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Non-Conference Attendance and a Look at Ohio State Fan Distribution

Last week, I guessed we would see about 31,000 for the game against Maine on Saturday. Thanks to the students, attendance was announced at 32,726. That’s a higher number than for any of the non-conference games last season. The night opener against Vanderbilt, with high school bands, had 31,664. Boston College, which was an afternoon start, had 32,597. And the FCS matchup against South Dakota in pretty much identical circumstances brought 28,641. That’s an increase of 14.3% in attendance for FCS opponents and an 11.8% increase for all non-conference games from last year. Saturday was also an 83.3% increase from the 2009 FCS game, a sunny morning season opener against Towson that drew just 17,857. Assuming sellouts of 47,300 for the Ohio State and Michigan games, NU will have to average about 40,700 for Michigan State and Minnesota to average 40,000 for the season.

If you didn’t get a good look at the west stands, you missed a student section that overflowed into the young alumni section. After the freshmen ran down the sideline prior to kickoff, a tradition created a couple of years ago, they filed up the bleachers to find that room had run out. It was an impressive showing, one that should easily be duplicated for at least Ohio State and Michigan. Though as a warning to the new students, there won’t be an overflow area when the 5,000 student section seats are taken. Get there early.

Not too many left at halftime, though they emptied out pretty quickly early in the 4th quarter. The weather may have had something to do with it. Though perfect football weather, it seemed like most students came in t-shirts and shorts. When a daytime high is in the mid-60s with a decent breeze out of the northwest and there is nothing but shade with a fading afternoon sun, you need to dress a bit warmer.

THE SECONDARY MARKET

It’s been interesting to watch the StubHub listings for homecoming. Last year’s Nebraska game led to a massive supply of tickets hitting the secondary market without a demand to match. Some Nebraska fans did purchase season tickets to guarantee seats, which was an obvious poor choice. The Huskers also weren’t living up to expectations leading into the matchup, so game week demand wasn’t what it should have been. The result was that ticket prices fell significantly below face value to as low as $10 for end zone seats, if I recall correctly.

The Northwestern ticket office took a new approach this year in an effort to put more tickets in the hands of Northwestern fans and keep them from brokers, scalpers, and fans of the opposing teams. For the first time, they restricted the number of extra individual game tickets that season ticket holders could buy for the Ohio State and Michigan games. With Ohio State being the homecoming game, the homecoming committee got a large number of tickets to distribute to alumni with day of game pick-up as the only option. And the ticket office also sent out an email to all alumni, providing a one-time use code with which to purchase up to four tickets to any game before individual tickets went on sale.

The biggest change was the introduction of Purple Pricing. They did not release the remaining single game tickets for Ohio State and Michigan (several thousand, according to reports) in the usual manner. Instead, they put the tickets up for sale through a system that allowed people to purchase tickets at a higher price with a guarantee that they’d be refunded the difference between what they paid and what the lowest priced ticket in their section (sideline, corner, end zone, obstructed sideline) went for prior to selling out.

The Ohio State game finished with prices of $195 for sideline, $151 for corner, $126 for end zone, and $185 for sideline partially obstructed view. Tickets went fast and the ticket office barely adjusted the pricing. I believe that the sideline tickets only dropped about $10 from their starting point. The Michigan game currently has a little bit to go before selling out through Purple Pricing, but that will happen. They’re not lowering prices with nearly two months before the game. Those prices currently sit at $148/$114/$91 with no obstructed view sideline tickets available yet.

One month ago, there were between 1,500 and 1,600 tickets for the Ohio State game listed on StubHub. That number rose to just over 2,000 a week ago, and now, as of the morning of September 23, sits at 1,878. For a stadium that seats 47,300 (42,300 tickets after removing the student sections), this is a very low number. There are 1,000 more seats up online for the Minnesota game and nearly twice as many for the home finale against Michigan State. It’s also a very good sign. Ohio State fans will come, but in far fewer than they did in the 2000s. It will also be noticeably less than the 22,000 or so Nebraska fans that came to town last year.

The minimum “get-in” price hasn’t changed much over the last month. Once at $145 per ticket, the cheapest pair is listed at $134 each for end zone tickets. StubHub charges 10% and delivery to all buyers, $11.95 for UPS or $4.95 for the few listed as electronic delivery. That means the “get-in” price for a pair of tickets right now is $307 or $153.50 per ticket after fees. I can’t recall any Northwestern home game that has come anywhere close to that price.

But that’s just for the cheapest tickets. There is a way to see past sales to get a better sense of what the market is actually like. Over the weekend, 136 tickets were sold on StubHub for an average price of $179. After the 10% buyer’s fee, the final average ticket cost was $197. There were 53 orders total with an average of 2.5 tickets per order, so after adding on an average of $5 shipping per ticket, the total money spent on the average ticket over the weekend comes out to around $202 each.

Northwestern was pretty aggressive with its Purple Pricing, yet it appears that they nailed it. Had the Wildcats lost a non-conference game, we would have seen a lower demand and higher supply, but they easily could have lowered prices to meet what people are willing to pay. Oh, and keep in mind that for sideline seats, season ticket holders are only paying about $45 per ticket for the Ohio State game.

There is some speculation that Northwestern may decide to keep the tarp on and minimize the number of Ohio State fans that can come to Evanston, pushing them closer to 10,000 in total. This is based on the lack of tickets on the secondary market for sections 101-103 and the bottom half of 104, which are now officially labeled as the visitors section on Northwestern’s latest seating chart. As of the time I’m writing this, only one listing is shown for those sections on StubHub. It came up on Sunday and is for two tickets in section 101. This could be an error, of course. It’s odd that there would be just one listing. It should be either none, which would indicate that those tickets haven’t reached their destination yet, or at least a handful. Keep in mind that people can’t list tickets on the secondary market without knowing exact seat location, something that is not told to people purchasing tickets through an allotment. They don’t find out that information until they come in the mail.

I don’t think they’ll keep the tarp on, though. There are just under 2,700 seats in sections 101-103, which are covered by the tarp. It’s unclear what the face value is of those seats since they were not put up with Purple Pricing. They’re technically corner seats, but would cost more than the discounted price of season tickets, so I’ll guess $60 each. Keeping the tarp on, though good for TV visuals and atmosphere against Ohio State, would cost the athletic department between $150,00 and $200,000. That’s a big sacrifice to make.

The likeliest explanation is that sections 101-103 and the bottom half of 104 are being handled as a visitor’s allotment, meaning they are being sent and distributed by the Ohio State ticket office. It would not be surprising if Ohio State fans who purchased tickets through the Ohio State ticket office have yet to receive them in the mail. I also wouldn’t expect many to wind up on the secondary market, though certainly some will.

If that is the case, though, why would the visitor’s allotment be so large? I believe the first allotment area is in the first handful of rows of 105. In total, along with the bottom half of 104, that would put the allotment at over 3,000 tickets. A visitor’s allotment that large doesn’t make any sense. If anyone knows the answer to this, let us know in the comments.

[Update]: Some tickets have been listed in sections 101 and 102, so it's clear that those were sent to Ohio State and then distributed as a visitor's allotment to individual fans, only just now arriving in the mail. Also, the number of available tickets for Homecoming continues to decline. On the 24th, 127 tickets were sold on StubHub at an average list price of $162 before fees.