Spike in basketball and hockey ticket demand exposes system flaws, frustrates University students
Aidan Thomas | Friday, February 11, 2022
The return of fans to arenas for the 2021-2022 winter athletics season and increased efforts to improve attendance have caused a spike in ticket demand in recent weeks. Largely a sign of a flourishing athletic program, the rising popularity of Notre Dame winter sports has created a competitive student lottery process to obtain tickets and also highlighted unequal approaches to marketing men’s and women’s sports. Students have expressed frustration with these issues and are looking for explanations and improvements as the season continues.
What led to the increased demand?
The increased demand at men’s basketball and hockey games can partly be attributed to improved success of on-court and on-ice products. In basketball, the Irish lead the ACC. At 10-3 in conference play, they have equaled their most conference wins since 2016-2017. The hockey squad continues to play with the best in the country. After sweeping Penn State last week, they are a consensus top-15 team in the country.
However, Notre Dame has had good teams before. The men’s basketball team went to consecutive NCAA Tournament Elite Eights in 2015 and 2016. Hockey has made runs to the national championship game.
Part of it can be attributed to the return of fans post-COVID. The Irish did not allow students to attend basketball or hockey games last season until the very end of the year. The return of on-campus athletic events has been cause for celebration among some students. However, there were few issues with too many ticket requests in the first semester.
Additionally, the efforts of the Notre Dame marketing and fan experience team and its collaboration with “Lep Legion” — the official student section of Notre Dame — have helped the cause, said Jade Fung, a junior and one of the leaders of Lep Legion.
The closer collaboration between Lep Legion, athletics and marketing has improved the student section experience, Fung added.
“We’ve brought things back that we used to do my freshman year… It’s been really easy because freshmen and sophomores haven’t really been to games, so they don’t know what to expect,” Fung said. “We’re working with marketing and ND athletics really closely. Lep Legion used to be different from marketing, so it’s really nice that we’re coming together.”
Amidst other events, Lep Legion orchestrated t-shirt promotions, green pom giveaways and created “Jeer Cards” placed throughout the student section before each men’s basketball contest. Fung said that while she believes Notre Dame will always predominantly be a football school, she has been pleased to be able to play a part in improving the atmosphere at other events.
“There’s a ton of student-athletes that work really hard and deserve support,” she said. “It’s really great that we can get that to them. It’s creating new experiences for students because there’s not that much to do in the winter in South Bend.”
Arenas experience an abundance of no-shows after lottery
A fallout of the increased ticket demand has been that the ensuing lotteries have denied many students the opportunity to support the Irish in person. Just in the second semester alone, men’s basketball games against Clemson, NC State, Virginia and Duke have all conducted a ticket lottery. Recent hockey games versus Boston College, Minnesota and Penn State also saw excess ticket demand.
The frustrating part for students is that tickets frequently go to buyers who do not show up. A stark example of this was the NC State men’s basketball game Jan. 26. The recorded game attendance was 6,881. That fell well short of Purcell Pavilion’s capacity of 9,149. Yet student tickets went to lottery. Similar issues were seen on the ice against Boston College Jan. 19. During that game, the recorded crowd came in at 4,124 — nearly 1,000 people short of Compton Family Ice Arena’s 5,022-person limit. Yet, once again, students were left to the random whims of the ticket lottery to earn attendance.
The Observer reached out to representatives of the Notre Dame ticket office but did not receive comment on the ticket lottery situation.
Students frustrated by lottery system
Students have been both frustrated and surprised with the process.
“I knew tickets were free, so I assume they want students there,” first-year Nalani Malackowsi said. “Now it’s weird when only half my friends can go, and we’re scrambling to find extra tickets.”
An inability to apply in groups and link tickets with others in the ticket lottery has been a common complaint among students. This frequently leads to situations similar to Malackowsi’s last-minute scramble to find extra tickets.
Off-campus senior Maddie Galvin described her experience finding tickets at the last moment before Saturday’s game against Penn State.
“I applied for both Penn State and Minnesota and did not get either of those,” Galvin said. “For the Penn State game, I wasn’t actually notified until 2:06 p.m.”
Galvin noted that several of her friends that she planned on attending the game with heard of their ticket status by 11 a.m. that same day. With a 6 p.m. start time for the Saturday game, the late email notice left Galvin with less than four hours to scout for a ticket.
The late notices and inability to group tickets have led to another issue with the ticketing system: the Notre Dame student version of ticket scalpers.
“It’s been ridiculous. People are entering the lottery just to resell the tickets,” Galvin said. “I’ve been really close to paying for the [resold] tickets. I lucked out and got them from friends. A lot of people have to pay whatever the asking price is.”
Malackowsi referenced a similar issue. While she paid a small amount for some of her tickets, she said she knew of other students charging over $100 for a ticket they had gotten for free.
However, resold tickets never officially transfer names, so the original owner of the ticket still gets credit for attending. And because of the lottery system, once a student attends a game, they are more likely to win tickets to future games. This leads to more and more scalpers requesting tickets without any intention of attending.
Both Galvin and Malackowsi said providing a fair opportunity for students to attend the games and preventing ticket re-sale is a tough balancing act. Whether it’s a poor notification system, a lottery system that incentivizes re-selling tickets or a lack of attendance from local fans leaving empty seats that could have been filled by students, there has been a lot of questions raised by the ticket lottery system. And they are questions Notre Dame students have yet to receive any clarity on.
Unequal atmospheres amidst attendance spike
Another major impact of the attendance surge has been a noticeable difference in attendance between men’s and women’s games. Considering Notre Dame doesn’t have a women’s hockey team, the most obvious comparison can be drawn between men’s and women’s basketball games. In back-to-back nights, the unranked men’s team played No. 7 Duke, and the women’s team played No. 3 NC State. The former boasted a sellout crowd, bolstered by an overflowing student section. The latter saw a crowd of 5,566, barely 60% capacity. The student section was a vocal but very small presence in the Purcell Pavilion.
There are multiple problems when it comes to the unequal atmospheres. The issue is not the performance of the Irish, who are nationally ranked inside the top 20. Part of it may be attributed to a national problem when it comes to student interest in women’s sports. However, Notre Dame can hardly blame everything on this, as other prominent programs routinely pull large crowds with sizable student sections.
But the atmosphere at the games is not catered to a student crowd, starting with entering the building and all the way through where students are seated.
Administrative issues have hindered the gameday experience for women’s games. In a top-20 battle with North Carolina, there were no tickets ready for students who presented their identification, as had been advertised. Rather, a group of roughly several dozen Irish students stood outside the gates for nearly a quarter of the game, waiting to to be allowed to enter. The majority of them did not get to their seats until the second quarter.
The issues at the gates have prevailed throughout the season, making themselves apparent at several other points. Galvin said she experienced issues entering the arena for the women’s game against NC State.
“We tried to walk through security. But there were no directions, no email about the procedure for tickets,” Galvin said. “We had to go around, and then we got stopped and sent to a different gate. Once we got inside, we got directed to a different tunnel that wasn’t the one closest to our gate.”
Students have also expressed frustration at the layout of the student section. Ushers send students to a group of seats closer to the upper level than the court, where a significant portion of the students have a view of the court that is obstructed by the band.
Galvin expressed her frustration with the lack of priority given to students for the NC State game, perhaps the most highly anticipated Irish home game to date.
“When we get there, we’re up behind the band, behind the basket, it’s not even a very good view,” Galvin said.
Groups work to address the problem
Necessary parties are beginning to mobilize to correct these prevalent issues with women’s basketball student attendance.
“For women’s basketball, we’re starting to get all in,” Fung said of Lep Legion’s involvement. “ND Athletics and marketing have been getting in on it a lot this past week… There was an article about the difference between the Duke and NC State games. Representatives from the fan experience team read it, sent it to me and told me ‘I’m all in, let me hear all your ideas.’”
Such ideas, he said, included a revamped student experience at women’s basketball games. Fung and Lep Legion’s current efforts center on creating an actual student section next to the band and not behind it, akin to where they sit for the men’s games. Fung said she takes pride in the opportunity to help improve the issue of poor student attendance at the women’s games.
“They’re already balling out like this with no student crowd, imagine how much better they can be with the whole school there,” she said. “We’re bringing that back.”