After a lot of debate about ticket usage and fan distribution at the Northwestern-Ohio State game, we sat down with Ryan Chenault, Northwestern's Assistant Athletic Director for Marketing. He talked about NU's strategies going in and evaluated the experience. For more of our coverage on the fan distribution at the game, check out Jon Davis' breakdown.
What were your expectations for the fan split at NU-OSU?
Our goal is always to give the team the best home field advantage, and I think each year we try to get smarter and smarter to do different things to go ahead and prevent (having the other team bring a lot of fans). We're always going to be a destination school for other teams, meaning (fans) come to Chicago for a small weekend. Some teams travel better than others, but we had a unique opportunity with Homecoming, partnering with the alumni association, some things we put in place. We were hopeful it wouldn't be like the last time Ohio State was here, and I think that was the case. I would also think it was a better place than Nebraska was last year. Is it where it needs to be? Absolutely not. Until that place is 95 percent purple and only that small block of seats is the visiting team, we have a lot more work to do.
I can tell you from my vantage point, when Ohio State did something, it was better than Northwestern, so I thought we outnumbered them.
Is that the biggest student section you've ever had?
That is right up there, real close to one of the top three since I've been here — I think this is my seventh season. Michigan a couple years ago was close, I think that was the first game the students were back. But definitely in the last two years, that was one of the strongest student sections that I've seen.
Is there ever a thought of expanding the student sections for big games?
The hope is that we let every single student in that wants the ability to get into our games, and I think we need to make sure that we're accommodating those pieces. I don't know if we want to be in a position where we're going to fluctuate up and down. It could kind of put us in a difficult situation if we had trouble getting the students on board — we don't know what they're gonna say or do. What I would say is, though, if the demand is as high as it was (for that game) on a continual basis, we're probably going to have to explore ways that it works better for the students, because I know there were some issues of crowding and such, and we want to make sure everyone has the best experience possible.
How do you evaluate the extra ticket limit for season ticket holders? Was there still a problem with season ticket holders selling their extras?
I think that we need to get to a point where our season ticket holders are valuing their tickets across the board. Was it what it was in years past? No. Was it where it needs to be? Absolutely not. With the season tickets, we're still brining in new fans. We need to be cost-effective to bring in those new fans, but it is kind of a balancing act, too, because you don't want to necessarily — (you don't want) opportunities for profitability or something like that. The secondary market is always going to be something that, not only Northwestern, but all the schools try to combat and try to figure out how we can get those dollars to come back into the university.
Do you think OSU fans were buying season tickets for this game?
I think one of the things we did notice, or we kept an eye on this year, was where season tickets were being purchased, and I know that we had less season tickets bought by out-of-state accounts than we did previously. But being in Chicago, though, there are so many Big Ten alumni that it's always going to be the case where someone might go ahead, and if you think about it if you're an alum from another school, how much does it cost you to go back to your home school with gas, lodging, tickets? Sometimes it might make more sense in your own backyard.
Would it be worth it for opposing fans to buy season tickets for this game, then sell the rest?
I don't know. We know that the pricing that we did for our general sales through Purple Pricing, we were pretty much selling at levels that were double what they were in previous years, just in terms of value of the ticket. You couldn't sell one and make up money, but the demand was definitely there for that game.
Is the 9,000 tickets sold on the secondary market more or less than your "goal?"
That would be less than what we sold to the general public... (He said he can't compare the 9,000 to other games). It's something that, we want to make sure we're cultivating our own fan base and our own fan base is showing up in purple.
What are some solutions? Is gameday pickup viable?
Logistically, you want to make sure it's a good experience for anyone who's paying for the tickets. 50,000 seats pickin gup the day of the game could be pretty brutal.
I think (a solution) is continued messaging to our fans and our alumni about the importance of really supporting the team at all games. And I think with everything that Coach (Pat Fitzgerald) is doing in the program, there's reason to support them. It's a culture shift. It's not going to be overnight that it happens. We're not where we want to be, we had some good successes this past weekend and we've got to get back up and ready again, and hopefully we'll do better at Minnesota, Michigan and Michigan State this year, and then next year with Cal and Nebraska and Michigan that comes back and everyone else. It's a continuing process, something that we're always discussing what we can do better, and again, our job is to make sure that we give that team the best advantage in the home stadium as possible.
Was there an issue of people whose second favorite team is NU buying season tickets but selling this game to make a profit?
Being a season ticket holder, there should be pride in that — the fact that you're building something special and a part of that foundation of Northwestern football and helping us out there. People are buying them for other reasons and we just need to continue to pound home how important that is, and why we need a great season ticket base.
Are there people just buying them to sell them all?
Possibly. What we will do is we'll go back and do some research and see ticket usage and where those things are. The technology isn't quite there yet to understand 100 percent where it is and to monitor all 47,330 tickets and who's using them, but we're getting closer and if we can identify areas to improve upon making sure that Northwestern fans are using Northwestern tickets, that's part of us trying to get smarter.