COLUMBIA – Tickets for Missouri men’s basketball home games are at high demand right now, unlike several years ago when the student section at Mizzou Arena was rarely close to full.
And while heightened demand for tickets is a sign of a program on the path back to national relevancy, it also means more competition among students for the 4,000 student tickets distributed for each game out of the 15,061 seats available. And more complaints about the ticket pickup system.
“The renewed success of our basketball program has obviously made it more popular with students,” Andrew Grinch, assistant athletic director for marketing, said. “We heard less complaints in the past, and I think part of that was due to the fact that we went through several pickups over the past few years where not all the student tickets were even picked up.”
Last season’s team went 31-7 and came within one game of the Final Four, revitalizing student interest in the team. The pickup system for tickets to games has stayed the same since 2002-03 and, for the most part, has worked just fine. But this season, it’s become a major headache for students who have become critical of the setup.
In order to receive basketball tickets, students must purchase the Student Season Ticket Combo, a $226 package that gives them guaranteed tickets to all six home football games and the opportunity to receive tickets for men’s basketball home games (Admission to all other MU sports events has been free for students since last year).
Students aren’t guaranteed basketball tickets because the department sells more combos than the number of tickets it allocates for students at Mizzou Arena. This fact alone disgusts some.
“It doesn’t make sense for them to sell more tickets than they’re actually giving out,” MU sophomore Kailee Richey said.
This season, Missouri athletics sold 9,700 Student Season Ticket Combos, Grinch said. The department does not have trouble accommodating students at football games because of the size of Memorial Stadium, but it distributes men’s basketball tickets only to the first 4,000 students who pick up their tickets during four separate one-week time periods.
During the first two periods, in late October and mid-November of last year, tickets were available for 14 of the basketball team’s 20 home games. All but two of the 14 games were less popular and less competitive nonconference games. Grinch said during those time periods the ticket office didn’t distribute its last ticket until the last day of the period, meaning students had five weekdays to get to Mizzou Arena to get tickets.
Still, students have several complaints. Some said if they are required to buy the combo to obtain football and men's basketball tickets, they should have the chance to attend each home game. This could be made possible in a system, for example, where wristbands guaranteeing entrance to a particular game are distributed to the first 4,000 ticket combo-holding students who arrive at the game.
Another complaint is that it's difficult for students to get to Mizzou Arena during the week, leaving them to wonder why the tickets aren’t distributed on class-free weekends.
“They (pickup dates) always conflicted with something I had going on,” sophomore George Panousis said.
On Monday, the pickup period began for tickets for Missouri’s most popular home game of the season, the March 6 game against rival Kansas. All 4,000 tickets were distributed by 2 p.m., leaving some students with ticket combos out of luck if they had class (or refused to skip class) Monday morning. Their only alternative is to wait until Feb. 5 to purchase tickets made available to the general public at a cost of $50 a seat.
“If we moved it to a Tuesday or a Wednesday, then you’re going to limit students there,” Grinch said. “If you move it to a weekend, obviously students are active and may be gone or other things. If you do it at night, people have meetings or other group or extracurricular involvement that could involved them. We’ve certainly looked at that and considered different things. Of course, with anything we do, it’s ongoing and we’re always looking to improve.”
Some students find it unreasonable that the pickup dates occur well before the games for which they receive tickets. Each pickup period, except the first one, was more than a month before the first game that fell into that period.
“You don’t know if you can go or not that early in advance of the game,” senior Mita Patel said.
Before the 2002-03 season, students still had to buy a combination package to obtain men’s basketball tickets but were guaranteed at least an upper level seat at the Hearnes Center if they bought the package. Mizzou Arena replaced the Hearnes Center as the home of the men’s and women’s basketball teams in 2004.
Now, some students buy the ticket combo without knowing they aren’t guaranteed men’s basketball tickets.
“A lot of time students may purchase the pass without the full understanding of how the pickups work and that kind of thing,” Grinch said. “I think more than anything what we try to do is further educate them and direct them to some of the policies that are on our site.”
Grinch said that this year, because students could only purchase the ticket combo online, it should have been clear how the system works.
“We wanted to make sure that the students had the ability there, when they were ordering, to see the policies and procedures of that,” he said. “They all had to check off that they read the policies and agreed with them.”
Grinch said he thinks the majority of students understand that basketball tickets are not guaranteed. But to some students, advertisements for the combo package focus too heavily on selling the idea of obtaining football and basketball tickets and fail to emphasize information about the non-guaranteed basketball tickets.
“I think it needs to be reiterated,” Richey said.
Panousis, a sophomore, said he didn’t know about the stipulation until this year.
Quelling student complaints and confusion is “just a matter of educating the students on the policy,” Grinch said.
But no matter how well the athletics department can inform students about the system, some students have a principle objection to the department making money off students who, if they are unable to make certain pickup dates, cannot attend basketball games.
“People are just really mad about it and don’t understand,” Richey said. “That doesn’t make sense, that we are putting our money into something and nothing’s coming out of it."