Ticket shortage puts student on hill

Thursday, September 11, 2008 | 7:03 p.m. CDT; updated 3:04 a.m. CDT, Friday, September 12, 2008

COLUMBIA — The scene Saturday at the Missouri football game against Southeast Missouri State showed a strong fan presence on Memorial Stadium’s well known hill behind the north end zone.
The only problem is that a lot of those on the hill were not sitting there by choice.
“They first started letting us pick up our tickets on Tuesday (September 2),” MU junior Andrew Copple said. “After 9 a.m. Wednesday, they were gone. I had class and I couldn’t go (on Tuesday).”
Such is life with a demand for tickets that exceeded the Missouri athletic department’s projections.
“Last year, we sold approximately 8,700 student football tickets,” associate athletic director Whit Babcock said. “This year, in anticipation of (demand), we grabbed as many tickets as we could beside the student section. We were up to 9,900 before we started.”
But that proved insufficient because more than 12,000 students bought either student ticket combos or football-only passes, forcing the athletic department to either make alternative arrangements for those who came late or deny them tickets.
“We went above and beyond the 9,900 for financial reasons, and we like to generate revenue,” Babcock said. “But our main purpose was to accommodate as many students as possible. I don’t know how they would have felt about us cutting it off at 9,900 because there would have been 3,000 people turned away if that were the case.”
Babcock added that if money were the main concern, the seats could have been sold for higher prices and a donation to the Tiger Scholarship Fund.
The Student Season Ticket Combo, which retails for $220, gives students the opportunity to buy football and basketball tickets for cheaper prices than the $280 alumni pay for just football. Students who were forced onto the hill received a $30 refund, whether they bought the combo or a football-only pass.
Buying hill tickets to all six home games for a non-student would cost $144, which some students said made the refund unsatisfying .
But that price is still higher than a student’s football-only ticket, which is sold for $130. Because of that, the athletic department decided to simply knock $5 off each game.
“We looked at it as we needed a discount, (because) they don’t have a permanent seat,” associate athletic director Whit Babcock said. “I can’t sit here and tell you there was a scientific reason on the 30 bucks, but since the student ticket is basically half of the full-price ticket, that’s where we started from and knocked it down from there.”
Copple, who plans to get the most out of his pass by going to men’s basketball games, wasn’t upset with the financial aspect but wished he was on the sidelines.
“It’s still a good deal,” he said. “But there’s nothing like being over there. There should have been more student tickets. We’re going to cheer harder and scream louder than anyone else. Also, my language isn’t good for the kids around here. Over there, it’s all college students, we can say whatever we want.”
Babcock was sympathetic to students in that situation, especially the upperclassmen who had supported the team before demand skyrocketed. He said that the department will meet with the Missouri Students Association after the season to discuss several possibilities. If demand remains high, upperclassmen could get tickets first.
“We may flip it around a little bit where seniors pick up on the first day, juniors the second day and so on, so upperclassmen have a better shot,” Babcock said.
Students did have two options to guarantee tickets before Sept. 2: join Tigers’ Lair, or get group seating. But Tigers’ Lair filled quickly, and new students have little opportunity to join a group.
Groups began forming a full three weeks before freshmen Libby Overcash, Caitlin Hewitt, Maria Durham and Phil Leibu, who formed their own group on the hill, even began their college careers.
The four of them found themselves on the northwest corner of the hill, closer to the alumni and donor section than to their fellow students.
“That ruins the experience,” Hewitt said. “We don’t even feel like students anymore because we’re not in the student section.”
“We’re all freshmen. We wanted to be in the student section,” Overcash said.
The official policy of the ticket office is that students are not guaranteed a seat to football games if more Student Ticket Combos are sold than they have seats available.
Despite a mass e-mail sent to students, several were unaware that paying for student tickets would not guarantee a reserved seat.
“We bought all the passes, and we were under the impression that it would reserve us a seat,” Overcash said. “It didn’t.”
Durham said the policy was ridiculous.
“I’m very angry,” she said to cheers from the rest of her group. “I’m livid.”
But Babcock said he suspects that Durham would be more livid if she hadn’t been allowed a ticket at all or was forced to pay an alumni price.
“The way we’re trying to look at it is that we have 12,000 students that can at least come to the game,” he said. “Some of them, admittedly, are going to sit on the grass hill and maybe not love it, but at least they’re in there. That’s over one-third of the student body. We want to always accommodate our students.”
Copple said if he could do it again, he would have skipped his Tuesday class, but thinks he shouldn’t have been penalized for the choice he made.
“There’s just nothing like having a good seat,” he said. “Why should I be put down for putting my academics in front of football?”
Babcock agreed with Copple, but was not sure how to resolve that problem.
“We don’t want them skipping class,” he said. “I’m sure some people have a full schedule, 8 (a.m.) to 5 (p.m.). We look at everything, when we talked to (MSA president) Jim (Kelly), we said after this season, we’ve got to get a group and keep looking at this thing.
“There may not be perfect answers to everything. Ultimately, we want to do it the way they like, but sometimes you can’t make everybody happy.”
Babcock then smiled, “Maybe the solution is to expand the stadium.”

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