Brian was in charge of the family heirloom.
From 1929 to 2013 — 84 years — Brian’s family held Nebraska football tickets. First, his grandparents. Then, his mother. Brian graduated from UNL in 1981. He used to clean up Memorial Stadium on Sunday mornings.
This is the story of football tickets, of generations, of tradition. The story of Nebraska.
In 2013, Brian’s mother passed away. Brian contacted the NU ticket office and explained the situation. He was a fourth-generation graduate. He wanted to keep the tickets in the family.
Brian says he was informed that when his grandparents and mother had the tickets, there was no donation tag on the seats. They were grandfathered in.
But now there would be a mandatory contribution of $2,500 per seat to keep them, in addition to the cost of the two seats.
Brian couldn’t afford it. He swallowed hard. What would his grandparents and mother think? He had no choice. He gave up the family tickets.
Three years later, Brian says he doesn’t miss the games. The loud commercials during the many breaks in the action. Seats that aren’t wide enough. The “downsizing” of the student section. Traffic.
Brian says he understands that college football is big business, but it doesn’t seem right that a family that had supported the university that many years would get charged “full freight.”
He wrote: “It’s really unfortunate that average fans have been priced out of these events. I chose to spend my time and entertainment dollars elsewhere and I’m glad I did. Now, I really don’t care about the sellout streak and definitely don’t miss the in-person experience. I figure that I can buy tickets if there is a must-see game that I would like to attend.”
Brian is the guy who stopped going. Another says his family gives the money to UNO hockey. One guy writes that the school had better not take fans for granted, or it will be sorry.
There’s a fan who says he’ll keep getting back up and coming back, because that’s what true fans do. Another: Please put the streak out of its misery, and let’s start over and do this right.
And so many more wonder why the donations can’t drop and go away, what with the school about to become flush with Big Ten bucks in 2017.
These are the voices of Nebraska football. The shareholders. The common fan. The farmer, the banker, the guy in his garage wearing the red jersey.
Their loyalty is legendary. Still. The season-ticket retention rate at Memorial Stadium is 95 percent, and that’s after all the coaches and athletic directors and needless drama and, yes, that 6-7 season.
Name me another college football fan base that would continue to show up 80,000-strong through all that.
But this pillar of stability is showing cracks. At least 2,000 season tickets were available early this month (closer to 1,100 now), and there are TV commercials hawking the once unattainable.
Last week, I requested thoughts from readers on the matter. The volume was incredible. What you read above was some of what I received. What follows is some more.
John, a season-ticket holder since 1959 from Lexington: “I did NOT renew this year. Will be the first season I’ve missed in 57 years other than when I was in the Navy and Vietnam back in the early ’70s.
“Why? The cost just continues to grow. I can’t justify the trip from Lexington, gas money, food, motel (if it is a late-night game). The comfort of sitting in my seat has decreased. And the general attitude of fans is not what it used to be. I’ve watched the people around me grow old and die off and replaced by second- and in some cases third-generation who just don’t get it. They want blood and perfect seasons. Their respect of the game and opponents is a far cry from what it was in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.”
The topic on many fans’ minds: donations. Knock ’em down, if not out.
“It really irritates me that UNL thinks they have a reason to require a donation in addition to high-priced football tickets,” Mike writes. “The athletic department is swimming in a sea of money and yet they disrespect average Nebraska fans by jacking up the price. Drop the donation requirement and those tickets will be sold immediately.”
Aaron says: “How many people out there are able to pony up a $2,500 donation per seat — or even $2,000 for seats in the east balcony? Drop that down to something people are more comfortable with and they’ll go in a heartbeat. The desire of fans to see NU play is still there, but the price of attendance has to be rationalized. (Shawn) Eichorst is no dummy, he’ll get it figured out.”
The rub is, these donations have been factored into the NU athletic budget for years. Take them out, or reduce them, and what fills the void? Scott has a thought:
“I can’t believe that the donations that would go away couldn’t be replaced by a $40 million Big Ten annual check.”
Scott also reminded: “In a previous century, considering the fact that 1) we were winning national championships, and 2) every game was not on TV, you could charge a donation to get tickets.”
I liked this idea from Harley: “Perhaps the university needs to price some tickets like some golf clubs where individuals under a certain age (30?) pay a lower donation level that ratchets up to full donation value by, say, age 35 or 40. This would help some younger folks until — theoretically — they get to higher income-earning years.”
That sounds good to Thomas, a recent NU grad: “I have looked into purchasing season tickets but the donation has kept me from doing so. I have concluded that paying the premium of purchasing tickets for only the games I want to go to is worth it, and spending the remaining money to go to a road game makes more sense. I would love to own season tickets of my own, just not at $3,000 per year.”
Getting that generation through the gates is the great challenge for Eichorst and athletic directors everywhere. It’s a point well made by Matt, who calls for NU to reduce the seating in the south end zone and make the experience (including new bathrooms) more comfortable.
“Who truly cares if the stadium is 95,000 or 86,000 as long as the seats are filled with cheering fans?” Matt writes. “Comfort and convenience come first.
“(Younger fans) today don’t have the emotional investment in the football team that the 50-year-old plus crowd has. They value different things.”
Matt listed a number of things he called the “Hassle Factor,” such as tight seating, the “ugly scene” of fans who sit and stand the whole game arguing, the opinionated guy who won’t shut up, all the games on TV.
I mean, a lot of these things have been in place for years, right?
Would winning big make them tolerable? Matt paints a picture of a modern fan — the one accustomed to amenities at the new arenas and ballparks in Omaha and Lincoln — who might be teetering.
“Nebraskans have nothing better to do so they go to the game on Saturday? I wouldn’t push them on that myth, Mr. Eichorst. Jack Pierce running around on a Friday afternoon trying to peddle football tickets is a sad vision.”
And this from Andy: “It is hard to swallow a $2,500 donation in order to have the privilege of sitting on an 18-inch section of a 2x10 (plank).”
Kurt from Seward blames the East Stadium expansion killing demand. Kelly from the Sand Hills says all the games on TV make it easier to watch from a wide chair with a bathroom seconds away — and no wait!
James brings up a good point, in light of the announcement by Ohio State last week that it will sell beer at home football games.
“The experience there takes a backseat to no one,” James writes. “I don’t think parents are going to be afraid to take their kids to watch the dotting of the ‘i’ because the guy behind them might drink four beers.
“It continues to irritate me and many in my generation that we pay thousands of dollars every year for tickets to Husker games, but the university doesn’t believe we are responsible enough to handle beer at the game.”
A number of readers called for NU students to get better seats. And Kyle had an interesting take. He said the student season tickets are now loaded digitally into student IDs — so they scan the ID to enter the game.
In the past, students could sell their paper tickets to older fans if they decided not to go at the last minute. Now, Kyle says, the tickets go unused — a reason for the rows of empty bleachers in the student section.
Finally, a few other fresh takes:
Ed: “It’s not the same watching on TV vs. being there. Not even close. I drive three hours to the game, tailgate, go to the game, drive home in the same day, making it a 12-14 hour day. I wouldn’t change a thing. Is there a cost to it? Sure, but there is a cost to everything — a person just has to prioritize his needs as they see fit.”
John: “I hate the sellout streak. It’s been overinflated since the ‘Bill Callahan Experiment,’ when tickets ended up on StubHub or in the hands of some guy on the street corner. It wasn’t the everyday fan buying those tickets.
“What really makes me hate the streak are those signs at the stadium: ‘Through these gates pass the greatest fans in college football.’ It’s a guilt trip from the A.D.’s office. ... Don’t tell me I don’t love my team just because I won’t fall for what amounts to ‘emotional extortion’ in an attempt to separate me from my cash in the name of preserving this farce of a streak. Like any relationship, it works both ways.
“I predicted the East Stadium expansion would one day bite the athletic department. That day is fast approaching as more and more people say, ‘Enough extortion!’ and all of those new seats start going empty. It’s time for the streak to end so the relationship between fan and team can begin anew.”
And Marty: “I don’t think the streak will come to an end anytime soon. They will pay attention to the market, adjust and fill in the cracks every time they need to be filled. If I did not have to consider selling a car in order to buy tickets, I would buy them up, pronto. So would thousands of other fans, if only just to say they have the ticket.
“I don’t know how they will contend with the technology demands and other distractions that compete in the minds of the younger generations. The team just needs to get better to win the hearts of generations like it did yours and mine. They need to make it cool to be part of the action in the stadium.
“As long as Husker football has a beating heart, they won’t let the sellout streak end. Fabricated or not, they just won’t.”
The voices of Nebraska football have spoken. As for the future of the streak, their actions will speak louder than their words.
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