Bob Hunter commentary: Premium pricing has its risks for Ohio State

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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With the announcement that the Ohio State board of trustees is going to vote on premium pricing for certain football games, the value of tickets is becoming a sizzling topic.

The school’s Athletic Council reportedly will recommend that two games each season be designated as “premier” starting in 2013, with tickets costing between $110 and $150 each. In 2016, there will be just one premier game, likely against Michigan, with tickets costing $175 each. That is well more than double how much it cost to attend the Michigan game this past November.What is an Ohio State football ticket actually worth?

It depends.

A ticket to the 2002 Michigan game, which offered Ohio State a chance to clinch a spot in the national championship game, would have been worth hundreds of dollars. But a ticket to last fall’s game against Alabama-Birmingham might not have been worth hundreds of cents.Because the Athletic Council might also recommend raising ticket prices for nonpremium games from $70 to $79, the idea of playing nonconference snoozers each year might become an even more fervent debate than the premium prices. Several of those games didn’t even sell out last year, which suggests that Ohio State already has found a price point where the demand no longer exceeds supply.

But the opponent isn’t the only factor that determines the value of a ticket. The location of the seat is another. Is a seat in the top row of the South Stands really worth $175?Circumstances are another factor, meaning the records of the teams, where they are in the conference or national standings, and what truly is at stake.

The latter explains why many of us would have gladly paid $500 for a ticket to the 2002 Michigan game. It explains why many of us would have done it again in 2006 when the stakes were the same and Ohio State and Michigan were ranked No. 1 and No. 2.Some of us might have even paid $200 or $300 a ticket to see last season’s Michigan game because the Wolverines had won in 2011 and the Buckeyes were trying to finish off an unbeaten season.

The problem is that mitigating factors are determined well after the ticket department sends out the tickets. The only people who benefit from improved conditions are the ticket holders, both fans and scalpers.

That’s why Ohio State and many ticket sellers are trying to get what they can up front, which is understandable. But there also is a difference between pro sports and college sports, which has a limited schedule and a large portion of the seats go to fans who agree to donate a minimum amount to the university.What if some donors get fed up with the price increases and decide to buy only the games they want on the secondary market? And if the widespread belief that tickets are hard to get is lost, how does that affect demand?

Athletic Council vice chairwoman Antoinette Miranda told Dispatch colleague Bill Rabinowitz that “I think there is an expectation that there will be a backlash, (but) we do know that people on StubHub pay way more than $175 for a ticket.”

The question, though, is how many people “pay way more” on the secondary market, and when do they do it. Paying big bucks after the stakes have risen is a different scenario. By contrast, the minimal value of bad nonconference games is known in advance; they are worth face value only to season-ticket holders who have to order them to get Michigan or Wisconsin tickets.

Premium prices for premier games are clearly part of today’s sports world, but all of this suggests that Ohio State officials might want to proceed in this direction a little more conservatively.

They are tinkering with a ticket structure that has proved to be a good thing.

Bob Hunter is a sports columnist for The Dispatch.

bhunter@dispatch.com

@dailyhunter

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