Puzzled by the sight of empty seats in the student section at University of Wisconsin men’s basketball games, athletic director Barry Alvarez is considering a change in how season tickets are allocated starting in 2012-13.
He’s thinking about a return to the format where all 2,100 student season tickets are sold on a first-come, first-served basis and they encompass all of the games at the Kohl Center.
The current procedure, introduced in 2009-10, splits the home games into two packages with comparable marquee games — red and white — essentially giving twice as many students the opportunity to see the Badgers in person.
The plan — tickets are sold online over a two-day period — sprang in part from complaints by students that not enough tickets were available.
But more and more empty seats are being seen — especially in the 300 level farthest from the court — which has affected the atmosphere that once made the Kohl Center one of the most intimidating arenas in the Big Ten Conference, if not all of college basketball.
“That tells me we need to make a change,” Alvarez said of the student ticketing process.
For 2011-12, the white package sold out quickly on the first day, but only 1,361 red packages were sold on the second day. A third option, a winter break package with five games, was sold to 537 students.
“The first day we sell tickets, boom, they’re sold immediately,” Alvarez said. “The second day, it drags. You’d think our students would really get behind it. Some do, but not at the magnitude of what we’ve had.”
Justin Doherty, the UW associate athletic director for external relations, said an annual end-of-season fan survey will provide input from students about the best course of action and feedback about their attendance habits.
“I think the smart thing to do is analyze it at the end of the season — look at your numbers, look at the patterns,” Doherty said. “You can’t make an educated decision unless you have information like that, so we’re working on that.”
Alvarez said he doesn’t have an answer for why UW students have stopped buying tickets, but he already has a solution in mind.
“We don’t need two days,” he said, referring to the window in which tickets are sold. “Have one season ticket for our students.”
UW is not alone in seeing a downturn in student and overall attendance for men’s basketball. A recent USA Today story noted Duke’s famed “Cameron Crazies” no longer fill the student section at Cameron Indoor Stadium and the average attendance at NCAA Division I games has dropped in each of the past four seasons.
Technology is a major factor. High-definition TVs have improved the viewing experience and fans can use other options such as live streaming online.
Demographics have changed as well. Students have grown up in a time of quick-hit highlight packages, so they may be less inclined to pay to watch an entire game in person.
If the sales trend with UW students continues in 2012-13, it could lead to a smaller pool of season tickets, with the general public having more to choose from.
“That’s something we’re going to have to talk about,” Alvarez said. “If we’re not using them all, maybe we take a look at that.”