Despite a Sour Economy and Attendance Problems, College Football Ticket Prices Continue to Climb

By Kyle Rowland on July 1, 2013 at 9:30a
We're a long way from $10.50

For more than five years, the United States has been in the midst of an historic recession. Jobs have been lost, unemployment has skyrocketed and spending has lessened considerably. But when it comes to college football, people are still willing to spend hard-earned cash to see their favorite team. And athletic departments know they have a product that’s in demand, allowing them to charge steep prices, sometimes reaching triple digits.

Football is by far the most popular sport in the country with its fans’ craving never fully satisfied. College football is witnessing its golden age. Demand has never been greater. The money spent has given athletic departments the opportunity to make upgrades on projects that called for improvements. At the same time real estate went kaput, silencing cranes and other machinery at construction sites around the globe, stadium renovations and opulent football facilities went on as planned.

The sport has proven it is recession-proof, at least in some parts of the country. Attendance has dipped nationwide during the tough economic times, but the tradition-rich programs continue to sell out on a weekly basis. The Big Ten, SEC and Big 12, home to some of college football’s most successful programs and rabid fan bases, fill stadiums to 70-percent capacity conference-wide for the season. Eight of the top 10 attendance-getters are from those conferences and they’re also home to the most high-profile games of the season.

Ohio State-Michigan, Alabama-LSU, Texas-Oklahoma. All three games have face values that approach or break the $100 barrier. Since the recession began, ticket prices to high-demand games has risen more than 30 percent, far exceeding inflation, and the cost of admission isn’t the only expenditure that goes into purchasing tickets. Many of the leading programs only make tickets available through season ticket sales, and even then a fee – or donation – is needed to procure the right to buy the tickets.

At Ohio State, one must be a member of the President’s Club or Buckeye Club. President’s Club members must pay at minimum $2,500 per year. The lowest Buckeye Club membership level that allows you to purchase tickets requires an annual payment of $1,500. It’s the equivalent of personal seat licenses in professional sports.

There was a time when college athletics was void of big business, advertising at every turn and coaches’ salaries that make some CEOs jealous.

In January, Ohio State indicated it would raise ticket prices from $70 to $79 and institute premium game pricing, allowing the university to charge as much as $175. In 2013 only one game – Wisconsin – is designated as a marquee game, with a price tag of $110.

Charging more for games against better teams is not foreign to college football. Teams have used pricing structures for years. But it came to Buckeye fans combined with a dramatic increase in single-game prices, triggering severe blowback. It was to be expected, though, as athletic council chairman Charlie Wilson told Eleven Warriors in January.

But Ohio State had the justifications lined up: it was leaving money on the table and it’s necessary when you have 36 varsity sports. An outside consulting firm discovered Ohio State could create $40 to $60 million in revenue with a majority coming from ticket sales and pricing.

“We haven’t raised tickets prices the last three years,” athletic director Gene Smith said. “Looking ahead into our financial plan, we knew at some point we would have to do this.”

Fans didn’t talk much with their pocketbooks, however. Season ticket renewal rates were sky high and one year after students and alumni failed to purchase all available tickets, a waiting list could have been created. When attendance sags, theories follow soon after to decipher why fans would opt not to cheer on their favorite team, often their alma mater, on picturesque campuses with friends and family.

Poor cell phone service, the inconvenience of losing an entire day, secondary ticket market and the lack of quality opponents all factor in. Venues with a large number of attendees have long been a black hole for cell phone service. For young fans, it’s an annoyance on par with sitting next to a baby on an airplane.

“Our next generation of fans is used to staying connected,” Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart told CBS Sports. “They should be able to communicate in real time with somebody on the other side of the stadium. It’s quite an investment but we have to make it.”


During the offseason, Ohio State has taken measures to improve cell phone reception. Other schools now have policies that permit fans to bring in tablets and laptop computers to games.

StubHub, eBay and ticket brokers have allowed fans to cash in on their tickets or skip season tickets altogether. Instead, they can go to the big games and decline watching an overmatched non-conference opponent lose by seven touchdowns. It’s also provided a cheap alternative for bowl tickets. But schools view the secondary market as one of the biggest evils in college sports. Some see it as a double standard.

“I think the university is trying to carve a little more money out for themselves, which is something they’ve already started to do,” Tim Louters, manager at Dublin-based Tickets Galore, said. “The secondary market is something that has been frowned upon for 30 years. In the last couple years, Ohio State has signed a deal with Ticketmaster to be the official secondary market for the Buckeyes. So the university is already starting to profit off of the secondary market, and obviously the university is always trying to get more money.”

More and more, a segment of the population has been priced out of big-time college football. Louters believes it could even lead to an Ohio Stadium that isn’t filled to capacity. The university thinks otherwise. In May, Ohio State announced that more than 2,500 seats would be added to the Horseshoe. Smith said selling the additional tickets would not present a problem.

“The demand for tickets far exceeds the number available,” Wilson said.

The University of Michigan will use a new pricing system this fall called “dynamic ticketing,” where single-game prices are based on market value. It’s similar to what airlines use. The Akron game will start out at $65, while Notre Dame ($195) and Ohio State ($175) will be substantially higher.

Still, it’s the experience that trumps all other influences. The events on a Saturday in the fall have few equals in sports. The pageantry and tradition becomes all consuming. And it’s why the van is loaded up for the tailgate, even when ticket prices mount.


Comments Show All Comments

Enzo's picture

How is notre dame a higher priced ticket than tOSU?

DannyBeane's picture

How much would you pay to watch your ass get kicked by OSU yet again?

zbd's picture

For the fat cats where the company pays the fees, company business perks and those at the university who go free, the increase means nothing.  The rest of us will watch on TV. 

Young_Turk's picture

And athletic departments know they have a product that’s in demand, allowing them to charge steep prices, sometimes reaching tripe digits.

Triple digit pricing is a bunch of TRIPE!


Doc's picture

This will probably be my last year getting season tickets.  The $1,500.00 for the Buckeye Club along with the season ticket price themselves is not my deciding factor.  I have two boys that are 9 and 7.  They play sports on Saturdays.  I don't want them growing up thinking I'm that guy that loves the Buckeyes more than them.  The drive to Cbus from NW Ohio is also killing me.  I will usually leave home at around 5:30 in the morning and not get home until after 10.  It's not fair for me to be gone 8 fall Saturdays.  I can easily take the money I would have spent and buy 4 tickets together for a game or two and have the whole family with me.  Plus with HD tv and shorter lines at the john it is more convenient to stay home.  I can watch more games and not have to get up at the ass crack of dawn.

CJDPHoS Member

The Official DDS of 11W

chirobuck's picture

allowing tablets and laptops into the games.......
that scares the crap out of me, kids these days sit around barely able to pry their faces away from their smart phones for 2 seconds......if you can't even go to a football game without a tablet in your lap then that is just sad, I can picture a day when you have an entire student section at a game staring at a computer screen, what a sad day that would be


^ best post ever ^

jeremytwoface's picture

The rise in ticket prices makes me incredibly sad.
Since as long as I can remember, my dad and I would go to an Ohio State Football game every single year... Some of my best memories are from those games. 
I remember sitting in the last 2 seats in C deck... right up against the large pillar. I forget what game it was, but I DO remember that it was super crappy out. Me and my dad always joke that it was raining down on the field and snowing where we were. I think we even got interviewed for the paper that day... I still have the clipping.
You want to know how many games we've been to together in the last 5 years or so??
You want to know the reason why?
For some people, it's not that big of a deal. But for us, you're spending almost $200 before you even get into the stadium. My dad can afford it more than me but it's still tough to drop that much money sometimes.

And when we win the game, we'll buy a keg of boooooooooze!! And we'll drink to old Ohio 'till we wobble in our shoes.

CC's picture

These are the times we must consider if we want a bigger athletic department or a smaller athletic department.  Do we want to pay assistants $1m or not?  Do we want to win or lose?  In my opinion, I think we should try to win and therefore I buy tickets.
It's hard to say we want to win at all costs but not pay the piper.  At least you have a choice, and at least every game is on TV.

DJ Byrnes's picture

I don't really have much of a desire to attend games. Gas money, parking, uncomfortable seating, ridiculous concession prices, and waiting 20 minutes to use the bathroom are all major turnoffs to me. 

Californian by birth, Marionaire by the Grace of President Warren G. Harding.

Denny's picture

Bro. Haven't you heard? We can just relieve ourselves in coolers!


Kyle Rowland's picture

The complete uncomfortableness for close to four hours is a very underrated part of the game-day "experience." 

kdizzleduzit's picture

And three hours getting sober

Enzo's picture

My new business venture, Gameday Catheters, LLC. They work for all day for filibusters and sporting events alike.'s picture

Dear Jeremy,
Prices are high on face value, but there are brokers selling cheap seats for low-rent games. if just being in the Shoe is what it is all about, go to the A&M game. I guarantee someone will be selling $20 tickets outside the Shott. 
Take your dad. 

ArTbkward's picture

$175 for a single game ticket?  Ouch, no thanks.

We should strive to keep thy name, of fair repute and spotless fame...

(Also, I'm not a dude)

Michibuck's picture

Ushered as a Boy Scout, sneaked in for 3 years as a HS student, went legit as an OSU student for 4 years on a Student Activities Card for $10 total for all football games and all basketball games plus any other athletic event. How times change.

pjtobin's picture

I have purchased season tickets. I have purchased just a few games. I even traded my labor to a student for his tickets. So it doesn't matter to me. I've been to at least one game since 2000. I plan on going to one every year till I die. The price is high, but the memories are priceless. 

Bury me in my away jersey, with my buckeye blanket. A diehard who died young. Rip dad. 

Michibuck's picture

You've got it, PJT, the memories.

pjtobin's picture

Well thank you Michibuck. My kids understand that ticket prices are high. They have a culligan bottle savings account for kings island. They have been doing chores for my neighbors and I. They are up to like 60$. I told them if they could save enough of their money to buy tickets to get in, I will pay for everything else. I think mom and I will just use their money to start savings accounts for them. And take them on our dime. 

Bury me in my away jersey, with my buckeye blanket. A diehard who died young. Rip dad. 

unholy bucknut's picture

I always have to goto one big ten matchup a year. I used to go all the time when my grandfather was alive he had season tickets. I grew up in the shoe on fall Saturdays. Now that he is gone these prices on stub hub and other second hand joints makes me sick but i still pay it. Amazing what passion for a team will make you do. Two three hundred dollars a seat for a relevant game and thats b deck usually. Boo