Spring games: To charge or not to charge?

February, 23, 2011
2/23/11
9:00
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Wisconsin on Monday became the latest college football program to start charging admission to its spring football game.

The school announced that tickets to the April 23 game will cost $5 and proceeds will benefit a campaign to build a new School of Nursing. Wisconsin's spring game previously had been free of charge.

What do we make of this? Most important, how do you, the fans, feel about paying to attend spring games?

Make no mistake: spring games aren't what they used to be. Many have corporate sponsors and some are part of spring weekend extravaganzas.

I remember being amazed when more than 95,000 fans showed up for Ohio State's spring game in 2009. Buckeyes fans paid $5 per seat to sit in the sun two Aprils ago.

New Big Ten member Nebraska charges $10 for reserved seats to its Red/White Game, which is very well attended.

Schools clearly see the benefits from capitalizing on college football's immense popularity and on one of few showcase days for the sport between January and September.

Last year, Penn State held the "Blue-White Weekend presented by AAA," which included the Blue-White Game. All the Penn State events are free, and the game has drawn more than 40,000 fans in 12 of the past 15 seasons, including a record turnout of 76,500 in 2009.

Spring games also bring more than pageantry. Fans get a glimpse of how the team will look in the following season, which players have emerged in position battles, and so on.

But these are also just spruced-up scrimmages. Are they worth a ticket fee?

Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez told the Wisconsin State Journal that when he served as an Iowa assistant, coach Hayden Fry saw incentive in charging for admission to the spring game.
"I can remember Hayden saying, 'If it's free, people think there's no value in it,'" Alvarez said. "'If you just charge $2, we'll increase the crowd.' Sure enough, that's what happened."

Hayden Fry, football coach and economic whiz.

Iowa, by the way, no longer charges for its spring game.

The other side to this is that Wisconsin's spring game revenue will go to a good campus initiative -- the nursing school needs a new home to accommodate more students.

Proceeds from future spring games will go to other areas on campus, and Alvarez and coach Bret Bielema will determine the beneficiaries.

From the State Journal:
"I think this is one idea, or one way we can have a different group of people [at the game]," Alvarez said. "If we have those in the nursing school promote and sell tickets, there's someone else who may be interested [in the game] for another reason. I know that time of year there are a lot of things going on, but I see spring games all over the country where stadiums are nearly sold out. So, hopefully, this will be another incentive."

It will be interesting to see how this goes over among Wisconsin fans. Unlike Nebraska and Ohio State, Wisconsin has drawn only about 20,000 fans for its recent spring games. Last year's game drew 23,567.

Will charging admission boost attendance? If so, I might need to call coach Fry for some financial advice.

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