Despite Sweeping Changes, Penn State Student Football Tickets Are Probably Still Broken
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” has become quite the cliché since it was popularized it in the 70s, but the truth remains: Why bother changing something that doesn’t need changing?
The expression, though, often leaves important analysis overlooked: Knowing what to fix, exactly, is just as important as knowing something needs fixing in the first place.
Penn State football’s student ticket system is broken. And it has been for years. The changes unloaded this week in a dense email full of new directions and buried leads made an attempt to fix what was broken. But unfortunately, they do little to address what I’ve observed to be the real pain points of cramming 22,000 college students into a football stadium seven times a year.
In theory, the transition to mobile tickets would modernize the gameday experience. Plenty of other venues have made the switch, and Penn State is apparently on the forefront of college stadiums going fully digital (even if it isn’t really fully digital).
Sure, this is a step toward the future. Digital tickets have the potential to make the process more efficient and more secure. It just doesn’t make sense for the current student ticketing system.
For years, students have lined up outside of Gate A, IDs in hand, to squeeze through a couple dozen turnstiles and fill up a student section that’s on the larger side when it comes to national standards. You’d show your ID to enter the line and then swipe in to receive your seating assignment and (since 2016) go through a metal detector.
The three-step process creates a bottleneck that slows the process of entering the stadium and usually spills onto the concourse while students find their sections.
Under the new system, you’ll still show your ID to enter the line, but will instead scan your phone before receiving your paper ticket and going through the metal detector. Considering there are just as many steps, it’s unlikely getting through the turnstiles will go any faster.
Obviously, something needed to be done, given the chaos that ensues in the half hour right before kickoff. But will there be a difference?
It’s too early to say definitively that it was a waste, so I’ll give Penn State the benefit of the doubt and see for myself once the season starts. Here’s hoping it goes better than bringing back the “realistic probability of someone being trampled.”
Student Ticket Exchange
What do we have to gain by eliminating the Student Ticket Exchange?
The Exchange was a pretty easy way to buy a ticket for most games online. Now, you need to track down a seller personally and then go through the motions of transferring and accepting it. Sure, it doesn’t sound like that big of a deal for most people, but the process is more involved and easier to mess up — especially if you’re a freshman who doesn’t know a whole lot of people on campus yet and trying to find a seller to get to your first game.
Because of this new process, I wouldn’t be surprised if more tickets go unused now than before.
One of the things that actually does make Penn State football’s student tickets broken is the cost. They’re the fourth most expensive student tickets in the country.
You can make the supply and demand argument about how there are only 22,000 seats for 45,000 students. You can also point to the speed at which tickets have sold out in the past. You could even go as far as to hallow the priceless experience of gameday at Beaver Stadium as justification.
But Penn State is far from the only university in the country with a great football team, large demand among students, or great stadium experience.
Alabama sells its tickets for $10 per game and has different plans in case you don’t want the full package. Clemson offers a “completely free,” game-by-game lottery. Oklahoma’s tickets are set at $210, but are bundled with men’s basketball tickets. And plenty of other universities employ similar tactics to make their tickets either more affordable or more fit to what a student wants and needs.
Something certainly can be done here. Last year, Oregon had the most expensive tickets in the country when it charged students $288. This year, it slashed its prices by nearly 60% to $120. Similarly, Michigan charged $280 for student tickets in 2014, but has since reduced it to a modest $175, the eighth highest in the country. Michigan also offers a discounted option of $105 for students who qualify for Pell Grants.
If the goal is to make the gameday experience accessible to more students, the time and resources devoted to configuring this new process could’ve gone to doing something similar. Instead, our ticket prices increased by $7 (the second increase in as many years).
The ironic thing about student tickets is that the $239 you pay at 7 a.m. in June after waiting with dread in the queue is still far cheaper than what you would pay if you had bought each ticket individually on the secondary market — another area still in need of reform.
Rather than take steps to cut down overcharging on the secondary market, its price-controlled sector was eliminated entirely. Now, all transactions are a free-for-all in a sellers’ market, which we practically already had, considering that 77 percent of all transactions last year were transfers, not purchases through the Exchange.
Surely no one will shell out more than the previous price ceiling of $60 to watch Idaho, Buffalo, or Rutgers. But now, the outrageous prices charged for Michigan and Pitt will continue to go unchecked since you can only transfer your ticket to other students. Instead of solving this problem, Penn State Athletics walked away with a defeated frown on its face, leaving a slew of $250 White Out tickets in its wake.
If your non-Penn Stater significant other, friend, or sibling wants to come up for a game, you’ll need to forfeit your seat in the student section to sit with them in empty seats sprinkled throughout Beaver Stadium.
For any game not played against Michigan, Ohio State, or Pitt, or that’s in cold or rainy weather, there are hundreds (thousands?) of empty seats along the outer rings of the student section. And for those specified games where the student section would actually be filled to capacity, you were already unable to buy guest tickets.
In announcing these changes, Athletics backed its new guest ticket policy by saying it’s “an effort to provide Penn State students every opportunity to attend games.”
Accessibility is a major issue with Penn State student tickets. But the guests aren’t the problem. It’s the hefty prices you pay to get into the student section either to Athletics or to another student.
So is Athletics concerned about filling seats around Beaver Stadium?
In a perfect world, by eliminating guest student section tickets, 22,000 Penn State students attend a game. The other, let’s say 1,000 or so, sit outside the student section with their friends, siblings, and significant others, filling in the holes. As a result, Beaver Stadium begins a sellout streak that rivals Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium. More students than ever before are able to experience gameday, and thanks to the staunch support, Penn State never loses at home ever again and rattles off a string of national titles.
But the student section isn’t filled to capacity seven games a year or even four games a year. And the rest of the stadium really doesn’t need any help filling seats, either; Penn State hasn’t drawn a home crowd smaller than 95,000 (about 90% capacity) since 2015.
In reality, students will now attempt to sneak into the student section with their guests (a feat that’s already proven pretty easy during the past few years). The student section will be filled further beyond capacity for those two games each season, and it will be even harder to find a suitable place with enough room to stand – let alone dance to “Let’s Go State” with the Blue Band or use your shaker without hitting someone in the face.
All these changes to the guest ticket policy will be implemented without addressing the actual worst part about buying guest tickets: waiting in line for four hours at the Bryce Jordan Center to buy a ticket in person. I guess this makes sense if they’re trying to cut down on the amount of student guests altogether.
There will never be a perfect system that pleases everyone, so I guess I can appreciate Penn State Athletics’ attempts to evolve the gameday experience and try new things.
I’d rather benefit from a convenient process than be right. But I have a feeling I’ll still be confused.
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About the Author
They’re in our city.
Sam Ficken’s winding football journey has taken him from Indiana to New York with several stops in between. Now, as a Jet, he’s finally settled down in a consistent role.
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