Monday, April 23, 2012

The Golden Tickets

The end of spring semester brings many changes each year to colleges across the nation. Seniors graduate, some students decide to drop out or transfer to a different school, while returning students gear up for new dorms and new roommates for the upcoming year. For next year’s University of South Carolina students and officials, the end of spring semester also marks the end of an old athletic ticketing system. The university’s current ticket system, which is operated through the company Tickereturn, will be replaced for the 2012-2013 football, basketball, and baseball athletic seasons by the more widely known company Ticketmaster. This new system ushers in a vastly different way in which students request, receive, and use their student tickets. In this report, and with a primary focus on football ticketing, I review these new changes and the decision to move forward with a new system, as well as provide some student feedback on the changes in student ticketing.
            In an email interview I conducted with student Secretary of Athletics Travis Horne, he described the need for a new ticketing system for students. “There were many complaints last football season from students, administrators, and even parents about Ticketreturn”, he replied. These complaints “ranged from Ticketreturn crashing to students photocopying their printed tickets resulting in many being denied entrance into the stadium.” Horne noted that as an official elected by the students, and as a voice of the student body, it was his responsibility to listen to these complaints and to help solve the problems that students were facing through ticketing. “Throughout the school year, Student Ticketing held multiple forums to gather opinions and gauge where the student body was on the issue of ticketing.” As a result of these meetings, it was made obvious to Horne and everyone involved in the student ticketing department that something had to change. The need for a new ticketing system was sparked by student response, which helped reveal the deterioration of Ticketreturn. Once it became apparent that something needed to be done, it was the willingness to answer student ticketing problems by those in power, such as Horne, that helped build momentum for a new student ticketing system. As discussions began to take place, Horne made it clear that student input was a priority and that students played a key role in choosing the new system. “As recently as Friday, April 20th, I have met with administrators to continue to voice the concerns of the student body. Although the students did not make the final decision on what would happen with student ticketing, our voices were heard.” It is clear from this statement that there are still adjustments taking place on the new system, but Horne remains dedicated to the students and is working to keep the voices of the student body heard in the matter.
After detailing just how the new system was decided upon, it is important to review the significant changes students can expect for the upcoming football season. With any change, there is bound to be mixed feelings among the affected population as people are forced to break routines and adjust to a new way of doing things. One of these changes involves the ticket itself, as Horne described in the interview. “Ticketmaster allows for students to put their tickets on their Carolina Card, instead of printing out a ticket with Ticketreturn.” This addresses the complaint that many students had about tickets being photocopied under the Ticketreturn system, keeping many people from entering the football stadium. Putting the tickets directly on the Carolina Card also allows students to not waste paper on printing tickets, and makes it less likely for students to lose their ticket to the game.
However, the biggest change that students will encounter for football tickets is the requesting process for each game. Under Ticketreturn, students were given a two day window to request a ticket for the upcoming home game. Once a student requested a ticket, their name was put into a lottery and tickets were given to each student whose name was chosen in the drawing. Those who didn’t receive a ticket in the original drawing, or forgot to request a ticket, were forced to go through a claiming period which began two days before a game and ended one hour before kick-off. Students fought for tickets that went unclaimed or canceled by those who received a ticket during the request period. Under the new system, this weekly request period for all students will no longer occur. In my interview with Horne, he touched briefly on this subject, stating that “Ticketmaster allows for students to apply for season tickets, which is aligned with the majority of the other SEC schools.” Instead of requesting tickets for each individual home game, students will have the opportunity to request one season ticket that will allow them to attend each home game in the 2012 season.
 For a detailed description of the new process to receive these season tickets, I turned to a good friend and Press Secretary of Student Government, Emily Cooper. Cooper was largely involved in the ticketing debates, and laid out the process for me in a personal interview a few weeks ago. To paraphrase her response: last Monday, the requesting period for the 2012 football tickets was made available to current students at USC. For entering freshmen and transfer students, the request period will begin when they arrive on campus for orientation. All students will be notified whether or not they were selected in the lottery after the last day of summer orientation takes place. Each student selected in the lottery receives season tickets to every home football game in the 2012 season. For those students not selected in the initial lottery, they will be forced to go through a claim phase for each home game similar to the claim phase under the Ticketreturn system. Students not receiving season tickets will have to try and claim single game tickets that are canceled by season ticket holders for each home game on a near weekly basis. But as Horne stated, this type of design reflects those found at most colleges in USC’s football athletic conference, the Southeastern Conference (SEC).
Of course, everyone’s chances in the lottery in both the old system and the new one depend on the amount of points each student owns. Students receive points in two ways: first, a small amount of points is given to each student based on their academic class, with seniors awarded the most and freshmen the least; second, students receive additional points for each football, basketball, and baseball game they attend. Having more points gives students a greater chance of being selected in the lottery. This brings up the issue of freshmen receiving an adequate amount of tickets since they receive the least amount of points based on academic class and have had no prior chance to receive points from attending games.
When asked about this issue, Cooper acknowledged that freshman would be at some disadvantage. “It will be tough for first year freshmen to get a ticket because they do not have many points to start with, but there are going to be season tickets in the upper-deck of the stadium that many freshmen will be able to get. They will also have a chance to get tickets each game through the claiming period, just as many freshmen under Ticketreturn relied on the claiming process to receive tickets.” Although the process will be tougher for freshmen next year, these students will still have a good opportunity at receiving either season tickets in the upper-decks, or tickets to each game through the claiming process of Ticketmaster. Nick Viole, a rising junior who has attended every home football game as a student at USC, reiterated these sentiments in a personal interview I conducted with him. “I went through a lot of challenges to get student ticketing my freshman year, so it’s not like this is a new thing. They will find a way to get tickets if they want them, and once they start attending games it will be easier for them to get chosen for other games. All students go through the same thing.” Viole believed that the disadvantage in student ticketing is not specific to any system or any freshman class, and that it is something all students must endure at some point no matter what system is in place. It is important to also mention that attending other Ticketmaster events like basketball and baseball will give students a better chance of building up enough points for season tickets for the next football season.
Although changing systems was a clear necessity in the numerous student complaints following last year’s football season, implementing a new system has been met with many challenges for students and ticketing officials alike. “There are many growing pains to go through with Ticketmaster,” Horne told me in his email. Those growing pains involve new software being programmed and the issues involving incoming freshman. There is also obvious uncertainty for students as to what the Ticketmaster experience will be like, with Viole saying “I guess we’ll just have to wait ‘til it plays out for us to see.” Despite these growing pains and uncertainties, Horne made it clear that he believed that this change was for the best. “I believe the new ticketing system is more efficient and user friendly than Ticketreturn.” And in the end, this commitment to making things easier for the students is something that both the students and Horne can feel good about. Although it is still unclear what direction student ticketing will take under the Ticketmaster system, students can feel better knowing that there is such dedication by our elected officials to keep the students at USC happy. As for whether this new system will ultimately deliver this happiness to students, only time will tell. In the words of Nick Viole “I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.”

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