If You Win, They Will Come

The Ray-Ban section for last year's Central Michigan game.

You may have heard…student football ticket sales are not going well. At all.
"We're projecting that number to be somewhere between 13 or 14,000 for student ticket numbers this year," Michigan associate athletic director of media and public relations Dave Ablauf said. "(That number was at) about 19,000 last year. We don't have a finalized number (yet), that's just an approximation because all the incoming freshmen haven't put in their orders yet.

"But we know that returning student numbers are down."

Ablauf maintained that Michigan's general attendance numbers, not including the students, are on track to remain as normal.
Down is one way to put it. Another way to put it might be to say that Michigan students are tired of paying a lot of money to see a mediocre product in person when they can just wake up, flip on their high def TVs, be in the comfort of their own space and keep an extra $280 in their pocket.
"This (student turnout) would be a low number for us in terms of student season tickets, it's unfortunately part of a national trend as student numbers are dropping across the board," Ablauf said. "We've been as high as 21,000 over the years, and it fluctuates sometimes with schedules and when games are played and so on.
True, but student turnout at Michigan struggled last year when Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State were on the home schedule. 2013's general admission experiment was prompted by low student turnout in 2012, so this isn't just a new phenomenon. Tickets may have been sold the previous couple years, but many students simply just didn't show up. It would seem that the key to ideal student turnout, is having a championship caliber team to watch and a decent opponent.

Improve the product on the field, and all of your problems will magically disappear. The modern college student is fickle. Lose, and they go into hiding. Win, and they come back out. I think its really that simple.

Any veiled attempt to lure students out any other way is just a waste of time. Like I said in March when the general admission policy was scrapped, make the student section smaller. Something about supply and demand? Sure, keep the student section bigger for say night games and Ohio State, Michigan State, etc. But scale it down for Appalachian State and Miami (not that Miami). (I realize this is a dream scenario, and not easily accomplished).

And while I'm dreaming, let's move the band into the endzone seats. It frees up better seats on the sideline and makes the band more prominent and easier to hear in the far reaches of the stadium. Just a thought.

So in lieu of empty student seats, Michigan will be offering them up to the general public.
"There has never been a better opportunity to see a Michigan football game at Michigan Stadium,” said Hunter Lochmann, Chief Marketing Officer for Michigan Athletics. “A smaller returning student ticket number has opened ticket availability and allowed us to create and offer these affordable and fan-friendly ticket offers.
The packages being offered to the public are not a permanent thing. If student demand increases again, Michigan will accommodate.
"We've always maintained a policy at Michigan that says any student that wants to buy a season ticket will have an opportunity to have a season ticket," Ablauf added. "That's why we have more availability (through ticket packages), because the student numbers are down.

"So we'll be able to customize some packages to meet fans' wants. And, next year, if that (student number) goes back up, we'll be able to accommodate them."  
A terrible end to the 2013 season and a terrible 2014 home schedule are the primary student ticket downers. But struggling attendance, student or otherwise, isn't just a Michigan problem.
Nowhere is fan behavior more curious than at Florida State, a school steeped in football tradition whose team just completed a national championship run and an undefeated season.

Despite its on-field success and the play of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston, the Seminoles saw attendance decline for a second straight season. Their average of 75,421 was down by more than 3 percent compared with 2011.
Florida is a weird sports place. Like the NFL in LA, people just don't care. A season like that at Michigan would drive ticket sales through the roof. Winning and good games against good competition make your product sell, like in the SEC where five schools are currently expanding their stadiums (Arkansas, LSU, Miss St., Missouri and Texas A&M).
Seeing more empty seats, even in the home of the national champion, doesn’t surprise Bernie Mullin, whose Atlanta-based firm, The Aspire Group, operates tickets sales and marketing at more than 20 colleges.

“It’s becoming more and more difficult, but there are ways to counter some of these trends of decline,” Mullin said. “You’re dealing with an aging fan base on one end and then you’ve got millennials on the other end who would rather participate than spectate. You’ve got to have a more sophisticated, comprehensive program to engage the younger fans because that’s the future ticket-buyer.”
Sure, that…or...just win. Watching a good team win in person makes you feel like you're participating rather than just spectating. Its an experience, not just an event. People will fork over the cash to come see a winner. They always do.

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