July 15, 2010

The Enhusiasm Gap: A look at why Notre Dame football tickets are so easy to get these days, and why the lack of demand might be good for ND in 2010.

My wife and I have applied for Notre Dame football tickets every single year since we graduated from college. Some years we have more success in the lottery than others. Never a 100% success rate, but typically we end up getting about what we were looking for and start scrambling to make up for the other games that we want to attend. Between ourselves and our parents, we usually figure out a way to make it work and "break even" in terms of having a sufficient number tickets but never bogged down with too much inventory so to speak.

Until this year. We have found ourselves with a glut of tickets that I'm not entirely sure what we're going to do with. My wife sent in her minimum $100 donation and "won" every game she applied for, including USC, Army at Yankee Stadium, and Michigan. Once upon a time, there is no chance she would have won any of these games, let alone all three. At the moment, we find ourselves with 8 tickets to the USC game and 8 tickets for the Army game. I honestly have no idea what we're going to do with all these tickets. I don't mean to use the site as some sort of pseudo ticket broker agency, but if you're a regular reader and looking for tickets to either game at face value, feel free to email me at the email address to the right. It's ND! It's Army! It's Yankee Stadium! It'll be 24 degrees outside, Army will probably be 0-10, and NBC will be drawing a 0.1 rating, but please email me anyway!

Perhaps this is purely anecdotal, but I would take a guess that ticket demand through the lottery was as poor as it has ever been this year. The big secret about Notre Dame football that is just starting to leak out now is that it is RIDICULOUSLY easy to get tickets to a Notre Dame football these days. Even now, there's still an impression from the common fan that it's hard to get ND football tickets or that you have to know someone to go to a game. Maybe that was the case as recently as 5-10 years ago, but it's not even close to the case right now. ND football tickets are readily available. Not only are some games not selling out (even though we continue to trumpet the "sellout streak," which is borderline comical at this point), but even the "hot" tickets are not even remotely scarce anymore.

I won't say that Notre Dame is giving away tickets for free or anything, but the cache of the lottery has dropped off a cliff in the last couple years. Forget Sorin Society and all that. You can send in $100 and get season tickets. I'll hold out my wife's ticket application as proof of that.

And if you are just some random ND fan from Detroit or Chicago or Philly or Cleveland who grew up loving ND football and would love to go to a game someday (but always figured it was impossible to get tickets), you can get tickets very easily in 2010 to an ND game. Like you should not pay more than face value for any ticket (even online), you can show up to campus on gameday and get a ticket for $50 or less to every game I would bet, and I would guess that there will be AT LEAST three home games this year where you can probably get a ticket for free in the parking lot twenty minutes before a game.

In fact, I'm going to test out this theory for a late October/early November home game this year. Haven't decided which one I'll do it for, but I think I might drive up from Columbus at like 4-5 am on a Saturday, sign up for the 9am shotgun start at Warren Golf Course, finish the round, park my car somewhere on campus, and start walking to the football stadium. My goal is to literally have tickets in hand without breaking stride on my way into the ND football stadium. If I have to bend over to pick one up that is lying on the ground, that's about the only strain that I will put on my body to get a ticket.

Can it be done?? I think so. The ultimate test in the lack of ND ticket demand in 2010. If anyone wants to join me on the quest, feel free to email me and we'll make arrangements. Stay tuned on the blog for the announcement on which game that will be for. The new "The Decision."

Another hilarious move by ND to really devalue the importance of the lottery: Selling tickets through the ticket office BEFORE the lottery results were released. Just awesome work there. So while the people who applied through the lottery are waiting to see how things shake out, you start selling tickets to the public online?? Why not release the lottery results and then start selling the remaining tickets?? Would it have occurred to ND that fans were waiting for the lottery results to see what tickets they had and then might want to try to buy more depending on what games they got?? Just awesome work there. Way to really look out for your donors and alums.

If ND's goal was to kill donations and make people never want to apply in the lottery again, well done on that front.

Anyway, I digress. Why has ticket demand been so down the last couple years?? Well, it's not that hard to figure out. Bad economy, bad team, bad schedule, coaching change, rebuilding process, and a general malaise about ND football. I think a lot of ND fans have not really come on board with the Brian Kelly era yet. Even diehards like my father-in-law who will support the team under any circumstances are just sort of disillusioned. I'm a huge Brian Kelly fan, but I get it. A lot of people really drank the Charlie Weis kool-aid hard (me included), and he turned out to be a complete fraud. It's demoralizing, and a lot of ND fans have not gotten off the mat from that. There is a very large segment of the ND fan population (I'd say in the 50% range or higher) that is skeptical of Kelly or at least taking a "show me" approach. And there's also a large group that thinks ND football is rapidly becoming a dinosaur in college football and isn't equipped to get back to an elite level anytime soon no matter who the coach is. Add it all up, and that's why ticket demand is way down.

Could that all change?? YES. Absolutely. ND ticket demand could come skyrocketing back in the next couple years. We saw it in 2005 and 2006. ND suddenly looked good again, and campus was buzzing those two years. Even going into 2007, there was energy about the program heading into that opening day Georgia Tech game and good demand for home game tickets. If Brian Kelly works his magic and turns this 2010 team into an exciting team, fans will come back into the fold in droves and really start getting energized about 2011.

In the meantime, I thought I would put a positive spin on the lack of ticket demand. Here are some reasons why I think the lack of ticket demand in 2010 could be a blessing in disguise:

(1) More subway alums in the stands who are excited to be there

On the whole, ND crowds are fantastic. I know we have reputation as a bit of a "wine and cheese" crowd (some truth to that), but ND crowds are generally fun and spirited and lively, especially early in the year when the weather is nice. Even last year, the crowds for Nevada and Michigan State were outstanding. Same with Michigan in 2008. I would even go as far as to say "electric" for those games.

Having said that, ND crowds start waning a little bit as the season goes along. Maybe it's because the team has stunk or the weather gets dreary or the competition isn't as interesting, but our crowds don't exactly bring it for the late October or November games.

In defense of ND fans, can you blame them?? What fan who has already been to 2-3 home games earlier in the year is going to be jacked up about watching a 6-4 ND team play a 5-5 UConn team?? AT BEST, you'll get tepid applause when the team scores a td, but nobody is going to lose their voice yelling at a game like that.

When ND decided to make all these tickets available to the public a couple weeks ago, I noticed a lot of "So excited, first game at ND!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" type posts from random fans on message boards. I work with a couple random ND fans who came racing down to my office to tell me they bought Purdue tickets through the ticket office. Hadn't been to a game before, and were on cloud nine about it. Keep in mind that these people were fired up about getting tickets to games like Purdue and Stanford and Western Michigan.

Isn't that a good thing?? Don't we want as many "I am so excited to be watching ND football in ND stadium that I am going to soak it all in and go crazy" type fans as we can pile into the stadium, especially for the later games?? People like Rudy Ruettiger's dad who well up when they walk in?? Going to an ND game is always exciting in my book, but I'll admit that I don't always bring my "A" game as a fan.

To me, more sub alums means a louder and rowdier crowd. Let's be honest, ND Stadium has lost its luster as an intimidating place to play on the road.

ND crowds have spirit, but more in a "Welcome to Notre Dame. Aren't we wonderful and classssssssssssssy??? Let's just have a great time and sway to Our Lady's alma mater, win or lose" kinda way.

We probably need a little more of an edgy crowd. The kinda crowd that makes opposing fans and teams uncomfortable. I'm tired of losing at home to UConn while we all stand around and clap like a bunch of seals because we're "classy." We need to take our games higher as a crowd as well and start expecting better things. Maybe an increase in sub alums will help. If it leads to a win over Utah, I'm all for it.

(2) Less Pressure on Brian Kelly

Expectations for ND football are not that high in 2010. If take a look at the various websites out there offering college football odds, you would not find a whole bunch of hype about the Irish in terms of wins or BCS odds. I actually think that's a little bit refreshing, and the lack of ticket sales might be a contributor to the lack of buzz right now. Even in 2008 and 2009, people were setting high bars for the team in terms of wins. People looked at the schedule before 2008 and figured 8-9 wins. In 2009, we were talking BCS.

This year, I almost feel like there is no real expectation for this team. Most people are thinking anywhere from 6-10 wins, but pretty much prepared for anything. New coach, new QB, new scheme. Transition season in every way.

I think this is a perfect scenario for Brian Kelly to fly under the radar going into the season. No target on our back, no Clausen coming back as a Heisman candidate, no real pressure. This is like a Mike Brey special. Quietly make your move when no one is paying attention.

(3) Better schedules

I know that most of the home games will eventually sell out or come close, but doesn't the lack of ticket demand have to be a little jarring for guys like Swarbrick and Jenkins who grew up in the ND heyday?? The thought of ND tickets not being incredibly hard to get is weird even for a younger fan like myself, but it must be especially awkward for two guys so closely involved with ND who remember the program as one of the most coveted tickets in all of sports.

I think its is fairly obvious at this point that ND fans just aren't going to bite on a bunch of dud games. We're not Cubs fans (ok, maybe a little). We want to see a quality ND team playing quality competition, and we're not driving 2-4 hours into town for Western Michigan or Tulsa or Army or UConn or Stanford. Heck, I would rather drive into town, play 18 at Warren at about noon, and then roll to the Buns to watch the 2nd half than sit through a four hour ND-Western Michigan game in the stands.

I think fans are at the brink with this program. You can't just keep taking your fans for granted and expect them to come out when the product is bad. The team stinks, we've been through four coaches in a decade, and the schedules are lousy and boring. Fans have lost interest, and they don't trust the people running the football program anymore (either the AD, the administrators, or the coaches).

Hopefully Brian Kelly will fix the football side of the program, but now we gotta see results from the administrative side. If you want to put butts in the seats, you better put out a quality schedule. If ND was playing LSU at home this November, that game would be sold out in the lottery before the season. Without a doubt. But instead we have Tulsa.

If Jack Swarbrick has his finger on the pulse of the fanbase and the alums, he would have come to the realization this winter/spring that ND fans are fed up and that he needs to adjust the 7-4-1 or scrap it altogether. Hopefully he is actively working on a marquee November home game for 2011 and beyond. If he wants fans in the stands, there's no other option.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The reason why people don't go to games is simple. Money. It is expensive to haul your family to South Bend every weekend and pay for overpriced rooms that charge minimum stays. It is outrageous what they charge.

I will still attend games and "sway to the alma mater" as you say. If that makes me a sucker, I'll be darned. I am Irish all the way.

I will invite you to our tailgate when you pick your game.