Thursday, September 26, 2013

If you build it...

So this Wall Street Journal article has been making the rounds about the worries about declining student attendance and there are some valid points (bad cell reception, uninteresting scheduling, lack of availability of alcohol relative to HD TV options.)

There was also a blog post earlier this week about this issue, but from a more Michigan-centric angle.  While I have had my own issues with the recent Michigan Athletic Department decision making process and John U. Bacon has noted his concerns about the Michigan Athletic Department leaving the students behind and the Michigan Daily gave their own take in a Dave Brandon profile from earlier this week (as was noted on Twitter, a profile of a person often considered not responsive to student concerns which then turned down repeated requests for an interview/access.)  The "We Out" post made the case that noon starts, plus a lackluster opponent (on paper), plus Yom Kippur was a reasonable explanation for the empty seats.  Two years ago, I went all cranky old man about students showing up on time.  But I forgot what it was like to be a student.  So consider this an adjustment of my view, based on new information.

Things that Schools Can Do to Improve "Student" Attendance
(all numbers related to Michigan pricing this season for the sake of reference.)

1). Sell partial/big game packages in addition to season tickets.

Let's say this year, you sell a package of Notre Dame and Ohio State at say $150, as opposed to the $280 for the whole seven game package.  You link those tickets to a student's MCard (like they do at hockey), move them to Section 33 and 34 and call it a day.  If they do not use those tickets, they lose the right to buy tickets at the student rate for the next year.  The students who want season tickets have two options, they can, at at slightly lower rate (say $260 for this season), get their ticket put on their MCard and go through the GA process, or the can for $280, get physical tickets* that can be transferred to others, with a section/row/number, closer to the top of the bowl than the bottom.  The MCard people would need to attend six out of the seven games to get the discount the next year.

(*-You could also go full on and let students buy regularly priced tickets that do not need to be validated, which would allow them easier access to the resale market if they can't make it.)

2). Young Alumni Pricing
As a side benefit of this plan, the five games not sold as a part of the big game package to students could then be offered to young alumni (say four years from your most recent Michigan degree, under the age of 28) at a rate between the Student price and the Regular Season Ticket Holder price with Alumni Association Members getting first dibs. (By the way, if you split the difference, you come up with a season ticket price this year of $262.50, or the same price it would be for the MCard ticket kids if you knocked $2.50 off the face value.)  They would also earn priority points, which would not be activated until they made their first Victors Club donation.  There would be a market for these tickets, even the "lesser" games at the discounted rate.  If the Alumni Association can offer a membership rate at 40% of normal, the Athletic Department can likely see similar benefits of latching on to people when they still remember what it's like to be in the Big House and miss it.

3). Don't Be Passive-Aggressive With Your Students
Engage with your students.  If they are truly a valuable part of the game day experience, don't keep changing the rules on them simply because you came up with a "better" idea.  You do game day experience surveys all the time for the season ticket holders, I hope you do the same for the students.  Remind them that they are the future of the alumni base, and try to find ways not to coddle them, but to address legitimate concerns they might have.

(By the way, the wi-fi issue is a big deal.  I realized last week how much more information I had from my Twitter feed during the Connecticut game than I did during the Akron game. Oh sure, there was hand-wringing, but there was also injury updates, notes, observations, etc.  I'm old and I want that.  Imagine how digital natives feel about that.)

4). "Season" Tickets/Family Day
Acknowledge that scheduling twelve Division I FBS football games is expensive.  Allow season ticket holders to build a package that is cheapest per ticket if you buy every game, but that allows them to opt out of that dreaded "third game in three weeks in September scenario".

Take the Miami (Not that Miami) game next season.  It is coming off the last Notre Dame game, but the week before Utah, which is at least an FBS AQ team.  Let people opt out of that game for a slight discount (say $50 off) with no harm to your status year to year.

Then designate that Miami game "Michigan Family Day" (maybe even get a corporate sponsor on board).  Allow people to buy four packs at a reasonably discounted rate.  Reach out to people who have not ever been to a Michigan game but might like to go to one.  Give people a chance to experience the Big House who might not be able to do so otherwise.  Sell it as the Yost ideal that Michigan Stadium was the house of every Michigander, not just the alumni, not just the wealthy and connected.

I am sure there are plenty of other good ideas.  I'm not saying these answers are foolproof.  But I do genuinely believe that treating your ticket buyers/current students with respect and making them want to come to your stadium rather than treating it as an obligation where you are criticized if you decide you want to do something else that day, well, that might be a good place to start.

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