Those of you are familiar with my work know that I’ve got little love for collegiate athletics generally, and little interest in football specifically. But even I’ve noticed some of the griping about empty seats at North Dakota State University football games.
The Bison are apparently on pace for another championship season, yet according to this letter in the Fargo Forum from Lyn Telford, there were thousands of empty seats at a recent game.
“People are upset that there were 2,000 open seats at the Bison game on Saturday,” Telford writes.
Why is this happening? According to Telford, it’s the product of the secondary market for Bison season tickets:
People sell their tickets for double or more than face value. People are holding on to their season tickets just to make money. My family has tried to get two more season tickets for five years so we can sit together as a family. Yet at every game, the seats around us are filled with rotating groups of people who overpay from season ticket holders.
There was another letter to the Forum earlier this year making a similar complaint. Erik Walker, whose letter was published back in August, called for a crackdown on the resale of season tickets. “That Fargodome needs to be stacked to the rafter every Saturday to give our team that advantage,” he wrote. “If you see that as a money-making opportunity, you are not a fan.”
I’m not sure a crackdown would work. Bison football is very popular. Tickets are clearly in demand. Even if some policy were implemented to prohibit ticket resales, would it work? Or would the ticket reselling go underground?
An easier solution would be a hike in ticket prices.
As evidenced by the existence of an apparently thriving secondary market, there is a significant gap between what tickets actually cost and what fans are willing to pay. The market isn’t working perfectly, or else we wouldn’t be saying games with so many empty seats, but a higher starting price for season tickets would likely go a long way toward weeding out casual fans who are reselling most of their tickets.
The empty seats at Bison games aren’t a product of a lack of interest. They’re a product of a failure to capture the full value of a season ticket.