|Penn State hockey has been well supported for decades - so why has moving tickets for the first|
NCAA season been such a struggle?
As an undergrad, I went to every Icers home game for free (don't be too jealous, it's hard to watch the game from the merchandise stand or booster hospitality room). From graduation through 2010-2011, I never bought season tickets - I live in Ohio, and there simply wasn't any reason to do so. When I was around for my one or two weekends per year, I'd make sure to arrive at the rink early enough to ensure that I would be able to walk up and buy tickets.
I changed that pattern last year by purchasing season tickets, even though I ultimately didn't use them any more than I would have any other season (actually less, since I'm once again getting in for free thanks to somehow being considered media). My thoughts were along the lines of "everyone at Penn State is pumped for NCAA hockey, that building is tiny, it's going to be an impossible ticket especially for the opener, and they're saying that Icers season ticket holders will have priority." Since my first introduction to Penn State hockey, I've pined for this moment, and I was going to do everything possible to make sure I didn't miss the puck drop on the NCAA era. Incidentally, in a related thought process, the urge to obsessively follow the ACHA-NCAA transition and ensure that I didn't miss a single development was the major factor in my starting this blog about a month after Terry Pegula's donation was announced.
It turned out that I was right to buy season tickets. Only Icers season ticket holders were allowed to buy season tickets for 2012-2013, so I did receive something I would not have otherwise by jumping on board in 2011-2012. My scarcity-based fears, however, could not have been more off base.
The Ice Pavilion's listed capacity is 1,350. Before going further, let's engage in some educated guesswork as to how that breaks down.
Dividing the total seating by the rink's five seating sections yields 270 (I don't believe standing room is counted in the 1,350 number, since the list of the Icers' best-ever crowds include throngs more than 200 people greater than 1,350). However, Section C, the middle one, is smaller than the other four due to the tunnel connecting the locker room area to the ice and to accommodate media at the top. So let's say Sections A (the student section), B, D and E have roughly 285 seats each, with Section C including the remaining 210.
Using that breakdown, it follows that there were about 855 student ticket packages available for this season, since there were three different packages of five games sold for those 285 seats. They went on sale September 12th for an insanely-cheap $20 each, and after one week are still available (two of the three packages are sold out while Package B, highlighted by the November 10th game against Air Force, is not). Fifty-six zealous students were in line before the ticket office opened on the first day of the sale which is certainly better than nothing, but also a far cry from similar lines at more traditional NCAA hockey schools like RPI, whose lines more closely resemble Nittanyville than PSU's hockey ticket queue:
“The hockey line, the passion of the students just really makes this a unique hockey program and one that’s special to be a part of,” RPI head coach Seth Appert said.
The distinctive event, which dates back to the early 1970’s, began at the Rensselaer Student Union where both students and fans alike, fully clad in RPI's trademark cherry and white, mingled with players on the current roster.
“To be here and to see how much passion the students have for athletics, for their hockey program is really a great feeling,” Appert said. “I know its humbling for our guys to know the kind of support they get from their fellow students.”
“It means a lot to us,” said sophomore defensemen Luke Curadi. “If you’re a new student you get to see what RPI hockey is all about and to just get excited about the next couple months.”
The school’s popular pep band kicked things off playing a number of signature tunes heard inside Houston Field House at home games. As a makeshift clock counted down the time until tickets officially went on sale at the box office, the student body, led by the team, paraded from the union to the Field House to select their season tickets before the night culminated in a party outside the arena.
|Ticket campouts are a staple at many schools, including RPI and this one, at Denver.|
Back in June, the same three five-game packages offered to students were sold to the non-student public for an extremely reasonable $55. The total number of packages available was a little bit over 200 (the team tweeted that there were "less than 200 left" about 90 minutes into that sale). Since we're estimating most of this stuff anyway, call it 240 total, or 80 seats per game. Those did sell out, although it took about two weeks.
On Tuesday, a public single-game sale began with "fewer than 100" tickets left over for each of the 15 home games - to keep the math simple (and without further information anyway), we'll say 1,500 total tickets. To be fair, it's only been one day since those went on sale, but they're still available as well.
If you added everything together and discovered 885 seats per game left over, presumably those are renewals by Icers season ticket holders and other obligations (visiting team, media, etc.).
A fair assessment of all of that, in my opinion, is that Penn State will eventually sell out all games at the Ice Pavilion this season. "Eventually" being the key word there - it certainly wasn't the mad rush predicted by myself and others.
In fact, take away my season ticket and my press pass for a second. Assume I'm just some random guy interested in PSU hockey, and who wants to attend the first NCAA hockey game in the history of Penn State men's hockey. Without resorting to the secondary market, and in a rink seating 1,350, I would be able to do so even if I had completely neglected the June sale of five-game packages and also forgot about the single-game ticket sale until (at least) the second day. That's mind-blowing to me.
The Penn State community, when motivated, is fantastic at moving tickets. There are numerous examples of this phenomenon, but just to hit a couple:
- Every summer, PSU students buy up 21,000 football season tickets for over $200 each. That includes for this season, in spite of everything.
- Last October, it took 90 minutes to sell out 6,500 tickets for wrestling's dual meet with Iowa.
- A record crowd of 5,117 attended the women's soccer match with Stanford on August 24th.
- A Taylor Swift concert at the Bryce Jordan Center in 2009 sold out in 20 minutes. The BJC holds in the neighborhood of 16,000 people for concerts.
|Gratuitous photo of Taylor Swift, taken at her BJC show.|
But hockey is not without context as well. After all, Penn State has waited forever for NCAA hockey. The Icers already had a built-in fan base that filled most of the Ice Pavilion for each game. Surely I'm not the only one who felt a sense of urgency because of those two facts and because of the rink's size. There's an NHL lockout (if you haven't heard) and therefore a decent chance that Penn Staters won't be watching Penguins and Flyers games anytime soon. A very visible reminder that the program exists is under construction across from the Jordan Center. Given all of that, the overall sluggishness of Penn Staters in grabbing about 7,000 of the 20,250 total seats at Greenberg this season is discouraging.
Speaking of that reminder, yes, I do believe that the Pegula Ice Arena will contribute to the demand for tickets in 2013-2014. However, the history of new sports venues (including PSU's Medlar Field) indicates that the attendance spike will only last for one year. After that, it will just be a venue with more seats to fill in four games than the Ice Pavilion has for an entire season. Can we do it? It's still too early to say, but I'm less confident in success than I was even six months ago.
In June, I wrote a post called "Cause For Concern?" discussing the relative lack of buzz about hockey at "mainstream" PSU as measured from different sources. It wasn't my intent to duplicate that post - apologies if I have - but rather to update it with new data.
That data, to me, reads something like this right now: "Penn State is a new market for NCAA hockey, and is therefore going to require some building time, just like most new markets. It's not the automatic that some (again, guilty) assumed it would be, and it will have to find a solid niche in a landscape already pretty saturated with big-time college athletics in order to draw at a level appropriate for a large-conference program."