dwindling number of available tickets certainly means that attendance will surpass 90,000 for the first time since the 2019 season, when there were 92,709 on hand on Oct. 5 to watch Georgia defeat the Vols.
Tennessee’s attendance has surpassed 90,000 only twice since the 2018 season. Earlier in 2019, there were 92,475 on hand for the Vols’ overtime loss to BYU.
Saturday’s crowd will likely be the largest at Neyland Stadium since at least Oct. 20, 2018, when there were 97,087 in attendance for the Alabama game. The last time Neyland Stadium’s attendance surpassed 100,000 was on Sept. 22, 2018, when 100,027 showed up for the Florida game.
Tennessee’s last true sellout was in 2017, when Georgia routed the Vols 41-0 in a game viewed by many as the beginning of the end for Butch Jones. The fourth-year head coach was fired at the end of that season.
Earlier this season, Tennessee players and coaches pushed for a sellout for the Pittsburgh game, which had been dubbed the Johnny Majors Classic. But a noon start doomed the effort, and there were only 82,263 on hand, some 2,000 fewer than had shown up for the win over Bowling Green.
The following week, there were 80,053 in attendance for Tennessee’s win over Tennessee Tech.
The lowest cost of a ticket through the UT Ticket Office is $45.
Tickets available through reseller agents have been selling quickly since the SEC announced last week that Saturday’s game would kick off in primetime on the SEC Network. As of late last week, there were plenty of tickets available for $45 each through Vivid Seats, the reseller that is endorsed by the university.
By early Monday, however, the cheapest ticket available through Vivid Seats was $71. The cheapest lower level ticket was $125, and most sideline tickets — upper or lower — were selling in excess of $200, making the Tennessee-Ole Miss ticket the most in-demand from a cost perspective in four years.
No tickets in the Tennessee Terrace — club-level seating on the home sideline — were being offered for sale through the reseller, a sign that most donors who are season-ticket holders are planning to use their tickets for Saturday’s game.
Student tickets are expected to be in high demand for Saturday’s game, as well. First-year athletics director Danny White has exceeded expectations in marketing student attendance at Neyland Stadium, which has led to the school coming close to selling out its allotment of student tickets at each home game.
Ole Miss will enter Saturday’s game with a record of 4-1, and ranked No. 13 in the nation. The Rebels are fresh off a 52-51 win over Arkansas. Sam Pittman, Arkansas’ second-year head coach who is a former offensive line coach at Tennessee, opted to go for two points and the win after scoring a touchdown with no time remaining.
Tennessee is not ranked and did not receive a single vote in the most recent AP Poll, despite its newfound success the past two weeks. However, the Vols received eight points in the Coaches Poll.
Ole Miss opened as a 3.5-point favorite to win Saturday’s game.