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College Football: Pricing Itself out of the Market

It has been amazing to me the speed with which changes to the landscape of collegiate football/athletics are happening. I have already weighed in on a lot of this, and today, another story moves me to comment. The reason for the comment, is that I think this story is not unique. I think many of us are in the same boat, and I think it’s important to take this moment in time and project forward, so we can at least anticipate what we might see down the road.

Here’s the story: A gentleman from another Big Ten institution recently wrote a friend of mine relating a story about his new football season ticket experience. This gentleman is sitting in a specific section of his stadium that is reserved for a club he has belonged to at this institution for years because he has been a good friend of the institution and a donor. In order to stay in those seats and the club, he was asked to buy the seats, and they are very expensive, (6 games over 1,500 dollars per seat.) He was also required to sign a three year contract to not only buy the seats but pay a relatively sizeable seat license fee on a graded scale for the three years. As a member of another club at this Big Ten institution, he had a prime parking location. He is a member of this club thanks to a yearly donation that is considerable. He was informed in order to continue parking in this preferred spot his donation to the club would be doubled, and he would still be required to pay a per game parking fee.

Now, this gentleman suggested that he may just invest in a bigger flat screen TV and stay at home and save literally thousands of dollars. He sounds like a very smart man to me.

I’m sure this is not the only story like this across the country. To some degree, with different names of clubs and societies, it’s happening at Michigan. Call it a sign of the times. Call it progress. Call it the rising costs of everything. The fact is…. it is happening. How we got here really doesn’t matter. The fact is we’re here.

But, here is the disconnect: when those of us who are asked to pay these increases, see that the college football playoff just signed a media rights deal for nearly 8 billion dollars, we wonder, where is all that money going? Why are you asking me for more? The Universities also get separate media and online revenue rights worth millions of dollars that doesn’t include the CFP deal. What they may not understand is that the optics indicate that they are flush with cash with multiple sources of revenue. Fans like you and I are not flush with cash. I’m sure those asking for more money have good reasons. They have salaries, utilities, maintenance, etc, etc, and etc, that are forcing them to ask for more. I get it. But, guess what? We have expenses too, and they aren’t getting any smaller.

I also don’t see anything changing. Don’t look for a rollback in prices for tickets, parking, or seat licenses, when is the last time that happened? NEVER! If anything, prices will probably keep increasing. It is economics. The cost of doing business is going up for a variety of reasons. The University will dutifully tell you they are being responsible stewards of your dollars, spending them in the right places to maintain the reputation and excellence of the institution. And, they are! I have no doubts about that.

But here’s the rub,…as responsible stewards of our own dollars, we have solid reasons, of our own, to not participate and get on this runaway train. We can get off the merry-go-round if it’s getting too expensive. So, when Michigan Stadium no longer has a crowd of over 100 thousand, and when other stadiums in the country are half full or even less for a big game, nobody should ask why. It will take a while, but I see it happening. A new generation of fan is being asked to pay these prices, and I don’t think they are as willing or even able to meet the prices that will be demanded in the near future.

The gentleman’s story that I related at the beginning of this piece is from a generation that built the crowds and support at their universities over the years. As you can tell, he’s ready to step away. There are hundreds of thousands just like him across the land. I will be honest,…I am not sure there are hundreds of thousands who will be standing in line with their dollars to replace him. They will be there to cheer for their teams, but they’ll do it while watching their phones, tablets, and 72 inch flat screen TV’s. They won’t be paying for club memberships, parking, or seat licenses.

I’m not upset. I am disappointed, but not mad. The game of collegiate football is the same. The environment in which it exists has changed dramatically. There are a lot of reasons for it, but to figure that out, you’d need hours and hours of discussion, and there isn’t enough room on paper.

This is one of those situations where the answer to both sides of a question is the same, and that’s a rare occurrence. Imagine the college football powers asking their fans: Why aren’t you filling up our stadiums for this weeks games? Imagine the college football fan asking the college football powers: Why does it cost so much to see the game this week? The answer to both questions is easy….Economics! No rancor, no ire, no anger…it’s simple,…economics! If it works for one, it works for both.


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