Tech basketball has a problem that they are not motivated to fix: their sellouts do not have sellout crowds. Sitting in the crowd for the Clemson game last Sunday, I was struck by how, despite how quickly the game had sold out with regard to student tickets, a considerable chunk of student seating was completely empty. Considering that the more bodies in seats, the better a team performs, it is not hyperbole to suggest that missing a chunk of students for the game could have helped Tech lose the game 72-70.
What gives? The game was a sellout, so where were these students? I remember the Notre Dame buzzer beater where the student section was actually full — another close game against a ranked team, but this time going to the Jackets. Different crowds, but both sellouts.
The crowd at the Clemson game was a symptom of Tech’s issues with their current ticketing system. The new system was rolled out for the start of the 2017-2018 basketball season, presumably in response to increased demand, but that increase in demand has not quite manifested itself at McCamish thanks in no small part to the new system. Under the current system, students must register for tickets weeks in advance of the game and have their tickets downloaded to their phones ahead of the game, or else wait for tip-off and then be considered to enter the student section.
While I am sure that the new system is helpful in managing demand for extremely popular games such as Clemson, Virginia or Syracuse, it ruins the attendance because many students register for tickets ahead of time, then simply do not use them. Worse yet, the current system provides students with the opportunity to scalp these tickets. In fact, the system encourages this — giving away a highly coveted item in limited supply on a first come, first served basis motivates scalpers to register for tickets and then later sell them for a profit. And if these tickets are not sold, or the student who registered for the tickets chooses not to attend, those seats are left empty, and the only recourse for fans who were unable to grab those tickets is to wait for an hour outside the arena without a guaranteed seat past tip-off.
The previous system of allocating tickets by giving them out on a first come, first served basis to students who showed up at McCamish was not perfect. There might be a long line, and a student might be turned away if student seats filled up. But at the same time, McCamish was full and rocking, and no one could scalp those tickets.
But as someone who regularly attends games, and as someone who has railed on about the importance of fans showing up and supporting the team during important games, it frustrates me to see this system fail the students and fail the team. Students are not rewarded for attending games that they register for, nor are they punished for not attending. And it has become easier than ever for scalpers to obtain tickets and resell them for pure profit.
It is my sincere hope that Tech’s athletic department recognizes the issues that their system currently faces and takes steps to revamp the system for the better. Perhaps Tech should prioritize who receives tickets based on how frequently students attend games, similar to the Atlanta Hawks’ 6th Man Section. Or maybe Tech should prevent students for registering for a game if they registered for tickets for a game and then neglected to come. As a college student at a sporting event, you are not merely a fan — you are a cheerleader and vocal supporter, and your role is not to be taken lightly. Hopefully Tech fixes the system soon, aligning real attendance with reported figures. They owe it Josh Pastner and the rest of Tech basketball.