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Of Course Ohio State Football is Struggling to Sell Season Tickets: There’s a Hype Ceiling

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Who’s going to get irrationally excited about the 2019 Buckeyes?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 07 Cincinnati at Ohio State Photo by Adam Lacy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Yesterday, Andy Anders of The Lantern reported on a significant decrease in season football ticket packages sold for Ohio State Buckeyes football, especially student tickets.

more than 6,500 fewer season student ticket packages were sold for the 2019 season than in 2018.

The drop reflects a broader trend within the program, with a 4.3-percent decline in nonstudent season ticket packages for Ohio Stadium.

A number of possible reasons are cited, such as the general trend of decreasing live sports attendance in the US, the significant impact of not having Michigan at home this season, and single-game tickets being more cost-effective, but I’d like to highlight that last one because it illustrates a problem only programs like Ohio State have: the hype ceiling.

Buying single-game tickets is much more cost-effective at struggling programs like Illinois where the secondary market sees tickets go for pocket change, but at Ohio State it’s a question of how much Ohio State football one desperately needs to see versus the cost. Splurging on season tickets, especially for first-time season ticket buyers, is often an emotionally-motivated decision driven by the desire to not miss a second of home game action for your team.

But when you’re Ohio State, how high can those emotions really get?

If you’re already a season ticket holder and maybe you don’t make it to every single game and don’t get the bang for your buck selling your unused tickets, the second you start to wonder about the practical benefits of season tickets is the second you can’t really argue for them. Last year, Ohio State was expected to win the Big Ten and compete for a national title. This year, Ohio State is expected to win the Big Ten and compete for a national title. Two years ago, Ohio State was expected to win the Big Ten and compete for a national title, and next year I expect them to win the Big Ten and compete for a national title.

These expectations have been there since 2013, and it’s impossible for them to get higher. The hype ceiling has been reached. The Buckeyes even won a title two years into this period of maximum expectations, so the tension of “will they finally do it?” isn’t even there.

The number of season tickets has probably peaked for the foreseeable future with last year’s number, and next year will be higher than this year only because Michigan is a home game ticket worth more than the rest of the schedule put together.

The Syracuse Orange started a journey into the wilderness in 2013 under Scott Shaffer, and though attendance climbed as Dino Babers took over in 2016, the hype exploded after Cuse won ten games last year for their first winning season in five years. As a result, season ticket sales took off to the tune of 6,800 new season tickets sold as of mid-June. This is for a stadium with less than half the capacity of the Horseshoe.

Purdue has had a similar experience in the Jeff Brohm era as they were immediately fun to watch, and after two bowls in two years they sold the most season tickets since 2013, including nearly 4,000 new season tickets.

This helps to establish that season ticket spikes are an effect of “raising the bar” for program expectations, as fans feel the hype and the hope so strongly they’re compelled to buy in for the whole season.

The specific euphoria that drives season ticket spikes is something Ohio State fans cannot feel at this point.

That’s not to say Buckeyes fans can’t feel joy and aren’t happy with the team: Anders notes that attendance for the home showdown against the Cincinnati Bearcats was 104,089, which is statistically indistinguishable from a capacity crowd.

But the type of irrational hope, sometimes called August Syndrome, that grips fans of teams below the top of the college football world and compels them to make wildly optimistic claims, bet on a team coming off a 4-8 season to win a national championship and bookmark accommodations for the Rose Bowl when their team hasn’t been since 1962? That’s slowly gone extinct and been replaced with a measured approach to each season, looking at Alabama, Clemson and sometimes Oklahoma, while keeping the Michigan game within peripheral vision.

A student Anders interviewed even alluded to this:

[Junior accounting major Nick] Signore purchased a package in 2018, but said he didn’t in 2019 because most of the games during 2018 were blowouts that weren’t worth the cost of a season package.

First world problems, right?