Don Canham, in one of his many out of the box efforts to build the Michigan football season ticket list, famously sent a mailer out to every resident of Plymouth, Michigan in 1970 inviting them to buy season tickets. In 2011, I got a different kind of letter from the Athletic Department, and maybe you did as well. It should not have surprised me, but if nothing else, it made me a little sad because a dream was pretty much dying right there.
The Athletic Department has decided to do away with the "Season Ticket Interest List" better known as the waiting list and has instead gone to a model which essentially requires anyone interested in Season Tickets for Michigan Football to join the Victors Club at a minimum level of $100. Doing so will not guarantee season tickets, but merely the opportunity to purchase single game tickets and packages for next season. A donation of $500 will assure you of the chance to buy season tickets in 2012. The waiting list is done; this is how it's going to be now.
I've always wanted my own Michigan season tickets, and I was waiting out my opportunity. I've cobbled together season ticket packages from the Alumni Association, from the Athletic Department's general sale, from friends, from other means. So I have gone to my share of games, especially over the last five years. But the reality is simply that I don't have $1000 to spend on six games in 2012, especially if the highlights are Michigan State and Iowa. I suppose this is the new economic reality of big time college football, the middle class are being squeezed out of a stadium that can hold a medium sized Michigan city; the wealthy, those who can afford to donate to the athletic department, are the lifeblood of the program, the core customers to whom need to be catered, both figuratively and literally. Season tickets are not about having tickets for all of the games, but rather assuring that you have tickets for Ohio State or Michigan State, depending on the year. This is not new, but it's going to become more and more common with the ever escalating financial demands on the season ticket holders. The Athletic Department now faces a stadium for the Ohio State game which may lack an enthusiastic student section because of the post-Thanksgiving date of the game, and may lack the focused pro-Michigan crowd they want due to potential highest bidder ticket sell off by season ticket holders. Perhaps it doesn't matter to the Athletic Department. As long as the ticket has been paid for, it doesn't matter who is in the stands. The partnership with StubHub seems to indicate this line of thinking may have merit.
I do love going to Michigan games, and I cannot blame the Athletic Department for needing to keep up with its aspirational peers in a ceaseless arms race. But at some point people are going to realize that the game looks pretty darn good on television. They will realize that you don't need to find and pay for parking for a middling Big Ten opponent. The fans will realize that you don't need to pay $4 for a Coke against the MACrifice. And something will be lost, the bubble will burst, and there will be pieces left to pick up.
I know I am not the first to rail against any of these things. I know others have made more compelling economic arguments. This is, if nothing else, a personal lament for the death of a dream, another harsh realization about how the world works and how the choices one makes inform other decisions that are made for you. Maybe it's just the naiveté of a belief that a university should not be actively pricing its alumni out of its football program, that the free market will conquer all, regardless of the casualties around it. Scoreboards and scholarships and renovations don't pay for themselves, after all. I guess it was just in looking at that letter did I realize that never has a stadium that holds nearly 110,000 people felt smaller than it does when you're being told that you're no longer wanted, except at the right price.