The cost of admission: Michigan students missing out on Wolverines’ postseason run

The Michigan men's basketball team will have less supporters than expected due to rising ticket prices for students as well as fans.

The Michigan men's basketball team will have less supporters than expected due to rising ticket prices for students as well as fans. Buy this photo
Sam Mousigian/Daily

 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017 - 8:55pm

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There were just five of them, but by the noise they were making, you would have thought there were more. 

Way up in the upper deck of the Verizon Center, five members of the Michigan Maize Rage stood, yelled and cheered the Wolverines for four straight days all the way to a Big Ten Tournament championship.

For two of those fans — kinesiology sophomore Jonathan Markwort and engineering sophomore Alex Kettwich — it was a once in a lifetime experience.

“I don’t know if I’m ever going to see anything as amazing again,” Kettwich said. “I thought the Maryland game last year when (the Terrapins) were ranked No. 2 was amazing, but that wasn’t even close. This was absolutely fantastic.”

But for many other passionate members of the Maize Rage, it was a weekend that could never happen. When the Big Ten announced back in May 2014 that the conference was taking its annual basketball tournament to the East Coast, students were just about the last group considered in the decision-making process when they chose the location.

Ann Arbor is 530 miles — over an eight-hour drive — from the heart of Washington. But compared to the distance between most other Big Ten schools and the Verizon Center, that’s an easy ride. Maryland, Rutgers, Penn State and Ohio State are the only schools closer.

Kettwich, though, said after experiencing the Big Ten Tournament for the first time last year, there was no distance too far for him to travel to be a part of it again.

“I went to Indianapolis last year as a freshman, and I loved going there,” Kettwich said. “I’ve always liked basketball, and a year-and-a-half ago, I went to D.C. I wanted to join the two together. Compared to Indianapolis, it was a lot more difficult, but I wouldn’t complain. Washington is an awesome city.”

While having to go all the way to Washington to get his fix of basketball wasn’t ideal for Kettwich, the Big Ten at least made it worthwhile for him and others making the trip.

The conference offered $35 ticket packages for students making the trek to the Verizon Center. That package got students an upper-deck seat for every session in which their school was playing. That meant Kettwich, Markwort and their friends ended up paying $5 each per game to watch all four games Michigan played in plus an additional three games played in the same sessions.

“That was a fantastic deal,” Kettwich said. “I guess I understand why they put us up so high, because it was a really good deal. I would certainly pay more to sit closer, though.”

Added Markwort: “The flat rate by itself really depends on how well Michigan does, but being able to go to any game they were in was a really good deal. You can’t find very many tickets in the arena for $20.”

* * *

As the Wolverines shift gears and look forward to playing their opening NCAA Tournament games closer to home in Indianapolis, their fans, especially students, are looking to hop on the bandwagon.

But something many students have come to realize since Sunday night is that it’s going to cost them one way or another to get on that wagon to Indiana.

On the Monday afternoon following the NCAA Tournament Selection Show, the Michigan Athletics Ticket Office released information via email to all student basketball season ticket holders on how to make requests for a small pool of tickets allocated to students for the games in Indianapolis.

The email detailed policies the ticket office had set up to process the allocation. Students who are granted a ticket would be required to show up at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on Friday to claim their tickets with a valid MCard to both the game played that day, and a ticket for Sunday if Michigan were to advance. By submitting a request, a student would be committing to attend both the Friday and Sunday (if the Wolverines win Friday) sessions and could not purchase a ticket to one game without the other.

This policy causes a problem for students who have classes late Thursday night or Friday. Many students are unable to attend Friday’s game due to class conflicts and other academic priorities. An official in the Michigan Athletics Ticket Office confirmed there were many inquires made by students about purchasing tickets for just one session, but none were granted due to these policies.

The ticket office had also put in place a policy limiting ticket requests to students who are season ticket holders for this season. As MLive’s Brendan Quinn reported in December, student season ticket sales have declined 44 percent between the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons. A number of factors have led to this decline, but this alarming trend will carry over into the postseason, as many students’ decision not to purchase season tickets will rule them ineligible for postseason ticket requests.

But nothing has deterred students from buying tickets more than the price they’re being asked to pay. The Michigan Athletics Ticket Office has little control over price, an official told the Daily on Wednesday. Rather, the NCAA sets prices when it passes on the tickets for the office to distribute. Michigan only profits off a $5 service fee it charges with every transaction. The price set for each ticket was $81, meaning if the Wolverines beat Oklahoma State on Friday, students who committed to buying the package will be charged $162 plus a service fee for tickets to the two games. For comparison, the cost for a student to purchase season tickets to the upcoming 2017-18 season is $175 for somewhere between 16 and 19 home games.

That combination of policy, apathy and price created the perfect storm for an incredibly underwhelming number of ticket requests. According to a Michigan Athletics Ticket Office official, just 27 students requested the package by the 10 a.m. deadline on Tuesday.

An official from the office confirmed they had planned for a higher demand from students, and even warned in the original email that tickets were not guaranteed if the demand exceeded supply.

But that was never going to happen.

The extra tickets not claimed by students have since been turned over to the allocation reserved for the general public, which did have excess demand.

As for students, there certainly will be more than 27 of them attending Friday’s game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. They’ll just have to look elsewhere, mainly on the streets or through online ticket exchanges, to be in attendance to see if the Wolverines’ postseason run continues.

Markwort and Kettwich won’t be two of them: the pair needs the weekend to catch up on schoolwork and patch up the hole burnt through their wallets after spending four days in Washington. But they feel they made the arena atmosphere better for everyone around them. 

It’s unfortunate many students like them won’t have the chance to do the same in Indianapolis.

“The people sitting around us were very receptive of us being there,” Markwort said. “Multiple people came us to up after the game and said, ‘We’re really glad you guys came here, thanks for making the trip, it was really cool.’ They definitely appreciated it.”