By Steve Zoski, Daily News Editor
Published June 1, 2012
With the Big House, the nation’s winningest college football team, a notoriously vocal hockey student section and a basketball team that’s qualified for the NCAA Tournament the last two years, the University is still looking for ways to increase student-fan loyalty for its athletics.
On Tuesday, Ann Arbor.com reported that the athletic department is considering implementing a student loyalty program that would reward students for attending University sporting events.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, David Ablauf, associate athletic director for media and public relations, said the Athletic Department is in the early stages of developing a loyalty program.
“We don’t really have all the details fleshed out for the student loyalty program,” Ablauf said.
He explained that the Athletic Department would like to implement the undefined program by this fall.
“I think our timetable is to have something implemented by this upcoming athletic academic year,” Ablauf said. “We’re just trying to put a lot of the details together right now, because this cycle right now — June, July, August — is basically our planning months.”
Ablauf said the Athletic Department has been vocal about having as many students attend sporting events as possible, and he added that the students who already go to many games should be rewarded.
“We have quite a few students that go to a lot of the sporting events, and so (we) kind of want to reward a lot of that loyalty by those students,” Ablauf said.
Other universities, like Michigan State University, have existing loyalty programs that reward students who support their school’s teams.
At MSU, the Izzone is a 16-year-old program that rewards the most loyal basketball fans. Students who buy season tickets to MSU basketball games wait in line before each game outside the Breslin Student Events Center to have their student identification cards checked at the doors. When their cards are scanned, the time they enter the arena is recorded.
How early students arrive at games and how many games students attend determine whether they sit in the general student section or are allowed into one of two Izzone sections the next year.
Students who earn seats in one Izzone section get to sit closer to the action. A second Izzone section is further from the court but allows students to have their seats saved.
Dan DiMaggio, director of the MSU student alumni foundation, said seating is based only on a student’s attendance at home games of the previous year. He added that class standing and attendance from other years doesn’t matter.
“If you’re a junior and you go to only a couple of games, and there’s a freshman or sophomore that went to all of the games, that younger student kind of bumps the senior … it’s purely on an attendance basis,” DiMaggio said.
For select University basketball games at Crisler Arena, students who have attended more games get to sit closer to the court. However, this only applies to one or two games each year.
Maize Rage is a student-run organization that has a limited amount of reserved seats at Crisler that are close to the court.
Recent graduate Sam Sedlecky, the president of Maize Rage last year, said the MSU game was the only game where 2011 season attendance had an effect on seating.
“Everyone’s tickets were tracked, and the people that had been to the most amount of games got the best seats. So if you had gone to all of them, you’re almost guaranteed a bleacher seat,” Sedlecky said.
But Sedlecky said such a procedure is not the norm.
“(Maize Rage) has a list of tunnel access for just a very small number of our people, so we get in a little bit before the doors open to the public,” he said. “And once the doors open it’s general admission seating for students.”
Sedlecky added that he thinks the policy used for most basketball games is unfair to the more dedicated fans.
“It’s not fair to those people that have been to every single game and are the best fans and the loudest fan ... maybe they have an exam or something and can only get there an hour beforehand and are stuck in the upper deck,” he said.
Sedlecky added that he hopes to see the Athletic Department institute a loyalty program for all sports, also pointing out students who show up late to football games as a reason a loyalty program would be useful.
“The student section might be halfway full by midway through the first quarter (or) even at the end of the first quarter,” Sedlecky said. “Generally it’s not all the way filled up until maybe mid-second quarter — It’s somewhat embarrassing.”
University alum Jeff Holzhausen, the founder of Maize Rage and the original “Superfan,” said student involvement is dependent on the talent of the team, adding that he understands not every game will be exciting, but he thinks it is important for students to show support at all games.
“There’s going to be games that just don’t generate as much excitement, but part of being a student is just the game-day experience,” Holzhausen said.
Holzhausen said he thinks the Michigan athletic tradition should be enough to keep students attending games, but rewarding students couldn’t hurt.
“I don’t think students should need a kick in the ass, but if the athletic department can think of creative ideas to get people there early, have at it.”