Bumped - BN Eds
Darren Rovell in his Feb. 17th piece "Will next generation of fans show up?" brings our attention to a startling development in college sports: the decline of attendance at games by students. What is particularly baffling, is that the attendance numbers are far below actual tickets sales, meaning that students are buying the tickets, then simply not going to the games.
In the case of the Oklahoma Sooners, Rovell states,
The average number of students that showed up to its home games on Saturday this season was 5,752, meaning that, on average, 28 percent of the student tickets weren't used on gameday.(sic) And that's for a team that was 10-2 this season.
According to Rovell, who asked a number of schools to volunteer their ticket sales and attendance numbers for his analysis, this is happening both in Football and Basketball. He also claims it is happening both to schools with successful and unsuccessful programs.
The old adage that ‘winning fixes everything’ does not appear to be holding up. Predictably, television is playing a big role. I can personally vouch for this. It used to be that we had game times for every game months in advance. Football games used to be largely noon games. Now, they are TBD until the last minute, making it hard to plan ahead. Games are now more often evening games, to make it easier for the broadcasters. Unfortunately, few parents with little ones want to keep them out that late. In the last two years, my personal tailgates have been missing more of the regulars for those very reasons. And, when less people show up, the less the others are inclined to make the effort.
What I found interesting were the different reactions around the country. In Oklahoma for example:
The school gives students time to claim their tickets -- which come at a 76 percent discount to the regular price -- during the week leading up to a home game, and if they aren't claimed by that Friday, they go back into a pool and are sold to the general population.
Now, I’m not sure what UCLA’s policies are regarding Student Tickets, but, I would be shocked if they are as much as %76 percent discounted. If they are returned to the pool and sold to the general population, I'd be even more shocked. I believe once the ticket is sold, the Morgan Center could care less if there are people in the seats supporting our teams. I’m just guessing here, based on what I’ve seen on TV; I don’t think those seats are returned to the pool of tickets to be sold. If any current students or UCLA staffers would care to comment on this, I would greatly appreciate it.
Unlike his counterpart at UCLA, the Oklahoma AD seems to see the bigger picture when it comes to student attendance.
"We have to solve this because we are talking about the season ticket-holders of tomorrow" said Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione. "But interests and attitudes are changing so rapidly it's not easy to quickly identify what we need to do."
I found this comment particularly poignant, considering how often we point out what a terrible job the Morgan Center is doing marketing our sports programs to current students. When I attended my second Spring Scrimmage at Drake Stadium, I went with a petition in hand to raise awareness of the Morgan Center’s decision to remove students from Pauley Pavilion sidelines. At that time, I had a contentious discussion with Sr. Athletic Director–Business Operations, Ken Weiner about dropping student attendance. He expressed a frustration with the declining numbers, but more so claimed, "We’ve tried everything."
I do not doubt they are as mystified as others are around the country and what to do about it.
Perhaps no school understands this more than the University of Miami. Faced with the challenge of playing at a stadium located 20 miles from its campus, the school this year elected to give the students better seats, moving them from behind the endzone to behind the visiting bench.
"If the seats are filled, our product looks better on television and the coordination effect within the marketplace and PR perception within recruiting will eventually make our game-day product more attractive to consumers," said Chris Freet, the school's senior associate athletic director for communications, marketing and sales.
Here, I found a situation so eerily similar to our own, that it inspired this entire post. Sadly, it also reflects the ongoing malaise within the Morgan Center ranks. At Miami, the first thing they did was to recognize that playing football games in a stadium removed from campus is a problem. To be sure, if you read Rovell’s excellent article, the problem exists whether or not stadiums are located on campus. However, in light of the research, recognizing the distance to the stadium is that much more important. As any recovering addict can tell you, admitting you have a problem is the first step to fixing it. Now, consider the (somewhat) recent story wherein Coach Jim Mora planned to subsidize buses to get students out to the Rose Bowl. You will all remember he recognized the problem and took action, which should have fallen on someone else’s desk within Morgan Center.
Furthermore, consider the steps Miami took to alleviate the problem: They decided to move the students to better seats. Juxtapose that with Morgan Center’s (thwarted) decision to move students away from the better seats. Finally, take into consideration that Miami made this decision completely aware of the need to improve what the television audience sees in their living rooms: a robust and vibrant student section. When you compare this to Morgan Center’s completely baffling decision to keep the cameras off the student section in Pauley Pavilion; it really begs the question, "Are the lunatics running the asylum?" It appears to me that for every measure taken by forward thinking Athletic Directors, our own Apathetic Director takes the exact opposite action.
Sports are too important to leave in the hands of lunatics. Consider making a small contribution towards the Billboard Fund.