Tickets remain for Huskers, Michigan
LINCOLN, Neb. -- Nebraska and Michigan are two of the most iconic brands in college football, known as much for their tradition of packing stadiums as their history of championships.
The Huskers have sold out 333 straight games, an NCAA record, over 52 seasons. The Wolverines have led the nation in attendance for 38 of the past 39 years and drawn 251 consecutive crowds in excess of 100,000 at Michigan Stadium.
Yet with their home openers set for Saturday, both traditional Big Ten powers are still working to sell tickets.
And while Nebraska's sacred sellout streak appears safe and Michigan will again hit six figures, they face a reality of lackluster home schedules and waning student interest in addition to the perception of sagging momentum on the field.
As a result, the powerful programs have turned aggressive in marketing to fans in unprecedented ways -- all while ticket sales surge at league rivals Ohio State and Penn State.
Tickets remain available at Nebraska for five home games this fall. As of late Tuesday, about 150 student season tickets were unsold -- a figure that has dropped significantly over the past week as fall semester classes began.
Less than 100 single-game tickets for the opener also remain, returned several weeks ago by visiting Florida Atlantic.
Nebraska, for the first time, offered a package of tickets at a discount for Saturday and the game next week against McNeese State.
At Michigan, student sales account for a more sizable concern. In advance of its opener on Saturday against Appalachian State, Michigan has sold approximately 12,000 student tickets, down from 20,000 last year.
About 1,500 tickets remain available for Saturday at the Big House, according to Hunter Lochmann, chief marketing officer for Michigan athletics. More work awaits for other home games.
The Wolverines came under scrutiny for offering a deal on the website Living Social -- $65 for a ticket to the opener, a T-shirt, program, beverage and hot dog -- and they promoted a home-opener package that also included tickets to the first home games this year in hockey and basketball.
"We're trying a lot of things we've not had to try before," Lochmann said. "We've never done more marketing of football ticket packages."
Michigan averaged a nation-leading 111,592 in attendance last season. But a second straight year of declining win totals under coach Brady Hoke and a 3-5 Big Ten mark led to backlash.
Additionally, Michigan students rejected an open seating policy last year. A new plan was instituted this season that rewards students with an opportunity to improve their seats for 2015 by showing up early and often.
Michigan added a family-friendly section to its stadium. It allowed the public to purchase unsold student seats, offered single-game tickets to students and reduced the validation fee that lets students sell their tickets.
"We may be taking a hit," Lochmann said, "but we don't care. We want more students to come to the games."
Nebraska added 6,000 seats to Memorial Stadium a year ago to reach a capacity of 87,000, Attendance exceeded 90,000 for every home game last season. Despite an overall season-ticket renewal rate of 95 percent, demand has softened as Nebraska went a 14th straight year without a conference title.
Meanwhile, in Columbus, Ohio, and State College, Pennsylvania, ticket sales are hot as ever.
Ohio State sold 29,614 student packages for this season, adding more than 1,200 to keep up with demand to reach its highest figure since 2010.
Penn State quickly sold its 21,200-seat student allotment in June. Overall, the Nittany Lions have surpassed sales for 2012 and 2013 and expect an increase in average attendance by 2,000 to 3,500, according to Jeff Garner, assistant athletic director for ticket sales.
Of course, Penn State features an energetic, first-year coach in James Franklin. Ohio State is coming off consecutive 12-win seasons and sold its tickets before the season-ending shoulder injury suffered by quarterback Braxton Miller, who was expected to contend for the Heisman Trophy.
Nebraska and Michigan are not generating the same excitement, so they're left to get innovative in attracting fans -- once a foreign concept at such schools.
Michigan announced on Wednesday the availability of delay-free radio in the stadium. Nebraska replaced its 20-year-old sound system and added public WiFi expected to handle simultaneous Internet traffic from 80 percent of the fans in attendance, said Ethan Rowley, Nebraska director of fan experience.
Nebraska officials "challenged each other," Rowley said, to enhance the football atmosphere in much the same way that the school did over the past year in its new basketball arena.
"This is very much an on-demand generation," Rowley said. "They want live stats. They don't want to wait for it to scroll through the ticker on the ribbon boards."
No matter the amount of marketing required, Michigan and Nebraska expect full stadiums. It's as much a part of their traditions as the championships.
"We're trying to sell tickets to create a home-field atmosphere, so Brady and the boys can get out there in front of a loud stadium and do their thing," Lochmann said. "That's our No. 1 objective, and if we get criticized for how we do it, we have to have thick skin, because we're not doing it for any other reason than to have a home-field advantage."
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