A Dose of Michigan Schadenfreude: Student Ticket Sales Decline

Never did I think a picture I took of an empty Big House while a student manager would ever be so appropriate.

Never did I think a picture I took of an empty Big House as a student manager would ever be so appropriate.

As an obsessive Notre Dame football fan, I try to keep tabs on our opponents by following other fellow obsessive bloggers. Today this has paid off in spades.

SBN’s Michigan blog, Maize N Brew, published a post detailing the declining sales of student tickets. It’s no small decline either. The post cites that 2013 saw 19,000 student tickets sold and are now looking at something in the neighborhood of 13,000 – 14,000. Yes, that’s at best a 5,000 seat decline.

The number is even worse when you consider that Michigan’s undergraduate population is just shy of 30,000 (according to good ‘ol Wikipedia). Should the reported numbers remain accurate, that would mean well less than half of Michigan’s undergrad population will be showing up to games this season.

So what are the reasons Michigan’s ticket woes?

As Maize N Brew points out, their terrible 2014 home schedule has a lot to do with it. Their annual big three games, ND, Ohio State, and Sparty are all on the road this season. This leaves an absolutely horrendous home slate of Appalachian State (insert the easy joke here), Miami (OH), Utah, Minnesota, Penn State, Indiana, and new B1G member, Maryland.

That would be B1G teams that are either bottom-feeders or reeling from the worst NCAA sanctions since SMU’s death penalty. Their three out-of-conference opponents are an FCS team (that they lost to last time they met), a MAC team, and a Pac 12 team on the decline.

If Notre Dame threw that mess of a home slate at me after a subpar 7-6 season, I might consider saving my beer money as well.

However, Maize N Brew points out something else that I’m sure is going to strike a chord with a good portion of ND’s fan base:

Michigan has, in the past few years, added piped in music to the gameday experience while marginalizing the role of the marching band.  It has put in bigger video boards that also allow for bigger and better ad placement.  It has hassled fans trying to bring bottled water and seat cushions to games.  And when that ad placement inside the stadium isn’t enough, it has gone to gimmicks such as a giant macaroni noodle outside the stadium to advertise Kraft Mac and Cheese during a pre-season event (no word on whether it would have stayed for gameday or not had complaints not rolled in).

Now, before people rush up to some kind of jumbotron/ad/slippery slop/”I told you so” soapbox, let’s remember that Jack Swarbrick has been very clear about not putting ads in ND Stadium. Go back to the Under Armour announcement if you want proof. Jack didn’t pull the ‘tron trigger during the Crossroads project announcement either and it’s likely for the same concerns listed above; however, ND has definitely proven in the Shamrock Series they can take even the largest, most annoying jumbotron in football and make good use of it.

With all that being said, I don’t think Maize N Brew’s issues of Michigan’s new gameday experience is the largest issue. After all, even they lead with the fact that their home slate is terrible and that when Michigan does have a game against their big three, they are putting in ridiculous amounts of butts in the seats. Further, they note that even with this decline, the bottom line is still healthy even before you take ads into account:

And even with this lag, Michigan is still doing very well selling tickets to its games thanks to large increases in ticket prices that have upped profits despite lagging attendance.  Season tickets this year are 280 dollars for students.  I had season tickets through 2007 and I cannot ever remember paying over 200 dollars. The athletic department is worrying all the way to the bank.

To recap: prices are going up, the Skunkbears are playing worse, and they have a terrible home schedule. When you add all of that into the equation, any kind of ads or piped in music that causes any angst is going to be far more noticeable.

Think “Crazy Train” from the first game ND ever piped in music. The idea of a “third down song” quickly soured when Southern Cal decided to seemingly get three or four third down conversions every drive. If the defense gets off the field and ND wins that game, you aren’t having the same discussion.

Situations like Michigan make me wonder when Jim Delany’s crazy expansion catches up with him and the rest of the conference. Requiring an eight-game conference schedule and adding in teams like Rutgers and Maryland simply don’t mix. It doesn’t help that B1G power, Penn State, will likely start seeing their sanctions start having a major affect on their play/prestige as well.

And if Hoke keeps Michigan on their current downward spiral as well? That certainly won’t help the conference either, much less Skunkbear season ticket sales.

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  • http://www.herloyalsons.com/blog/author/irishelvis/ Irish Elvis

    Here’s a novel idea: what if new technological innovations within a Stadium (video boards, luxury boxes, audio, etc) serve to enhance the fan experience rather than maximize revenue?

    I could imagine some structural additions, a good give-and-take between audio tracks and band features, and good video content that would mitigate the lengthy TV timeouts. But what school would have the capability or desire to make these intentional enhancements possible?

    • ndtex

      None that come to mind. Nope, none at all.

  • KyNDfan

    I sit in the cheap seats at Louisville football games and pay half the season ticket price of scUM students. Not too shabby since they’ll host Miami and FSU this year.