College students like four things: cheap beer, cheap tickets, good football, and rivalry games. Michigan students can probably find plenty of the first at campus tailgates, but the other three are nowhere to be found. When the students look for answers, they look to the top of the athletic department. Specifically, they look to Dave Brandon.
Brandon, as many know, is the definition of a businessman. He parlayed a degree from the University of Michigan into CEO positions with Valassis Communications and Domino’s Pizza. When Bill Martin stepped down as the athletic director, President Mary Sue Coleman tabbed Brandon as his replacement.
Since then, Brandon has done his part to ensure Michigan athletics have stayed in the black. However, at the same time, he has alienated a large amount of the Michigan fan base, especially students.
It’s a good thing the beer is cheap, because the ticket prices have continued to soar under Brandon’s watch. Seven home games will set a student back 295 dollars, which is 43 bucks more than it costs Ohio State Students, who pay the second most in the Big Ten. When the price increase was announced, Brandon declared that the move was not profit-driven. Instead, the money would go to renovate the recreational buildings on campus.
This is all fine and good. Students who don’t buy tickets are getting the perks without paying a dime, but one could argue that it is worth it to benefit the entire student body. Yet if you look at Michigan’s current fundraising climate, all of this rings hollow. The University of Michigan is in the midst of a 4 billion dollar campaign called Victors for Michigan. At least one billion is being set aside “so that every student can have an outstanding student experience.” Surely there is enough in the billion dollar budget to fix up the weight rooms. It seems like the money could come from another place besides student tickets.
What is also painful, besides the price itself, is the product the students are paying to watch. Michigan, with the exception of one 11-2 season, has not performed to program standards since 2007. The program has gone 41 and 35 since Lloyd Carr stepped down. Part of this has been due to the process of changing coaches, but fans are growing impatient. The program has recruited high caliber players as of late, so hopefully the team can turn itself around. The students have still attended the games, with 21,000 purchasing 2013 tickets, but the cost has gone up to watch to view mediocre football.
There is less than stellar Michigan football, and then there are the opponents Michigan has scheduled. The out of conference schedule lacks any excitement, with Applachian State, Miami (OH), and Utah. Applachian State is one of the worst memories for a Michigan football fan, and there is no good reason to invite them back to the Big House. Miami doesn’t play in a power conference, and Utah is only semi-decent. The one good out of conference opponent Brandon scheduled, Alabama, was at Cowboys Stadium.
Rivalry games are another draw for students. With Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Ohio State being away games, Michigan does not face a major opponent at home. After this year, Notre Dame is off the schedule and the MSU and OSU games will either both be home or away. While this does not reflect any of Brandon’s decisions, it is another reason numbers are down.
Yet Brandon cites things like “general trends” and lack of wifi and cellphone service in the stadium as the major issues. Michigan students will attend games in force, no matter the general trend, if the team is good. One could call it fair-weather fandom, but it is students making a conscious decision not to pay big bucks for a mediocre product.
So the predicted number of students expected to attend games is 14,ooo. Brandon has wasted no time selling the rest of the seats, which is smart business, but it is also disturbing in the sense Brandon isn’t doing anything to recruit the students back. The athletic department extended the buying period, but that’s not exactly incentive for buying tickets.
And the sad thing is, Brandon views the high price as incentive. He thinks the higher the price, the more reason for the students to attend the game. While everyone wants a full student section, it is the student’s right to buy a ticket and not show up.
Perhaps he should talk to MSU director Mark Hollis, who has kept high student attendance, perhaps because the Spartans’ football team has been successful of late. Hollis is only charging students 175 dollars for season tickets, even coming off a Rose Bowl championship.
The Michigan Wolverines need to improve as a football team, and until they do, the ticket prices need to be lowered to coax students back to the Big House. Unless Brandon is happy with lower student attendance, then he is well on his way.