The Banner-Herald highlights an issue I’ve been stewing over for a month or so. I’ve been a season ticket holder for women’s basketball for a little more than ten years. This summer, we received a letter alerting us to a ticketing change:
Season ticket holders will be located in six sections…with general admission seating offered in those sections on a first-come, first-served basis. Seats in those six sections will be reserved for season ticket holders until the five-minute mark of the first quarter.
No more reserved seating. A “season ticket” (at the same price as before) will now only buy you access into certain restricted sections before the game with no guarantee of a specific seat or section. Shortly after tipoff, all sections will become general admission.
The rationale is this: between unsold reserved tickets and no-shows, fans are scattered throughout the seating area. Making tickets general admission should lead to a crowd that is more compact and closer to the court. That should increase crowd involvement and noise and help the homecourt advantage. A “season ticket” that allows access to specific sections prior to tipoff is offered as a premium.
This plan is similar to something Georgia tried during the 2014 NIT. Tickets were sold as general admission, but Basketball Enhancement Fund contributors received priority on seating in Sections D, E, and F. I’ll admit – it worked. Crowds were small but close the court and involved in the games. Still, it was an ad-hoc ticketing plan for a postseason event for which Georgia only had a couple of days to come up with a way to distribute tickets. Men’s basketball went right back to reserved seating for the 2014-2015 regular season.
The difficulties come from how people actually attend games. It’s the difference between fans and administrators who perceive a problem (“we need a better homecourt advantage”) but who attend games with credentials rather than tickets. These are just a few examples of some practical concerns you’d hear from season ticket holders:
- The most loyal boosters are offered a “chalk talk” before the game where coaches discuss the matchups and state of the team. It’s a fantastic perq. With the new plan, these fans must either claim seats and leave personal items behind or risk losing their seat while away at the chalk talk. These are also the fans most likely to have season tickets, and this booster club was not consulted on the change.
- Fans coming from the Atlanta metro struggle to make it much before the 7 p.m. weeknight tips. They’re left to take what seats are available.
- At $40, a season ticket is steep but not out of reach for fans of teams with large followings (think UT or South Carolina) who want to take over premium sections.
- Fans have built up relationships with those sitting around them year after year. Areas of different sections have even developed their own personalities as groups of friends and families congregate in their familiar locations. Now they must deal with the inconvenience and stress of saving seats, hoping they arrive on time to sit with friends, and accepting that they might have to watch this game from another section.
Yes, these are largely minor inconveniences. But why intentionally inconvenience your best fans? The experience of going to the game is now diminished by the uncertainty of where you’re going to sit and with whom. My friend Red put it well: “What’s the point of having season tickets?” If the concern is filling up the lower bowl, I have much less of a problem with allowing fans to claim unused seats after five minutes.
Decisions like this usually come down to money, but I can’t see how this move will result in more revenue. Fans can now just buy tickets to the subset of games they plan to attend. The timing is odd, too. The program is on shaky ground, there’s a new and unproven head coach, and the last time we saw the team on the Stegeman court they scored a whopping 26 points. At a time when the athletic department should be building excitement for the renewed energy in the program, they unnecessarily piss off the people most likely to buy in.
All that said, I renewed my tickets. I’m willing to still support the program, and I guess we’ll see how this turns out. I expect that a lot of us will gravitate towards the seats we’re used to. I’ve been a fan long enough to know what loyalty will get you, but with more and more games on the SEC Network, I expect I’ll have a tougher decision in a year.