A week ago, Derick shared his view on the athletic department’s announcement about the new process for basketball student tickets this season. As Superfan, whose role is to lead the chants at the front of the Maize Rage, his view was essentially that it was a net positive because it would result in more seats being full and many of the nation’s top basketball programs already use a similar system.
Now, in the interest of fairness and lending a voice to both sides of the argument, Sam would like to express his differing view. As a former president of the Maize Rage, Sam is certainly a credible voice in the discussion having presided over the student section and involved with it during the resurgence of the program.
(Eric Bronson, U-M Photo Services)
The 2013-14 school year has already proven to be a controversial one for University of Michigan student and Athletic Department relations. First, over the summer, the Athletic Department announced an overhaul of the football student section to first-come, first-serve seating. Seniors were outraged after the realization that, after working their way down the stadium stairs for three years, they would be given no priority for watching games at the Big House.
The move was an understandable one, a result of extremely poor student attendance at the onset of games in the recent past. Athletic Director David Brandon had hinted time and again that some sort of change would be needed, and a change in policy certainly came.
In the past, all students could show up at any time, whether 30 minutes prior to kickoff or midway through the second quarter, and claim their assigned seat – the more credits, the better the seat – without consequence. With the change, the athletic department has forced students into a quasi-ultimatum. Either skip the pre-game festivities and get in line, or sit in the nosebleeds.
Against Central Michigan and Notre Dame, the student section was noticeably packed by the time the ball was kicked, and Brandon’s policy seemed to be doing what it was meant to. Then Akron came to the Big House, and the student section appeared to be about 75 percent empty at the start of the game. In the case of football seating, only time will bring a verdict.
Fast forward to the fall. Michigan’s football team is off to a shaky 4-0 start and, like magic, another new ticket policy has been thrown at Michigan students – this time for basketball.
After selling some 4,500 student basketball season ticket packages, easily a new record, on the heels of a Final Four run, the Athletic Department realized they had made a big mistake.
The students have thrown their support behind John Beilein who has elevated the program out of its lean years (Lon Horwedel, AnnArbor.com)
No, it’s not that the $200 charged to each student wasn’t enough, or that students weren’t showing up on time, but rather that season tickets were oversold – by a long shot.
In an email to student season ticket holders last week, the AD announced that the Crisler Center only has room for about 3,000 students per game, and record purchasing numbers had necessitated a seemingly unforeseen change in policy. From now on, students were told that they would have to claim their tickets to each game days or weeks in advance on a first-come, first-serve basis and that after the 3,000 ticket allotment was claimed, all other student season ticket holders were out of luck – no passing go, no refund, no seat.
Surprisingly, most of the reaction I have heard from the core of the Maize Rage, the most dedicated season ticket holders, has been neutral or even positive. Even our own Derick, the Maize Rage’s Superfan, wrote an article preaching how this policy was needed and that the only students being punished are the “lazy” ones.
I, however, am utterly appalled by the actions of the Athletic Department on multiple levels.
My first issue with this new policy is the apparent ineptitude of the Athletic Department in failing to foresee an issue long before this over-selling came about.
When I was a freshman just six seasons ago, I was one of approximately 400 students who paid $99 for student basketball tickets. On top of the countless gift cards, pizzas, and shirts thrown at us by the Athletic Department for coming to games, we enjoyed an incredible season that included a home win over Duke and the end to Michigan’s NCAA Tournament drought. As the team started to show that it was for real, other students caught on and wanted to join in on the fun, and the Athletic Department was happy to oblige by giving these students free tickets at the door for just about every home game of the season.
The next year, some 1,500 students bought season tickets in anticipation of another great team, and despite a 15-17 finish that year, the team was sure to bounce back, and by the time I was the President of the Maize Rage my senior year in 2011, 2,500 students purchased season tickets. Last year, around 3,000 tickets were sold.
There is a clear theme here: the better the team, the more students want to come. Michigan has lost just two home games over the last two seasons, and after this March’s run to the championship game, the excitement of the team and the fun to be had at Crisler are no longer secrets; kids want to go to games.
With a little bit of forecasting work, the Athletic Department should have anticipated the heightened demand for student tickets and acted accordingly at a more appropriate date. Instead of guaranteeing tickets for every single game for every returning student who wanted in on the action back in April, perhaps a policy should have been put in place to prevent this disaster from happening.
AD Dave Brandon has made several controversial moves over the last few years (AnnArbor.com)
Instead, the Athletic Department was either completely oblivious to what would eventually happen or was so money-thirsty that nothing was done. The only guarantee students are given by the same Athletic Department now is their money back in exchange for their season tickets if they want to help the Athletic Department with their damage control.
Coming up with a policy much earlier would have been quite a bit easier. First, guarantee tickets for every student who has attended at least 80 percent of the home games over the past two seasons, 95 percent of the home games last season, or is a freshman. This would give the most dedicated, passionate, loyal, and, most likely, raucous, students the first chance to order basketball tickets while not punishing those freshmen who have not yet had the chance to prove their fandom. At the same time, it would punish those “lazy” students who have either failed to prove their dedication to the team by continually missing home games, or those who have jumped on the bandwagon.
After these qualified students had the chance to buy tickets, the remaining returning students would then have had the opportunity to purchase as many tickets as were left. If only 3,000 seats can truly be given to students, at least there would be no need to take tickets away from students who already paid full price to have the right to go to every home game. Better yet, you could still have students claim the tickets they want beforehand, and for those tickets not claimed, the students who were not able to purchase season tickets in the first place would have an opportunity to attend a few games.
Instead of this policy, which would have given priority to students who will almost assuredly be at games while also guaranteeing a full student section on a nightly basis, 4,500 students were allowed to purchase tickets in the first place just to be told that 33 percent of those students with a “ticket”, because now a “ticket” is not actually a ticket, would not be able to attend every single game.
As it stands now, there is no distinction or reward given to the dedicated basketball fans that the Athletic Department has feigned preference for, no punishment doled out to the lazy fans that the Athletic Department has pointed to as the reason for implementing this new policy, and certainly no effort to work toward a solution that would see the right fans at Crisler on a nightly basis. And yet somehow, the Athletic Department has convinced the dedicated students that deserve to be at Crisler every night, sans claiming tickets at 8:30am on a weekday five times throughout the season, that this policy was the only solution. The more you think about it, the more clear it becomes that this policy is a money grab by the Athletic Department and nothing more. By giving students the opportunity to sell their tickets back, they absolve themselves of all legal issues, but will still likely be able to collect money for about 1,000 “tickets” that are unusable.
4,500 students bought tickets to enter through this gate, but only up to 3,000 will be able to (Emilio Collavino)
Ultimately, I truly do understand that something had to be done, but I wish it would have been done much earlier and in a much different way. In a perfect world, every student who wants to buy basketball tickets should be able to and should have a seat at Crisler for every game. Furthermore, more than 30 percent of the students need to be in the lower deck (as it stands now, the bleachers and section 130 next to the band seat about 900 students while the rest are thrown in the upper bowl, where it is much more difficult to get fully-involved in the action; this, of course, is so that the AD can continue to collect giant donations from and charge ludicrous prices to the general public for the premium lower bowl seats that really should be going to the students if the AD truly cared about the game day atmosphere), but that is a story for another day.
If the AD honestly failed to foresee a student ticket demand too high for supply and had no other way out, they need to at the very least apologize for the mistake on their part and take away a more reasonable number of tickets, say 500, suck up the slight money loss, expand the student section to the necessary amount, and sell fewer seats to the general public on a nightly basis to make this a possibility. Even then, if more tickets were claimed than were available, the money should be refunded to all those students looking to claim a ticket that they rightly paid for but are not able to receive due to the over-selling.
Instead, students are now stuck with a policy that will see servers crash as they make a virtual mad dash to claim tickets, hoping against hope that 3,000 others don’t claim their games beforehand. More time will be wasted claiming tickets when the students should be in class, studying, or making posters for the next basketball game. And all the while, the AD will laugh while rolling in the money from a broken policy.
What happens when 3,500 students claim a ticket for the home opener against UMass-Lowell? Don’t ask me. Call the Athletic Department and see how the damage control looks now.