Saturday’s game between #3 Oklahoma and #11 Oklahoma State drew just over 49,000 fans to Boone Pickens Stadium. For some places, that’s a great turnout, but the problem is that the stadium can hold about 60,000. There was plenty of demand for these tickets, so why so many empty seats?
At the beginning of the season, Oklahoma State decided to make this game available only to season ticket buyers. The goal was straightforward – the school needed a way to boost their season ticket holder numbers, and what better way than to use the season’s marquis game as the primary incentive. This is a common strategy for any team, tying their most popular games into ticket packages to boost attendance at other games. The strategy was quite effective for OSU – the game still had over 49,000 tickets sold (the majority had to be season tickets because of the policy) and the team had their best average game attendance ever.
So the week of the Oklahoma game rolls around and they have plenty of ticket to sell. Most teams and schools in this type of situation allow any unsold inventory to finally be released to single ticket purchasers. This way, those who bought the season ticket had locked up their guaranteed seat and the team can still fill in the open inventory. There is sometimes a bit of backlash from season ticket buyers when this happens, but nothing extreme. However, OSU did not do this. Right up to the day of the game, anyone who wanted to buy tickets had to buy full season tickets – even though there was only one game left! The cheapest tickets available from the box office were between $300 and $400. Complicating the situation were scalpers that sold tickets for much cheaper than that. The result was over 10,000 empty seats for the school’s biggest game and a lot of unhappy fans.
Did the team do the right thing by sticking to their policy? Would an extra 10,000 screaming OSU fans have helped the home field advantage (it was a close game for a while)? Maybe they could have taken a different angle and given the option of putting a deposit on season tickets for next season. This would still fit their strategy of leveraging this premium game and would have offered value to the ticket buyers, since there is little value of a season ticket for one game.
(Reference: Tulsa World, 11/30/2008)