Overselling, Under-attendance, and How Not to Reward Loyalty: An AD Blunder Story

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

What's that smell? Michigan Basketball is getting a new ticket policy, and it just might stink.

"We want Crisler full," Lochmann said. "We want a loud arena."

I had basketball season tickets when I was an undergrad, although the program was in such dire straights during the mid Amaker years that if memory serves, there were a couple years I actually got those tickets paid for by a donation from Tommy Amaker. That, beating MSU at home that one year when we stormed the court (2005?), and going gracefully to make room for John Beilein remain the best things the man's ever done in my eyes.

Michigan basketball is in a much different place than it was when I was a student and still half-heartedly going to games (I won't claim to have been the most loyal fan in attendance if and when I did make it). I've got a lot of respect for those that did show up game in and game out.

Given that, I can see where the athletic department is coming from when it decided to re-structure its season ticket policy. In the announcement of the new policy, Chief Marketing Officer Hunter Lochmann cited some numbers that raise a fair point, as explained in the Michigan Daily's article on the policy.

an average of 46.1% of student tickets were used per game in 2012-13, well under the Big Ten average of 67%. This season, 4,500 tickets were sold - an all-time high - despite there being just 3,000 seats allotted for students. If seats go unclaimed by students, they will be made available to the general public.

That is a pretty low percentage in comparison with the average, and while Michigan's home court advantage has improved in the last few years, creating more student pride in attendance is an important thing for the program.

That is a noble goal. Still, I can't help but get caught up on the other numbers: 4500 sold and 3000 available.

Students will claim tickets in a 72-hour window that opens up in advance of each of six "pods" consisting of three or four games. Students get to pick which games they want, and they can either attend or sell those tickets — tickets which are linked to student M-Cards. If you miss two games you've claimed, however, you lose rights to claim tickets in the next pod. Miss four and that's it for the season (that includes tickets which are sold and not used).

Tickets will still be general admission and allow students to wait in line for better seats in the bleachers. Also, students with the best attendance will get priority for the game against Michigan State.

Students can even get a refund if they are unsatisfied with the policy.

Again, all of this seems to make sense. Reward students for coming, penalize them for failing to show up, and give them ways to miss games without penalty through the sale of tickets or a decision not to request them.

Still, 4500 sold and 3000 available.

"The only con is not every student is guaranteed a seat," Lochmann said. "But I think - we don't know this - that if you want to go to every game, you're going to go to every game."

That is comforting to hear, Hunter, but excuse me if I don't feel too confident in your hunch.

Incentivising attendance to college basketball games is a worthy cause and it absolutely benefits those who are the most passionate. Selling more tickets than you have and saying "I'm sure you'll still be able to make all the games if you want to," is asking for trouble.

This policy does one thing: it guarantees that most games are going to be at or near capacity. That's what happens when you have one person who can't get tickets for every two that can. Even with the inevitable refunds, Michigan should still have a large pool of students to fill the seats.

What it doesn't do is guarantee that the students who paid the money for the tickets, sit in those seats, and deserve a fair shake will get one when this is all said and done. If you sell your ticket and the person you sell it to doesn't show, you risk losing out on the games in a couple weeks. Will every student know what game he or she will need to miss a couple weeks before hand? If the athletic department doesn't sell some of its other tickets to the general public, is it going to generously donate those to the student section like it would if some of the 3000 student tickets went unclaimed? What about an unused luxury box?

A full arena is nice, but filling seats at the expense of students who paid full price for a season ticket package that the athletic department now isn't able to deliver seems like a scam. Is this about filling the arena at any cost or creating a loyalty program that makes sense and gives people what they paid for? I have a hunch too, Hunter.

My problem with all of this is that it seems like someone is going to get screwed, and ultimately it won't be the athletic department.

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