I’m starting this piece off with a disclaimer: I bleed green. As an MSU alum, I would never in a million years have pictured myself three years into a relationship with an Ann Arbor native who believes the primary colors are Maize, Blue and that school from Ohio.
My girlfriend was raised in Crisler Arena, attending games and singing “Hail to the Victors” with her late father, a season ticket holder since the mid-1970s. When he passed away a few years back, she and her mother held onto his seats. It was a great way to celebrate her father’s life, and their shared passion for Michigan basketball. However, recently Dave Brandon sent the fateful letter that pulled those memories right out from under my girlfriend – her “club seating” at Crisler.
I understand the need to increase revenue to balance the costs associated with the U-M athletic system, including John Beilein’s much-deserved paycheck. However, the new points-based system is one of the most flawed systems I have ever seen – it takes away from the human aspect of the game and its loyal fans, and turns it into a bidding war among individuals of the highest socio-economic status.
Dave Brandon said in response to the program, "We can think of no better way to say 'Thank you' than by rewarding your loyalty and long-term commitment to our teams … we believe the Michigan Basketball Seating Plan as outlined is equitable for all our great fans."
So, as a token of their appreciation, the sixth-most profitable public university athletic program in the U.S. – $16,002,888 in 2010 according to the U.S. Department of Education – is “rewarding” their loyal fan base with an ultimatum to either write a check with multiple commas to keep their seats, or forfeit them. Somehow, that doesn’t seem fair.
Mr. Brandon’s solution, or “good news,” for loyal fans that may be unwilling or unable to make a significant seat donation and keep their “premium” seats is to offer sections in Crisler exempt from the new policy. But after sitting in her father’s seats in row 17 at midcourt, a move to the corner of the upper bowl is by definition a downgrade, which also strips the sentimental value in this case.
Of course, seating capacity plays a major role in ticket pricing, too – simple case of supply and demand. The Big Ten led the nation in men’s basketball attendance for the 35th straight season in 2011, averaging 12,826 fans at home games – so there’s no shortage of bodies in the stadiums. However, Michigan specifically averaged only 10,640 fans at 19 home games in 2011, the eighth-highest total in the Big Ten and 37th-best in the nation according to recently released data from the NCAA.
U-M Athletics CMO Lochmann said to Crain’s in early 2011, "I've got to get to the bottom of why that doesn't happen (sell outs). I want to get into the data on why people don't come to the games." That’s ironic – the best strategy he and Brandon could come up with was to counterproductively drive season ticket holders out with exponentially higher prices, when in actuality, his goal was to fill seats.
If anything, I see this entire debacle as a desperate attempt to take advantage of the revived program, and all of the bandwagon fans that have since regained support for the U-M basketball program now that NCAA sanctions have been lifted and Chris Webber is too far gone in the rearview to haunt the program any longer. It is a blatant attempt to increase revenue at an opportune time, and help cover the costs associated with the $98 million renovation to Crisler, which was “for the fans,” and supposedly paid for by “generous donations.”
From a financial standpoint, Michigan’s basketball program is in great shape. According to Forbes, the average value of the top-20 teams is $19.1 million, up from $18 million in 2010. Average basketball profit has also increased, from $10.7 million to $11.6 million over the last two years. Additionally, CBS pays over $770 million each year for the rights to the three-week NCAA March Madness tournament, and the NCAA shares profits through tournament payouts that reward conferences for their teams’ tournament success. While it’s said that most Universities don’t make money off of the national tournament (especially those that exit the tournament early) Michigan made $10.6 million alone off last year’s run, according to SmartMoney.
I hope you realize what you have done, Mr. Brandon. You’ve taken the family-friendly game of basketball and turned it into an example of American greed.
You may be winning games again for the first time in more than two decades, but you’re losing something that you can’t put a price on – a loyal fan base.
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