The USF Bulls’ unchecked rise to the top of the BCS charts has thrilled fans and University administrators alike, packing Raymond James Stadium on game days and garnering national attention.
It has also presented a difficult problem to administrators: how to distribute more than 12,000 free tickets to three times as many students without encouraging scalping, disorder and resentment.
The Athletics Department put their money on asking the student body what it wants in a Town Hall meeting open to students.
About 40 students met in the Big East room of the Athletics complex with representatives of Student Government and the Athletics Department Monday night to offer their views on the student ticket policy.
The three biggest concerns among those present, according to Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Affairs Bill McGillis, were the length of lines for tickets, the problem of people cutting in line and the scalping of student and companion tickets.
McGillis also distributed an outline of a new ticket policy – a sophisticated lotterysystem that rewards loyal fans – to debut with men’s basketball season in coming weeks.
A five-person panel moderated by Student Government Senate President Nathan Davison heard students’ opinions. Panelists included McGillis, SG Director of Student Life and Development Greg Morgan, Director of Ticket Operations for the Athletics Department Erik Book, Student Assistant for USF Athletics Megan Latchford and SG President Garin Flowers.
“Distributing 12,501 tickets is not an easy task,” McGillis said. “We’ve screwed some things up, and did some things well.”
The student ticket policy, which for 10 seasons had trouble filling the student seats, has been changed with each game this semester to accommodate the unexpected surge of interest in the Bulls.
Until this season’s opener against Elon University, student tickets were capped at 8,000, and each student could buy eight companion tickets for family and friends. Students could claim their tickets at Raymond James Stadium only the day of the game.
McGillis estimated around 8,600 students and their companions came to the Elon game.
“It became pretty obvious after the first week that we probably couldn’t continue that process,” he said. “It also became pretty obvious that we might have to increase our student section.”
Athletics tested the idea of offering tickets in advance for the game against North Carolina, McGillis said. Although students might scalp tickets bought in advance – a concern echoed by several audience members – McGillis said it was worth the risk.
“We thought that (risk) was offset, and I still do, by the importance of getting (tickets) in students’ hands,” he said.
Tickets were made available 6 a.m. the Monday before Saturday’s game against West Virginia, and hundreds of students set up camp outside the Sun Dome the night before. According to McGillis, Athletics made the decision to avoid conflict with students’ class schedule.
It was also done as a marketing decision. The excitement felt in the students’ tents, affectionately named “Leavitt-Town” by campers, created a momentum that carried to game day, McGillis said.
For the upcoming game against Cincinnati, Athletics is considering allowing students to purchase tickets the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before the game. If any tickets are left, students can buy one companion ticket each after Wednesday, McGillis said.
Nabeel Salhab, a senior, suggested the Athletics department hire student volunteers to keep people from cutting in line. The volunteers would get paid for their time by being guaranteed a seat in the upcoming game, said another student.
Rumors of a simple lottery system – whereby tickets would be assigned by the luck of the draw only – drew criticism from students at the meeting.
Morgan, who said he had been to every home game in his four years as a USF student, thinks the system isn’t fair to loyal fans. Others echoed the same sentiment throughout the meeting.
Ralph Reid, a member of Student Government, asked the panel if it’s possible for the cap on student tickets to be raised. McGillis replied that Athletics has to reserve a number of tickets for sale to the general public to fund the athletics program.
Salhab advocated maintaining the current system, where students wait outside the Sun Dome to get tickets before they are made available. He said he thinks those students are the more dedicated fans.
“You’re either there or you’re not there. There’s no ambiguity about it,” Salhab said.
Book said students found to be scalping will be barred from receiving student tickets for the rest of the academic year. McGillis said students who use their USF ID to get tickets for others are subject to the same punishment.
McGillis, asked what he thought about the meeting, said he was pleased.
“It’s exactly what we hoped for,” McGillis said. “The spirit in the room was one to collectively figure out the best way to distribute tickets.”
Dan Catlin can be reached at (813) 974-6299 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Preliminary draft of USF Ticket Policy discussed at last night’s town hall meeting. The policy is not final.
How do students request tickets?Each currently enrolled, athletic-fee paying student may request one ticket for men’s home basketball and football games through an on-line lottery system. The request period lasts two days for men’s football and basketball home games.
How many tickets are available?8,000 student tickets will be allotted for home football games and 2,800 for men’s basketball games.
When would the policy start?The policy is slated to start with the 2007 men’s basketball season.
How are tickets distributed?If ticket supply exceeds demand, all students who request a ticket will get one. If demand exceeds supply, a system that gives preference to fans who earn the most loyalty points will determine distribution. One-quarter of the available ticket pool is awarded in straight loyalty point order. The remaining tickets are distributed by a lottery system that gives students with more loyalty points a greater chance of getting tickets.
How are loyalty points accumulated?One point is awarded for students attending any men’s home football game or basketball game. Two points are awarded for students attending any other USF athletic home contest. Bonus points may be given to students who attend games when tickets are in lower demand and the loyalty-point system isn’t needed, or those who attend games over holiday breaks.
Do loyalty points carry over from sport to sport?Yes. For example, students can earn loyalty points for football tickets by attending soccer or volleyball games.
Do they carry over from year to year?Yes. Beginning in a student’s sophomore year, a set number of loyalty points is awarded based on last year’s previous attendance. Students are eligible for up to five academic years.
Can students lose loyalty points?Yes. Students who claim tickets, decide not to attend and fail to cancel with the Sun Dome box office by 12 noon the day before the game, lose loyalty points. There is no advantage or disadvantage to being the first to claim.How do students claim tickets?Students can print tickets at home or pick them up at the Sun Dome box office.What happens to unclaimed tickets?They are redistributed in straight loyalty-point order to students waitlisted after the first distribution. Tickets not claimed within one day of the second distribution can be claimed during a print-on-demand period up until kick-off on game day.
Are student tickets transferable?No. For admittance to games, students must present a student ID, which will be matched to a corresponding bar code on each ticket.
How is seating awarded to students for sold-out games?For sold-out men’s basketball games, students will be assigned an entry group based on the number of loyalty points. Entry groups are spaced in ten-minute intervals. More loyalty points correspond to an earlier entry time. Students may enter after their entry groups, but not before them. No system for assigning seats to football games is specified in the tentative policy, other than a statement that all seating is general admission.
What about guest tickets?Students may purchase up to 8 guest tickets if tickets are available after all deadlines to claim tickets have passed.