I sat on the football ticket pricing committee during my time working in the Oregon Athletic Department and in 2003, we were fortunate to have Michigan visit. This was a season after expanding Autzen Stadium by 12,000 seats and selling every one of those new seats as season tickets. We had a waiting list of folks who wanted in on the fun, plus single-game ticket buyers, all cobbled together on spreadsheets and various databases.
In that spring of 2003 the committee met to review the facts: we were coming off a 7-6 season, that included a loss to Wake Forest in the Seattle Bowl, had some excellent returning starters, and a six-game home slate to sell that fall. Not only was Michigan coming to town, but so was Oregon State. It was a doubledipper for fans and our goal was to (of course) maximize revenue off the anticipation.
This was around the time StubHub was starting to come to life, but the secondary market at the time was mostly people working their own personal channels, or on craigslist and eBay. Our understanding of what happened to tickets once they were sold to the general public wasn’t nearly as data-driven as things are today.
This was also around the time that teams started to “tier” single-game pricing. Instead of taking last year’s season ticket price and dividing it by the number of home games to get the price per ticket, the market started to sell their non-conference / non-sexy games for less than their larger, rivalry games.
So there we sat throwing out separate numbers for Nevada (the home opener), Washington State, Stanford, and Cal, but holding out discussion on Michigan and Oregon State.
Then the fun started.
“Well, we can’t sell Michigan for more than Oregon State, because that will send the wrong message,” said a long-time member of the department.
This is when my personality known as “East Coast Greg” emerged in the room. I had grown up in Northwest Pennsylvania, where fans followed Penn State, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame, and well before the days of RSNs. We were lucky to get two to three games a weekend, and my understanding of (then) Pac-10 football consisted of USC and UCLA. Despite this being my fifth year working at Oregon, I was perplexed to think that Michigan somehow was trumped by Oregon State.
“But, Michigan is never coming back here,” I said. “Ever. This is it and if you (the fans) want to see Michigan play here, then this is your only chance,” stating my case. “Oregon State will be back here in 2005 and again in 2007 and so on. It’s … Michigan,” I concluded.
Sadly, my argument wasn’t good enough (#westcoastbias). Oregon State was $55; Michigan was $50.
When these conversations happen today, school administrators have more data than they know what to do with. And actually, I’d argue, they DON’T know what to do with all of it. Between the revenue goals they set, the secondary data they can access, and the multiple databases that they store fan information in, many schools don’t know where to turn.
With bowl berths being handed out in the coming weeks, your approach to your 2019 season ticket pricing can’t start soon enough. But before those renewals are sent out, you’ve got empty basketball seats to worry about and your concessions staff isn’t selling enough $5 hot dogs or $4 sodas.
Old Hat has helped several schools with strategies and messaging around ticket pricing, including SMU, Virginia Tech, and most recently, Colorado State. Nowadays, there’s just too much data sitting around your organization to not have an approach that fits your fans and your business.
That Michigan at Oregon game, by the way, turned out just fine. I was there to witness the Ducks beat third-ranked Michigan, 31-27, with 59,022 of my closest friends on September 20, 2003. But imagine what our bottom line had looked like had we just charged $10 more.