Sell or Attend? The Student Ticketing Dilemma

Posted: December 8, 2010 in Community Reporting, Sports
Tags: , , , ,

The cool air sets in on a brisk Saturday morning as people don their red to cheer on the Wisconsin Badgers football team. As students and alumni move closer to the stadium they see arms raised high in the air holding an object.

This object, tickets. And for the right price, anyone could have them.

While this act, formerly known as scalping, has existed for years, the Internet craze revolutionized the business.

Many ticketholders, including those expected to be the most loyal of the fan base, students, resell more tickets than ever. This leaves many with a bitter taste in their mouth causing students to spend more money than originally anticipated to participate in the fandom of Badgers football.

“Last year I spent $400 buying season tickets from a grad student who bought them just to sell them,” said Kristine Sullivan, University of Wisconsin senior.

The Secondary Ticket Market Defined

Led by companies like Stubhub, the secondary ticket market allows individuals to resell their tickets to events often generating a profit. Unlike the classic method of standing outside a stadium for all to see, posting tickets online increases the consumer base and introduces alternative ways of getting paid.

Today, the secondary ticket market stands strong, streaming in revenue at an estimated $3 to $5 billion per year.

But within the past year, the market truly exploded.

According to Stubhub’s Corporate Communications Manager, Joellen Ferrer, customers of Stubhub, created in 2000, purchased 15 million tickets total by July 2008. Slightly more than a year later in Oct. 2009, individuals brought the total number to over 30 million tickets sold.

In Wisconsin, thousands of Badgers football tickets sell through Stubhub on a weekly basis, while numerous other tickets are resold through different means.

Regulating the Market

At the University of Wisconsin, only a regulation for students under the Conduct on University Lands guidelines exists, stating:

No person may buy or sell a ticket or other evidence of the right of entry for more than the price printed upon the face of the ticket.

No federal laws exist banning scalping, leaving states to decide the legalization of the practice. Wisconsin regulates commercial ticket resellers, those who purposely buy without any intention of attending, by allowing them to sell tickets above face value with a license purchased through the state.

Beyond commercial laws in Wisconsin, no legal repercussions exist to prevent those looking to sell above face value from a non-business aspect.

“From our standpoint I think the reselling of tickets [helps]. We want as many people in the stadium as we can get,” said Justin Doherty, Assistant Athletic Director of External Communications at UW.

Badgers Football

After experimenting with a lottery system, the University of Wisconsin now utilizes a first-come, first-served online system for students to obtain season tickets. This year, the tickets cost $153 after service charges for seven games in the 2009 season, averaging out to around $22 per game. Currently, a student logs onto their computer at a designated time hoping to obtain tickets.

Students genuinely looking to attend games face competition from those seeking to immediately turn a profit on tickets in the first-come, first-served system.

The students who grab tickets just to sell know the market they want to take advantage of with the buyers knowing the secondary market is the main alternative.

“Buyers do realize that they may not necessarily have access to tickets to any given event,” said Ferrer. “With the secondary market they realize they are able to have access to those tickets.”

At the University of Wisconsin, Badgers football means a lot to some students. The atmosphere, a bond with thousands of other students, and loyalty to the school contribute to the long-standing relationship between students and sports.

“I’ve only missed three games since I’ve been here,” said Sullivan referencing the 28 possible home games she had the opportunity to attend in her four years at Wisconsin.

These students feel their right to participate in school sporting events are compromised by those with no intentions of ever stepping foot in Camp Randall Stadium. And asking students to spend money, they often don’t have.

“My problem is with the students that buy the season package then try and sell the whole season right away for two times, three times as much,” said UW senior Ricky Ghoshroy. He feels this act takes away from the individuals who want to be there and may turn away passionate fans who can no longer afford the experience.

For the students who sincerely look ahead to each Badgers game, the opportunity to attend becomes harder. The individuals who sell their tickets just want a buyer. This leaves the possibility of students from other schools to take the spot of an avid Badgers fan.

And goes against the expected loyalty of a student fan base.

Although the Athletic Department wants to fill the venue, their views mirror the students. According to Brian Moore, Assistant Athletic Director of Ticket Operations, if a student cannot attend a game here or there and sells it, those are understandable circumstances.   The students who buy just to sell enter a different domain.

“For the simple reason of buying a season ticket to resell it for profit, I don’t think they should be doing that,” said Moore.  “Simply being in it for profiteering purposes is not what we encourage.”

Moore and the athletic department want the devoted fans purchasing the tickets directly through the university, rather than putting both the buyer and seller at risk.

Buying and Selling Risks

For college students with little money, both the buyer and seller must trust their fellow student.

“You never know if they’re going to pay you or just take the ticket and run,” said Chris Dawson, sophomore at UW. “If you’re buying the ticket you hand them the money and they run.”

While putting themselves at risk in this way, a different issue of deceit has begun to pop up.

In 2007, the University of Wisconsin implemented a program known as “Show and Blow.” This forces a student to take a breathalyzer before a game if an ejection occurred at any previous home game. Although meant for the students who violated the rule, the person who uses the ticket under violation faces the breathalyzer, often times unprepared. If the student exceeds the limit, they are denied access.

“When I buy a ticket I make sure to verify that they’re not in that program, that I’m not going to get turned away the gate,” said Jon Hardegger, sophomore student.

UW has no obligation to the buyer or seller in these situations, leaving the students gambling on their game day experience.

But alternatives do exist and recently implemented plans at other universities give an idea what the future may hold.

Future Alternatives

With a changing marketplace and students desperate for tickets, many schools around the country have started to formulate new ticketing plans. While some schools have added more stringent rules to prevent scalping, others regulate it.

At Penn State University, a student marketplace allows current students to sell football tickets only to other Penn State students. They may sell tickets in the range of $30 to $60 and use their student IDs as tickets, allowing easy transfer for tickets sold within the system.

Students also suggested their own alternatives.

“If you’re not using your ticket to go to the game you should be able to sell it back to the school, and the school can market it back to people looking for tickets,” said Sullivan.

Another option, simple patience.

“If students paid attention to how the prices work,” said Hardegger. “They would notice closer to game time, the prices have gone way down [this year].”

According to Moore, Wisconsin does not have the technology in place to switch to a new system and it may be as many as four years before new ticketing changes come about.

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