With Stanford men's basketball's season about to tip-off tonight, their exhibition opener set for 7pm against the Olympic Club, there are season tickets still available for sale. The waiting list for tickets, which has numbered in the high hundreds for the last few years, has been cleared down to zero for the first time since the 1997-98 season, when the waiting list was created.
This story serves a few functions related to this. The first of which is a public service announcement, to let Booties know that season tickets are within their reach. Many people gave up in recent years when they heard there was a large waiting list, or some people have not bothered to add to their number of tickets with expanding families and friends. In addition to having the chance to see a young team with strong chemistry and an honest chance to improve and surprise, there is some benefit to having a stake in the ground with Stanford basketball tickets today. Ground is scheduled to break for the renovation of Maples Pavilion immediately after the conclusion of the 2003-04 season (just 16 months away), and there will be a reshuffling of tickets and seats at that time. It has been intimated to me that season ticket holders of record prior to the rebuild will have significantly more favorable chances and assignments then.
Those people interested in buying season tickets should call the ticket office during business hours at 1-800-STANFORD. They will gladly take your ticket orders today.
The second point of this story is to examine how the waiting list and season ticket numbers have taken this drop. No one factor dominates, though there are several contributing factors:
- Raised ticket prices - Even though the team took a step back last year for the first time in many years of building success, and even though expectations are lower still this year with the early departure of Casey Jacobsen and Curtis Borchardt to the NBA, a business decision was made to raise ticket prices for this season. While that has been the cause of consternation to may Stanford fans and observers, the decision was predicated largely on an in-house marketing study that examined ticket prices around the Pac-10, and for other entertainment events around the Bay Area. It was concluded that Stanford men's basketball was underpriced, and that led to this year's increase.
- New rules for staff - Previously, staff of the Athletic Department were allowed an allotment of up to two tickets per person free of charge, but this is the first year where they are asked to pay a modest though discounted fee. The observation has been that many staff took their allotment but were casual and infrequent in their use of the tickets. By putting some monetary value in play, the tickets are now likely to be used by staff with more serious intentions to attend most or all games. The unsurprising result is that staff tickets are down this year from their previous level in the 300-400 range.
- Economic conditions - The ticket sales this past summer and fall were the first for Stanford basketball during this glory run to occur during a markedly depressed economy, and I can anecdotally share that several friends and acquaintances have admitted to cutting tickets loose because of jobs lost and tight money.
- Lowered expectations of the product - Last year was a dip for Stanford basketball, and even the most casual of observers know the challenges that will come this year absent Jacobsen and Borchardt. The term "bandwagon" carries a heavy negative connotation, but the truth is that a lot of well-meaning alumni and members of the local community just don't have as much of a desire to pay up for a season that will fall short of the recent #1 glory years.
Puzzled fans will look at the last three bullet points and wonder how the basketball office would go forward with the decision to raise ticket prices. The answer you will receive is that they knew renewals would trim back, and accepted that future with more of an embrace than you might think. Though Maples has been sold out for every game back to the 1997-98 season, there has been a trend toward fans coming out only for the "big" games and skating by the "lesser" conference games, and certainly the pre-season games. Sold out attendance records masked an actual attendance of maybe 70-85% in some cases. In this sense, the basketball office is pricing tickets at perceived market value and thus trimming away some of the fat (my words, not those of anybody in the basketball office). The result has been some accounts not renewed, but more accounts that had four or six seats and have trimmed down to two or three. The hope is that tickets will not go unused.
In addition to the availability of season tickets, there are a few other ticket availability notes. One is that the supersized 6thMan Club, which has grown from its initial days of 30-50 members to the last few years' level north of 1000 members, is being watched a little more closely. It has been my observation that the combined seating downstairs and upstairs at Maples was well outstripping student demand, with many important Pac-10 games not filling the club's upper level section. Though demand has experienced only a marginal drop, the folks in the basketball office again want to get these seats filled. So there will be a limited number of single game tickets upstairs in that section available for sale on gameday. That number is likely to flex through the season, as the ticket office gets a better handle on 6th Man attendance this year during different parts of the season.
Finally, young Stanford alumni have a special chance to return to their favorite 6th Man bleacher seats during the month of December with a new Holiday Hoops package. If you were in the 6th Man like I was and long for the days when you could smell the opponent and tell him a few feet away that he stinks, this is a good thing. If for nothing else, you can have a real chance that our beloved visually-challenged referees will be able to hear your in-game input on their calls...
On a completely unrelated note, I got my Stanford men's basketball media guide a couple weeks ago - hot off the presses. For those folks who don't have one yet, you should seriously think about purchasing one from the ticket office or the official website. In addition to the content which has made this media guide a fan favorite, a new section has been added by basketball media relations director Bob Vazquez entitled "This is Stanford Basketball." It is a great new introduction and overview to the program - from the Maples environment to strength & conditioning, from academics to the NBA. You'll dig it.
And of course, one of the reasons this media guide has been considered by many Stanford sports fans the best around is the questionnaires. If you haven't seen the hoops media guide before, each player has answered a range of 50 sports and personal questions that give you insight and laughs. This year teaches that Dan Grunfel