‘Free’ Student Football Tickets Aren’t Cheap
“Working out is free for all.”
One of the many events immortalized in this year’s THON line dance was the Student Fee Board allocating funds to give all students access to campus gyms. However, working out isn’t exactly free for all — or anyone, for that matter.
As we saw last year, implementing mandatory fees can be controversial among students and doesn’t always meet expectations. But other universities’ sports ticketing policies make way for even further discussion about how student fees should be applied.
Universities across the country — even those with consistently competitive football teams like Florida State and Miami — offer a few different variations of a fee-funded ticket program. We already analyzed how the price of Penn State’s student tickets measures up to what students at other institutions pay. Now we’re looking at the other end of the spectrum to study universities with “free” ticket systems.
Some programs work. Others really just take a winding path that arrives at the same destination as the athletics programs we discussed yesterday: College sports can seem like a business, and the profit is sometimes the only statistic that matters. It’s just a matter of how you get there.
Northwestern students pay a modest $53 athletic events fee that serves its purpose for a university of casual sports fans in one of the nation’s premier athletic conferences. One student told The Daily Northwestern last fall that the university struggles to fill its 5,000-seat student section, because “It’s so hard to compete with midterms and everything that’s going on.”
Miami students pay $90 per semester to watch three top-flight ACC programs: football, basketball, and baseball.
Stanford’s athletics program doesn’t rely on students at all. According to a 2015 article in the The Stanford Daily, Cardinal Athletics doesn’t receive any student fees. Instead, it supports itself through external gifts, media payouts, regular ticket sales, and Pac-12 disbursements to fund itself. Students simply claim their tickets in the week leading up to a game.
But this type of system might not work for Penn State football, which is already self-funded and turns a profit that essentially pays for the rest of Athletics. Additionally, just because tickets are “free” doesn’t mean they come cheap to students. At some universities, they actually come at much higher costs.
Washington’s Top News reported in 2015 that the University of Virginia generated nearly 20 percent of its revenue by charging students a whopping $657 in athletic fees. For reference, Penn State Athletics’ revenue was $132.2 million in 2016, and just over 3 percent came from student football ticket sales.
The athletic fee covered the cost of admission to Cavalier sports games and was the highest in the nation that year. A fitness membership was also incorporated into this athletic fee.
Virginia students have even voiced interest in paying for their athletic tickets after many were unable to attend in-demand basketball games based on a ticket lottery system.
“I get paid $660 a month, so I’d have to work an entire month to pay for a game that I don’t even go to,” one student told Cville.com in 2015. “It bothers me how much they try to nickel-and-dime us and it makes me not want to give anything back to them.”
The Washington Post reported in 2015 that Virginia raised the price of its fee by more than $250 between 2004 and 2014 to keep up with its mounting spending, which grew by $37.4 million over the same period. As a result, Virginia still finished in the red in 2014…by $17 million.
Well behind Virginia in 2015 with the second highest athletics fee was Maryland, which charged $406 per-student.
In 2017, Maryland’s athletics department grossed $11,630,126 in student fees, — 13 percent of its total revenue and $7 million more than what Penn State made that year in football student ticket revenue.
Penn State students dedicated enough to actually buy season tickets for football, basketball, and hockey are few and far between. Season tickets for the three sports cost only $410, compared to what every single Virginia and Maryland student pays without choice.
Florida State students pay $7.90 in athletic fees per credit hour, which comes out to $237 for the year for students taking two semesters of 15 credits. To attend each football game, students need a certain amount of points that you can acquire by attending other sporting events and interacting with the team’s pages on social media. The convoluted system is designed to favor upperclassmen by requiring students to have higher numbers of points to attend the bigger matchups.
If you would rather ensure you have great seats for every game instead of risking not having enough points, you can also pay for student season tickets in reserved seating. Reserved seating cost $240 in 2015…in addition to the $237 in athletic fees paid.
These fee-funded programs leave students paying for tickets they either won’t be inclined to use, in the case of Northwestern students, or won’t be able to use, in the case of Virginia and Florida State students.
Although Clemson is the only university with completely free student tickets, according to Joe Galbraith, the school’s associate athletic director, even its student ticket policy is not void of problems. Students claim their tickets in the days leading up to the game through a lottery. Every week, all the tickets are claimed, yet student attendance has wavered as of late.
There were nearly 1,000 empty seats in the student section for Clemson’s top-ten matchup against Auburn last season. There were more students in attendance to watch Clemson play Kent State than there were to see the Tigers play conference games against Boston College and Wake Forest, which drew student crowds of less than 8,000, despite 10,724 tickets being claimed. That might not be saying much considering it’s Boston College and Wake Forest, but this is a team that had just won a national championship.
Some have even questioned if students are invested enough in football games they don’t pay for.
“We need to find a way to make this resource more equitable for all students because if someone doesn’t have access to it who really wants it, and someone has access to it and doesn’t want it, then we’re being unfair,” Jaren Stewart, Clemson’s student government vice president, said last fall.
National champion head coach Dabo Swinney went as far as to implore students to come to his team’s games last season, saying “We need our students to be there the whole game, and we need our fans to be there in the third quarter. We don’t need to take winning for granted. We need a national championship environment this weekend.”
We’ll look further into what has helped create Clemson’s unique system and students’ efforts to improve it later this week. Until then, check back tomorrow for a review of how universities offer “bundles” and give students more options in place of flat fees. And if you’re waking up tomorrow to buy season tickets, stomach the $232 price, but keep in mind it might be for the best.