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For general-admission policy, a costly success

Nick Cruz/Daily
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By Zach Helfand, Daily Sports Editor
Published September 4, 2013

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On Nov. 16 of last year, the Michigan Athletic Department sent an email to students with the subject line including: “Seriously, Remember to Set Your Alarm.” It was a reminder for Senior Day.

In comparison to its typical messages, filled with light-hearted puns or practical information, this e-mail seemed almost agitated. The message featured a photograph of a sparsely populated student section with the caption “HOME-FIELD DISADVANTAGE.”

The week before, the Wolverines beat Northwestern in a thrilling overtime game, and nearly a third of the student section never showed up. This was becoming an irritating trend. The Athletic Department wanted to change that for the following week, Senior Day against Iowa.

But during the pregame ceremonies for that game, only a tiny fraction of the student section dotted the bleachers, though more students eventually showed up. It would be the last game under Michigan’s long-standing policy of reserved seating, with the best seats awarded by credit hours accumulated. Seniors typically sat in the front.

The Athletic Department had tried outreach and a new loyalty program, the H.A.I.L application, but nothing worked. It was ready for a new approach.

“We did a study to find out what other schools are charging for student tickets, because maybe we’re too low,” Athletic Director Dave Brandon told in July. “Maybe one of the reasons students aren’t showing up is because they feel like they haven’t made enough of a significant investment in the ticket.”

Analysis by The Michigan Daily, which compiled data on student-ticket prices and policies at all 129 FBS or soon-to-be FBS programs, shows how far Michigan went to correct its prices.

Coming off an 8-5 season, Michigan unveiled a new pricing model in April that, at the time, made it the most expensive student football ticket in the nation. The price of a season ticket increased to $295 for seven games in 2013, including service fees, from $205 for six games in 2012.

For an average price of $42.14, students get a night game against Notre Dame, and home games against Nebraska and Ohio State.

In August, Oregon knocked off Michigan to become the most expensive ticket at $360, though it offers nearly 4,000 of its roughly 5,000-seat student section in a game-by-game lottery for free.

The second part of the Athletic Department’s plan proved to be more controversial. Reserved seating was out. General admission seating was in. Early arrivers would get wristbands granting access to the first 22 rows. All others would be assigned to a section when they arrived.

Central Student Government President Michael Proppe, a Business senior, learned of the policy change like everyone else: through an April 23 e-mail. The Athletic Department, he said, hadn’t consulted with CSG or any other students.

“There wasn’t buy-in from the students,” Proppe said. “It was just kind of being handed down, here’s the new policy, like it or leave it.”

Within three hours of the announcement of the new policy, the Facebook group “UMich Students to Reverse the New Football Ticket Policy” had more than 1,500 ‘likes.’ An online petition through CSG gained more than 2,600 signatures in less than 24 hours.

Students, mostly juniors and seniors, felt cheated. They had sat high up in Michigan Stadium, they argued, for the chance to get to the best rows as upperclassmen. Now that opportunity was gone.

In response, CSG itself passed two resolutions: one officially opposing the general-admission policy, and one calling for more student input on future decisions.

Some prospective ticket-holders had recently attended the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four in Atlanta, where the NCAA-run student ticketing process required hours of queuing in a Georgia Dome holding center. There, students lined up five hours prior to the game in a dark, concrete room. Though Michigan gave the best seats to students who attended the most games, skipping the line was rampant.