By (@NUHighlights)
Oct 8, 2013

I am going to try to avoid spending too much time on the details of Saturday that have already been covered by others. The short version, as we all know, is that the students were magnificent while the adult fans were a big disappointment. Let’s break it down.

ESPN College GameDay – Students

I woke up at 2 AM on Saturday and shortly after found out via Twitter that there were close to 50 students in line by 2:30 AM. By the time I got there at 2:50 AM, there were at least 100 students. It seemed like 10 more came every minute. I quickly lost the ability to see the back of the line and estimates put the crowd in the neighborhood of 1,000 by 4 AM. The students, while sleep deprived, rather drunk, and fired up, kept themselves in check despite almost a complete lack of security or police presence. Eventually that presence grew a tiny bit at the front of the line, but it was clear that nobody, including the student body, anticipated this kind of turnout.

The original plan, according to the NU Wildside student group, was to have security open things up at 4:30 AM. Season ticket holders would then get access starting at 5:30 AM and Evanston residents at 5:45 AM, both with free passes that required the pass holder to be wearing purple. It would open to everyone at 6 AM.

This did not happen. The athletic department starting setting up food and t-shirts and finished roughly around 5:00 AM, but there was no movement in the line except for people starting to bunch up. The NU Wildside tweeted that ESPN security was late, so the gates didn’t open up until 5:30 AM. When they did, there was a huge surge from the back of the crowd that forced everyone up front into and sometimes over the barricades. There weren’t many people to control the situation, which seemed to last a good 10 minutes. Eventually things calmed down as the line started moving without much consequence, though I did see one person seek medical attention.

Aside from that, however, the students were fantastic. They showed up incredibly early, some even camping out overnight, and in huge numbers while bringing a lot of energy. The pit was full from people who arrived well before 4 AM and everyone else created a large crowd behind it.

ESPN College GameDay – Alumni and Season Ticket Holders 

Unfortunately, the adult fans were largely a no show. A significant number of alumni were in town for homecoming, the weather was perfect, parking was plentiful and free, and there was tons of space behind the pit (and later in the pit as students began to leave and be replaced by others, including a handful of Ohio State fans), yet very few alumni and season ticket holders showed up. Thankfully, even fewer Ohio State fans came, but what was a good crowd because of the students could have been a fantastic crowd if everyone did their part.

The overhead camera shots were strong and the administration was visibly excited throughout the show. There’s no doubt it was a huge success. It was a wonderful three hour advertisement for the team and school on a program that is seen by nearly two million people. But perhaps this was the first sign of trouble.

The Game – Students

The fact that students were turned away should not be surprising. This happens for big games. I don’t think I’ve seen so many students arrive quite so early, though. I got to my seat about 70 minutes prior to kickoff and the student section was already about half full with a long line of students outside waiting to get in. They must have rested up in the afternoon because they were quite loud throughout the game.

Why having a purple stadium matters

I won’t harp on this since the next section is long. We know that these kinds of games are the weekend on which both the football and basketball programs like to bring in recruits. Having visiting fans make up half of the crowd does not leave a good impression. It also looks terrible on TV. The TV cameras, both those up top and those on the sideline, are positioned on the west side looking east.

Over the summer, Paul Kennedy, Director of Communications for the athletics department, told me via Twitter that Northwestern has looked into the possibility of moving cameras to the east side to better capture the overwhelming purple crowd (at least 95% purple last year vs. Nebraska last year aside from the upper deck), but it would likely require having to move the broadcasters to the east side, as well. This is because the broadcasters need the same perspective as the cameras. Perhaps this is coming in the next round of renovations. We’ll just have to wait and see.

The Game – Alumni and Season Ticket Holders 

Before going any further, I’d suggest reading a previous post on the secondary market and how Northwestern attempted to keep tickets out of the hands of Ohio State fans.

The ratio of purple to Ohio State red was a significant disappointment. For the Nebraska game last year, I calculated about 54.3% purple to 45.7% Nebraska red. This was a section-by-section estimate, though admittedly still a bit rough. It may have been closer to a true 50/50 split this year. Here are the differences between the crowd Saturday and the crowd for last year’s Nebraska game:

Upper deck – significantly less red

End zone – less red, but far more than expected (lots of season tickets were purchased here; full of purple during non-conference games)

South corner on the west side – significantly more red

South corner on the east side – slightly less red

East side between the 30 yard lines in the good seats – significantly more red

This was not the expectation.

Evanston alderman Jane Grover passed along some figures that were likely provided to her by the administration. The season ticket base of 24,000 comprises 50.7% of Ryan Field’s capacity. The ticket office sold 7,000 individual tickets to season ticket holders with a limit based on the number of seats owned, to alumni online with a one-time access code, and to alumni through the homecoming allotment. It’s also worth pointing out that, unless I’m mistaken, the homecoming allotment was distributed on Saturday and not mailed out in advance in order to prevent them from being resold.

The visitor’s allotment, which is in sections 101-103 and the front half of 104, seats around 3,000. Fewer than 5,000 tickets were put on sale through Purple Pricing. The student section seats 5,000. The remaining tickets are likely held by the athletic department for various purposes and might also include the area occupied by the band, though I would be surprised if these tickets totaled the missing 3,000.

Here is an easier breakdown, which should at least be in the ballpark:

Season tickets – 24,000 (51% of capacity)

Students – 5,000 (11%)

Extra single game tickets to season ticket holders and alumni – 7,000 (15%)

Visitor’s allotment – 3,000 (6%)

Purple Pricing – 5,000 (11%)

Others – 3,000 (6%)

Based on the information told to Alderman Grover, the administration was very optimistic. She said that “75 percent of the seats are presumed purple.” The administration told GameDay something similar, as their optimism was conveyed during the broadcast by Chris Fowler.

Prices remained high until Saturday and there wasn’t any indication that sales on StubHub were particularly significant. The inventory never went much above 2,000 at any given time and continued to decline until most listings expired. But Darren Rovell made an important tweet on Friday evening that should have had people concerned.

 

 

I discounted that information because it didn’t seem realistic based on everything else I had seen, but it appears to have been accurate. If StubHub did indeed sell over 9,000 tickets, that would likely put the total number of tickets sold on the secondary market over 10,000, or 21% of capacity and 24% of all tickets (excluding the student section). That is a staggering amount.

There are some realities of which we were already aware. Some season tickets are owned by ticket brokers and scalpers. I know this all too well. I’m in the first row of my section on the west side and on the aisle. The five seats behind me and four to my left are all owned by scalpers who list the seats on StubHub for every game. I have been in my seat for five years and have yet to see the people who actually own those seats. During conference play, I am almost always literally surrounded by fans of the visiting team. For the most part, though, this is not common on the west side.

Some season tickets are purchased by visiting fans. We don’t know how many do it, but this happened in 2010 with the Wrigley game by Illinois fans and in 2012 by Nebraska fans. Both times these people likely lost money. The secondary market for the big game was much stronger this year, yet I don’t think this is a terribly significant number of people. I’d imagine that the ticket office has a decent sense of how many people buy season tickets for this reason.

I had two big takeaways from the distribution of Ohio State fans on Saturday. The first is that a significant number of season ticket holders with good seats cashed in on the secondary market compared to last year. Again, secondary market prices were much stronger for this game than they were for last year’s Nebraska game, for which the amount of purple on the east side between the 30 yard lines was pretty solid. This tells me that the issue goes far beyond the multi-year season ticket holders who are ticket brokers or scalpers. The second takeaway is that the majority of the single game, non-Purple Pricing tickets that were primarily bought by Northwestern fans and alumni were sold on the secondary market.

I’m going to give the non-season ticket holding alumni a pass on this, even though there should have been a stronger presence through tickets purchased on the secondary market given the significance of the game. The allotments for homecoming and individual tickets offered to alumni were sold out, so there was nothing more they could do to buy tickets at face value. But they certainly don’t get complete pass for the day considering very few went to the lakefill on Saturday morning for GameDay.

What we are left with is a significant disappointment in a large number of actual Northwestern fans who sold tickets to Ohio State fans and a reality that our ticket office still has a lot of work ahead of them. Ohio State may not be coming back to Evanston anytime soon (the earliest would be 2018), but Nebraska will remain in our division and will be our homecoming opponent next season. Purple Pricing helped the athletic department cash in on the demand from Ohio State fans, but they will have to take additional steps in order to prevent extra single game tickets from winding up in the hands of Nebraska fans next year.

Oh, there were also four or six stadium club seats listed on StubHub. Let that sink in.

Is there a solution?

There may not be much that can be done with one exception: will call only purchases. This serves two purposes. The first is that without having tickets in-hand prior to the game, the exact seat locations are not known and they can’t be sold on the secondary market. The other is that it prevents any advanced sales on the secondary market, eliminating StubHub as an option, and would create a miserable experience trying to sell them right before the game in person on the street or on Craigslist, both of which would be fraught with risks and logistical nightmares.

They would likely have to create a separate will call standalone office and tell people to arrive hours early to handle the crowd, but if they required all season ticket holders and alumni who order extra tickets to the Nebraska game next year to pick them up in person before the game, it would virtually eliminate secondary market sales of these tickets. It could result in some of these tickets not being sold, but at least the ticket office could put them up with Purple Pricing instead and make more money off their sale to opposing fans. I don’t know if this is a realistic option, but it’s worth exploring.

In an ideal world, Northwestern would also be able to begin culling season ticket holders who are known brokers and scalpers. This may never be an option, though. They still rely on these people for season ticket sales and can’t do something this drastic without having confidence that season tickets will sell out consistently without them. We are a long way away from this at best.

  • BrianBoru

    This adult fan , and his seat mates, along with everybody in our section screamed their friggin heads off for the purple. While I am pissed at the fans who sold out to daOSU for a few $$, there were many more who didn’t. I agree with the gist of your opinion, but a little less sweeping generalization would make it a better piece.

    • NUHighlights

      I’m in that group, as well. But given the lack of adult fans at GameDay in the morning and the significant number beyond brokers/scalpers who sold the extra 7,000 individual tickets, along with some of their own season tickets, the group as a whole was a disappointment. The administration certainly was surprised and seemed visibly upset about it during the game down on the field.

      There is a certain number of seats over which Northwestern and Northwestern fans have no control. With 3,000 or so in the visitor’s allotment and both ticket brokers/scalpers and a limited number of visiting fans buying season tickets and extra individual tickets, there is going to be red in the stands. But there is a huge difference between what those groups did to the fan distribution and what resulted from all of the extra sales that occurred on the secondary market from Northwestern fans.

      • GoU_NU

        I’m in the same boat as you guys. Young alum/adult fan, bought all the extra tickets I could for purple people (2), was at GameDay, screamed my head off as much as possible, etc…

        I was very upset with a number of my good friends that I considered to be big NU fans that didn’t make it up to GameDay. Excuses abounded…

        “had a rough night last night”
        “that’s gonna make for such a long day”
        “it’s too early in the morning”
        “what do you do between GameDay and kickoff?”
        “no”

        One thing we cannot underestimate is the laziness of people and the draw of the almighty dollar. I hate it so much, but there are plenty of people who’d rather make a couple hundred bucks turning around the OSU and Michigan tickets than go to the game. While it helps me personally to just say I don’t feel the need to associate with selfish assholes like that, it doesn’t help our purple problem.

      • nufandan

        I’m curious about this comment:
        “The administration certainly was surprised and seemed visibly upset about it during the game down on the field”

        Did you see something during the game that makes you say this?

  • NUHighlights

    I should mention one other issue with forcing fans to pick up extra single game tickets at will call. It’s not particularly fair to force fans to buy such tickets months in advance with no possibility of getting out of it. Schedules change, especially for those who have to travel in for the game. Perhaps they could allow for order cancellations up to a certain point and then sell the remaining tickets day of.

    It would be messy, though.

  • Peter Skills

    Good read. I will say the crowd in the vicinity of my seat (section 130, row 60) was 95% purple and outstanding.

    I’d love to see the Ticket Office tackle a more manageable target: scalpers with basketball season tickets in the lower-level non-purple seats. With a little effort those seats could definitely be re-allocated to actual NU fans.

    • NUHighlights

      That could be more realistic depending on how the next couple of years go and what happens with potential Welsh-Ryan renovations/demolition. There are plenty of Northwestern season ticket holders that would move down and get those seats. But I don’t know how many would be left unsold in the 200s as a result until the program takes the next step.

  • Chris C.

    A good read; I agree that the distribution was rough, but I think it felt better than the Nebraska game last year. However, that could just be because of where I sit (Section 124) and therefore can’t see the entire stadium. Perhaps expanding the student section for these big games, especially since the team’s popularity is drawing more students in, would be another option? I did want to take a slight exception to the comment about the Southwest corner; yes there were a lot of OSU fans close to the field (probably exacerbated by the fact that this is where their team would walk in, drawing even more attention) but in the rows further up, this is where a good number of alumni groups were seemingly placed. I say “placed” because for games earlier in the season, those seats are definitely not taken. Overall, things are getting better, maybe not as quickly was hoped, but, much like the team’s rise over the years, its not going to change overnight.

    • NUHighlights

      That corner wasn’t full of red, but compared to last year’s game against Nebraska, there appeared to be noticeably more.

      The difference that really stood out to me was an increase of red in the good season tickets on the east side at midfield compared to last year. That surprised me. The red was a bit more broken up against Nebraska last year because of that group, but again, the secondary market was nowhere near as strong for that game as it was this year.

  • Mark

    I’m an east side season ticket holder – Section 107. I know a lot of my neighbors that come to all the games. There are a number of season tickets in 107 through 109 however that are obviously held by ticket resellers – no one in seats for non-conference and weaker Big Ten teams and occupied by visitors from stronger Big Ten teams.

    Don’t know the solution to this problem – relatively easy to determine who the ticket resellers are if you track scanned attendance data.

    Also, visitors, unlike at every other Big Ten stadium, are given prime seating in sections 104 through 106. (No way I can get a ticket at Michigan stadium through the Northwestern ticket office on the 20 yard line. My seats at Michigan Stadium last year and in 2008 were at the top of the stadium in the end zone.) Why give the opposition prime seating? Give them reciprocity, i.e., if you put Cats fans at top of end zone that’s where your ticket allotment will be, and then sell to visiting fans with the Purple Pricing if they want better seats. Will bring in additional funding for Cats.

    • NUHighlights

      The visitor’s allotment is technically 101-103 and the front half of 104. Any visiting fans that gets seats in 104-106, and there were a lot of them, are likely getting them from the brokers and scalpers who own season tickets. I don’t think they’re getting them directly from the ticket office or an allotment.

      I asked about the visitor’s allotment on Twitter a week or two ago. From what others told me and based on the maps of other Big Ten stadiums, it appears that somewhere around 3,000 tickets (the # of seats in 101-103 and the front half of 104) is the requirement from the conference. While it would be nice to break them up into smaller groups and stick them in less visible places, which most other Big Ten schools seem to do, it doesn’t really seem possible at Ryan Field. Even though having a huge chunk of a different color in 101-103 is not a good look, those are the worst seats in the building. The end zone is more popular for new season ticket holders and no Northwestern fan would want to sit in that NE corner. The upper deck doesn’t hold enough people to move a significant number of visiting fans up there, either. So we end up with 3,000 tickets in that corner sent to the visiting schools.

      I’m guessing that the east side has a higher percentage of season ticket holders who are brokers or scalpers since the quality of available seats is a bit better and they’re more attractive to visiting fans on the secondary market.

  • Bucknut

    This is sad. You’re grasping for top-down solutions to your fans not caring enough to retain their tickets for their own use? The solution won’t come from the ticket office. On the bright side, NU is making huge strides in the on the field product and I would imagine this problem naturally lessens in time.

  • Charley S.

    It would be interesting to see the how many Northwestern fans showed up based on the homecoming classes. I’m in the class of 2008 and we were all put in the upper deck in the southwest corner. My section was completely purple and I only saw one OSU fan. I can’t speak, however, for the other sections designated for reunion classes. Despite all the OSU fans at this game, based on the 2004 OSU-NU game I attended, this was a vast improvement. I barely remember seeing any purple outside of the student section that year. Very proud of our ‘Cats!

    • NUHighlights

      That would explain why the upper deck was surprisingly purple, especially compared to last year’s Nebraska game.

      And yes, those crowds in the 2000s were miserable. I was in the student section in 2004, but in the end zone in 2006 and higher up in 131 in 2008. A lot of progress has been made since those games, but Northwestern was hoping for a lot better on Saturday.

      FYI, those games in the 2000s were far from instant sellouts. I remember at least the 2006 game taking maybe a month to sell out. It speaks to not just how many seats were left available after season tickets, but also how much less urgency there was at buying up tickets.

  • Dennis Stanley

    Don’t forget that OSU fans are all over the US, just look at the CAL game for OSU and you know this. Only the most crazed, loyal and rich fan will travel to the Bay Area to watch an average Cal team vs OSU, yet they filled the stadium. Why? Because they already live in the area. Some things cannot be controlled, I’m guessing many fair weather Northwestern fans bought tickets, but they were OSU fans first, so they switched loyalties for this game only. They did a great job trying to keep tickets out of OSU fans, but like a dug in mole/spy, this coup d’état came from within.

  • NUMBalum95

    I’m an adult fan who came to both Gameday and the game from out of state. We got to Gameday at 5:30 with our tickets from the ticket office. I think many of the adults that I saw came later in the morning. I saw quite a few more milling around the back when the swim team made their entrance. There were a smattering of us throughout the crowd, but we didn’t generally push up to the front of the sections. That’s for the students, anyway.

    My season tickets are in Sec. 127, and the people immediately in front of me were Ohio State fans. I made some mention wondering which season ticket holder sold us out, and the woman turned around and said, “these are my season tickets; my husband played for NU.” Sure enough, the two men sitting next to me were players during the 2000′s. So for this one game, she was rooting for her team.

    Other than that, our section was pretty solidly purple, as you would expect between the 40′s on the West side. We also stood up for much of the game and screamed our heads off (as evidenced by me still not having a much of a voice today).

    I thought in general, the crowd was enthusiastic. I know that no one cheers harder than the students, and I remember the shock of sitting down for the game when I became an alum. However, there was definitely electricity in the stadium, and my section was loud and standing for much of the game.

  • Mike Deneen

    The crowd distribution should not have surprised anyone. NU’s major mistake was to make OSU the Homecoming game…..a disastrous decision. The purpose of Homecoming is to spotlight the HOME team, not to bring in a high-profile opponent.

    On the upside, NU was very wise to limit season ticket holders to one OSU ticket each….this induced a lot of extra season ticket sales. The Purple Pricing was also very smart.The crowd didn’t look good on TV, but it was a very profitable evening for our cash-strapped program.

    Also on the upside, NU is slowly building a fan base. However, that fan base will always be the smallest in the league, and it will always be more mellow than the OSU and Nebraska types.These “neutral field” home games will always be a part of NU football.

    • Mike Deneen

      More good news……the game did very well on TV, especially in Chicago. NU beat ND nearly 2-to-1 in the Chicago market. NU will always have home attendance problems, but the Wildcats have historically been a pretty strong TV draw.

  • NUinVA

    Awesome recap. I sat in the Class of 2008 section (pic below) and was sad to see how much red was there given how hyped this game was. If we can’t get even 60% of the stadium purple for a night game, two-undefeated and ranked team matchup on HOMECOMING, then when will we ever get a purple, packed stadium? Maybe if we invite Kansas State to play us…

    Two points I want to make. 1) We showed up to GameDay at 10 because it’s on the Lakefill – far far away from the hotels, the El, downtown Evanston, everything. We flew in for Homecoming and didn’t have a car and didn’t want to pay a taxi to get dropped off at a probably packed or closed parking lot nearby. Even as a student who lived on North Campus, I found the Lakefill inconvenient to get to. I know it was the only choice for GameDay but it’s not a great location for a Homecoming alumni base.

    2) I go to University of Virginia games several times a season. There student section and band are opposite the main alumni side of the stadium. I think that’s what we need to do because a) we’ll have the students and band right on top of the opponents, b) we’ll break up the visiting fans if they swarm, and c) their noise and chants will echo back and forth with the alumni section. I know that’ll never happen but it’s a thought.

  • Huskerfansrule

    Another reason it is great to be a Husker!

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