The Logic Behind BC Ticket Prices

Athletics Explains Ticketing Strategy

By Austin Tedesco

Heights Editor

Published: Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013

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Daniel Lee / Heights Editor

While winning, and winning often, packs stadiums more than anything else, the cost and simplicity of the ticket process is a major determining factor in the level of attendance at athletic events, especially for students. Boston College's men's basketball team has struggled over the season with poor attendance at home games. Though many would say the final score is a reason for not attending, it is important to note how BC's ticket process differs from other schools', in both cost and functionality.

The total cost of season tickets for all three revenue sports at BC amounts to $300: $120 for football and $90 each for men's hockey and basketball. Student season ticket holders pay $20 per game for six home football games, $7.50 per game for men's basketball's 12 home games, and $8.18 per game for the 11 men's hockey home games. Students with season tickets end up saving more than 50 percent compared to what the public pays, while individual student tickets are priced right at the 50 percent off mark. These types of discounts have led to solid student attendance for the successful men's hockey squad.

"2,100 students attending hockey games is fantastic for us when you look at 25 percent of our building being students," said James DiLoreto, the associate athletic director of external operations.

While the top-ranked Eagles hockey team has not had trouble drawing a crowd, the student section in Conte Forum for men's basketball is often relatively small during this rebuilding season. On the other hand, although the football team finished with a 4-8 record, DiLoreto was pleased with the attendance in Alumni Stadium last fall.

"If you look at the percentage of students who attend our football games, at about 6,000 students in the Superfan area versus the overall student body being close to 10,000, that's 60 percent of your student body attending a game," DiLoreto said. "I'd put that percentage of the student body against anybody in the country from a support standpoint."

More wins always bring more students, but the ticket process is also key. After purchasing student tickets, whether it is an individual or a season ticket, Superfans must print out their ticket and present it with their Eagle ID in order to be admitted into the arena. Many other private schools in the power six conferences, including Stanford, USC, Wake Forest, Duke, Northwestern, Vanderbilt, and Syracuse, load the information onto a student's ID card, eliminating the paper ticket and permitting students to enter the stadium by swiping their card. The only exception is Notre Dame, which distributes a booklet at the beginning of the year containing all of the tickets for the season.

"The system that we use is a ticketing system called Paciolan," DiLoreto said. "They are just now being able to unveil an option for the ID card, but we're converting it to also work with our system on campus."

Syracuse, Notre Dame, and USC have student ticket policies  similar to those at BC. At Syracuse,  season tickets for football cost $99, while basketball season tickets cost $160. Syracuse also offers a package deal for both season tickets with a $40 discount. USC charges $155 for football season tickets, but does not charge for men's basketball. Notre Dame's football season tickets cost $210 and basketball costs $65, but hockey at Notre Dame, which joins BC in the Hockey East next season, is free to all students.

Other private schools with major athletic programs do not use season tickets for students. Both Wake Forest and Duke, fellow members of the ACC, as well as Stanford, do not charge their students for admittance to any athletic events, including football and basketball, requiring just a student ID for admission. Duke is a four-time national champion in men's basketball that thrives financially off of a partnership with Nike, while Stanford has one of the largest endowments in the country, making this option nearly impossible for BC.

"The tickets are already discounted versus what they would be for regular price, and getting lower than $10, for us, that's probably where we feel comfortable being at a student rate versus all those regular seats in the same area at $20," DiLoreto said. "Packaging it at any more of a discount, we didn't see more of an option there. From a pricing standpoint we feel that it's pretty affordable."

Vanderbilt and Northwestern employ tuition fees that contribute to the athletic department, leading to an invisible cost which allows games to be marketed as "free" to all students. Vanderbilt charges a $506 a semester student activities and recreation fee, significantly more than the $298 a year activities fee that BC charges. This fee allows all undergraduate students admittance to the athletic events throughout the year.

Up until 2004, Northwestern distributed student season tickets the same way BC currently does. The associated student government at NU pushed to add an athletics fee separate from the student activities fee, a method used by many public universities across the country, and the Board of Trustees approved the change. Ever since then, Northwestern has had an athletics fee added to their overall tuition fees, which allows students admittance to all athletic events. The price for this year was $41. In a letter to Northwestern students, Director of Athletics Mark Murphy expressed the reason behind the change and said it would help "promote community-building among the NU student body."

"There is not a more unique and important element of a college athletic venue than a loyal, loud, and passionate student section," Murphy wrote. "When coupled with good sportsmanship, the intensity and support that students demonstrate for their fellow students create a special home court and home field advantage. "

Besides Wake Forest and Duke, BC is the only school in the ACC that does not use this kind of athletics fee. The cost of the fee varies greatly among the conference schools, mainly due to the amount of funding these public institutions receive from the state for athletics. Florida State's athletics fee, the lowest, is $14 a year, while UVA's, the highest, is $657 a year. Even though the size of the fee varies from school to school, many students do not even know about the fee. As it is an invisible cost, admission to football and basketball games appears completely free.

"For us, when we look at the total student body, and the interest level, it's a choice," DiLoreto said. "Rather than asking all students to be required to purchase it, it allows them to have choices, and that was a decision we made a long time ago and we stick to it. For the most part, I think students make the choice out of an interest in going to the game or not, and hopefully a $10 charge wouldn't be the amount that would force them not to come."

The biggest issue found with the athletics fee is that it removes choice, requiring students who do not attend athletic events to pay the mandatory fee. Many universities' athletic departments have countered this complaint with the ability to apply for a refund on the fee if a student never uses his or her ID to receive admittance to games. In this scenario, students could purchase individual tickets to the games of their choosing, totaling a price less than the athletics fee, and then apply for the refund in order to make up the difference. It's an option the BC athletics department has discussed, but not a change they are actively pursuing.

"We've talked about it," DiLoreto said. "For us, we look at the option of giving students choice, so for us it's important to take a look at having the three sports season ticket packages available. We offered them last spring so you can bill it to your student account, so it's very similar to an activities fee, in that the students can select to bill it to their student account."

Last spring, BC students had the option to sign up for season tickets for this year's home games. By selecting this option, the $300 charge showed up on the tuition bill for the upcoming school year.

"At all the schools, they have a process that takes place," DiLoreto said. "Everybody is different for how they handle that. For us it is a first come first served basis, but we do it through the process of being able to bill the student account. We give priority to season tickets, so we'd rather sell out and commit to students being able to come to all the games and be rabid supporters of all of our programs."

The two factors holding back this support are simplicity and cost. BC is trailing other competing private institutions when it comes to paperless tickets. Furthermore, the combined $210 cost of football and basketball season tickets is the third highest among private schools in the power six conferences, behind Notre Dame's $275 and Syracuse's $219. However, Notre Dame's hockey tickets are free, while BC's are an extra $90 charge. Given the overall cost and the comparatively inefficient printing process, the attendance and general fan interest this season has taken a hit while the football and basketball teams struggled. The current system is not set in stone, however, and the athletic department welcomes suggestions from students about how to better build student support and simplify the system.

"We are very open minded to look at any of the processes that would help students the best we can, to make sure that we have great student attendance and the process is as simple as possible," DiLoreto said.

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