Long before the Ohio State football team decided to “black out the ’Shoe” by wearing dark jerseys for Saturday’s home game against Nebraska, at least one Buckeyes fan already was practically blacking out from ticket sticker shock.
“Nebraska is the second highest-priced ticket behind Michigan, at over $100 a ticket. Someone needs to tell (Ohio State athletic director) Gene Smith that this is 2018 Nebraska, not 1994 Nebraska. Nebraska is now horrible,” complained Paul Scahill, an OSU season-ticket holder who loathes how the university sets ticket costs using a tiered system based on market value.Join the conversation at Facebook.com/groups/BuckeyeXtraFans and connect with us on Twitter @BuckeyeXtra
For example, a reserved seat for the Nov. 24 Michigan game cost $197 each. Nebraska is the next most expensive at $120, though Scahill paid the faculty price of $96. Both are designated as higher-priced “premium” games, based on curb appeal, a practice that began in 2013. Tiered pricing for all games began in 2016. This season’s seven home games average $107, with Michigan the high and Tulane ($67) the low.
Scahill is angry that Nebraska carries a premium price — the once-powerful Cornhuskers lost their first six games this season and are 2-6 entering Saturday’s game — and that OSU scales its prices based on market value.
“Michigan is the only ticket that is really market value,” he said. “We gave our Tulane tickets away this year, and my wife and I went down and bought some for $20 before the game. That is market value.”
Scahill, 53, wishes Ohio State would go back to charging the same price for every ticket, every game.
“Some games you got a deal, some you didn’t,” he said. “I don’t think they should pull ticket prices out of a hat.”
Brett Scarbrough, Ohio State’s associate athletic director in charge of ticketing and premium seating, said ticket pricing is not done willy-nilly.
“The overall budget is what is driving ticket pricing,” Scarbrough said. “Ticket revenue for football, and some lesser pricing from men’s basketball, is the grease that runs the whole department and why we are able to field 36 sports.”
Given that, the athletic department designates two premium games per season, but it does not set final pricing until the process passes through the faculty senate, president’s cabinet and board of trustees. To that end, the final Nebraska ticket price actually fell from its original cost of $180, in part because OSU received a large payout from its game against Texas Christian when the September game was moved from TCU’s campus to the larger AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
But is $120 still too much? Tickets remained available as of Friday afternoon, selling for as low as $67 on the secondary market. That might play into Scahill’s argument. Or perhaps it has more to do with the national trend of attendance falling at sporting events, including college football, where average attendance for Football Bowl Subdivision games has dropped each of the past four seasons.
Ohio State’s average attendance is down from 107,495 last season to 100,559 this year. Several traceable factors play into the drop: Construction has lowered seating capacity by nearly 5,800, to 102,092. Wet weather also has kept some fans away; for the Rutgers game, attendance was listed at 93,057.
But less-quantifiable explanations also exist, including fans opting to watch from home on high-definition televisions. Also, less-attractive Big Ten opponents do not help fill Ohio Stadium. Higher ticket prices and parking fees likely have an impact, too.
Then there is the age issue. One recent study found that college students seeking worthwhile “experience payoffs” want more bang for their buck, including more customizable opportunities to socialize. Sitting in a stadium seat watching four hours of football doesn’t cut it.
“Trying to figure out millennials is a whole different conversation,” Scarbrough said. “We see fluctuations in student attendance. We’ve had games, like Penn State last year, with awesome turnout. Game times play into that. Noon games we see a little lesser show rate, or they show up later. It’s all over the place.”
Students pay $34 per game. Scarbrough does not see that cost changing soon. But other changes are coming.
“We’re unique in that we don’t have a lot of different price points within the seats themselves,” Scarbrough said, explaining that some schools set seat prices based on the desirability of stadium sections.
“Eventually, we will evolve to that,” he said. “Probably our main feedback we get is that seats on the 50-yard line are priced the same as seats in C-deck. Probably within the next couple years we’ll look at ways to create different price points, down in the end zones and upper deck.”
As for paying more for Nebraska tickets, Scarbrough pointed out that some home game besides Michigan had to be labeled premium. The only other choices were Oregon State, Rutgers, Tulane, Indiana and Minnesota.
Scahill sees it differently.
“I don’t think you look at the schedule and go, ‘Hmm, which is a premium game?’ Maybe there are none, so don’t invent one,” he said. “Nebraska has been bad for 10 years. Gene Smith shouldn’t act like he still works for IBM. You shouldn’t claim it’s based on market value when it only benefits you.”