Buckeye Nuthouse quickly sells out student tickets for Ohio State men's basketball

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch
Not only did the student section for Ohio State men's basketball games sell out for the first time in nine years, but tickets to the Nuthouse were gone in one hour.

Jack Owen grew up in Granville with a passion for Ohio State football but a special place in his heart for men’s basketball. After cheering for Evan Turner, Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft during his formative years, Owen arrived on campus energized and ready to support the program as a member of the official student cheering section.

It was 2019, and Owen immediately began to get involved with the Nuthouse. That fall, the group set up a booth on the Oval with the goal of trying to encourage more students to purchase tickets to home games.

They sold five.

“It was pretty unsuccessful,” Owen said with a laugh.

Two years later, the third-year student is a student section leader in the Nuthouse and a member of the group’s 20-member executive committee, which met on Tuesday.

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One day prior, the group had put its student season-ticket packages on sale, and within an hour, all 2,400 tickets had completely sold out, marking the first season sellout in nine years.

For Maddie Markenson, a fourth-year student from St. Louis, who is the Nuthouse’s director this year, it was a cause for celebration.

“In years past, half the battle has been getting tickets sold, but we’re in an awesome place now because we don’t even have to worry about that,” she said. “I had a good feeling we were going to sell out, but I did not think it was going to be like that. I had a ton of stuff ready to post on social media and promote that, and I did not even end up needing to at all.”

The Nuthouse has its own university advisors in Ohio State’s office of student life, and it also works with Caleb Clark, director of marketing and fan experience. Approaching his seventh year at the university, Clark observed that selling student tickets to men’s basketball was “a little bit of a struggle” when he first arrived. Numbers bottomed out around 2014 or '15, he said, but things took an uptick when Chris Holtmann was named the coach in 2017.

The university gave away tickets to the Clemson game during Holtmann’s second season and the Villanova game during the 2019-20 season. That helped grow interest, as did offering single-game ticket purchases to students.

“The Nuthouse has been great,” Clark said. “Now they can focus their time on instead of trying to help us sell tickets, they can worry about helping create the atmosphere in the Schott. That’s something that we’ve talked about for a long time. It’s a big building, and it takes a lot to get it going in there; but now that there’s that many students, it’s just gonna make it easier for us.”

This year’s student package includes 10 games for $99 and no single-game student tickets are expected to be made available. Nine of the games are Big Ten matchups, while the other is a November 30 showdown with Duke as part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. That might’ve had a little bit to do with the demand, but Clark, Owen and Markenson said there are multiple factors at play.

Only students in at least their third years at Ohio State have been able to see men’s basketball games in person. Last season was played in front of cardboard cutouts and family members – although the Buckeyes were able to allow a handful of senior Nuthouse members into Value City Arena for senior day.

“My freshman year it was a little sparse sometimes in the Nuthouse, and my sophomore year, it was much better. And then we had a really strong team last year despite our March Madness run, so I think people have been paying more attention,” Markenson said. “I think people are just sick of doing nothing, and they’re ready to be back for sports.”

Clark said the demand for football tickets was similar. Those are doled out in groups organized by class year, and as the list went from fifth-year down to first-year students each group sold out, he said. The relationship between members of the men’s basketball program and the students has also played a role, with second-year players Meechie Johnson Jr. and Zed Key serving as active participants.

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At the Buckeye Kickoff event, which brings first- and second-year students to Ohio Stadium for a welcome and invites them on the field for photos, Johnson and Key participated and stuck around for an hour afterward, taking photos with any student who asked for one.

“It’s just unreal how much they’re engaging the students,” Clark said. “You look at Meechie’s social following, and it’s off the charts anyway, but it’s not just social. He’s making one-to-one relationships with our students.”

The full student section stretches behind both benches and includes the section directly behind the basket where opponents shoot during the second half. It will feature some upgrades this year with new chants, the return of Nuthouse Notes (providing detailed information on the opponents) and a likely influx of cutouts of Holtmann’s head.

And noise. Hopefully, lots of noise.

“Sometimes the Schott is hard to get loud, and I think this year more than any other year before it, you are going to have loud, excited kids — kids that are ready to really, really get their very loudest at the Schott,” Owen said. “Hopefully for a lot of people in the crowd, it’s going to be something they’ve never seen before.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy

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