November 30, 2011
If you clicked through looking for more fuel for today's hottest Big Ten meme, sorry: I can't help you there. Yes, there was a Craigslist ad posted Tuesday offering to pay $75 to anyone who showed up to fill seats at an event in downtown Indianapolis on Saturday night, preferably wearing "red or dark green casual clothing." And yes, the event in question is almost certainly the first annual Big Ten Championship Game between division champions Michigan State and Wisconsin, scheduled for Lucas Oil Stadium. Or so we think.
But the Big Ten has strongly, repeatedly denied being behind the listing or any other plans to pay people to show up, and there's no hard confirmation of who was. (Though the Indiana Convention Center, located literally across the street from Lucas Oil Stadium, remains a pretty good guess.) Because paying people to pretend to be fans at the Big Ten Championship Game is a very stupid thing to do, and because I don't automatically assume that professional organizers are that stupid, I'm also willing to concede that the ad could have been for a pep rally or other event related to the game. I'm also willing to grant that that is a very generous concession. [UPDATE, 8:11 a.m.: And it turns out the Craigslist ad was a hoax, of course. Surprised? You are not surprised.]
At any rate, though, you don't have to parse the particulars of a vague, deleted Craigslist ad to guess that there are going to be a lot of empty seats on Saturday night. Just look at the numbers since Nov. 18, beginning with the elimination of Ohio State, Nebraska and Michigan from contention on Nov. 19 and accelerating with the elimination of Penn State last Saturday. Per Will Flaherty, a spokesman for SeatGeek.com:
• Average ticket prices have fallen 63% in the past two weeks, from a high of $124 on Nov. 20 to a low of $45 today (Nov. 30). Prices began to drop most precipitously at the close of this past weekend, when Wisconsin sealed its berth in the game with a win over Penn State . Prices fell from $103 to $45 over the past four days.
• The vast majority of tickets moving in recent days have been upper deck seats. Over half (55%) of the seats sold through SeatGeek in the past four days have been in the very upper deck of Lucas Oil Stadium (600 Level), while lower deck (100 and 200-level) seats only accounted for 20% of all seats. [As of Wednesday evening, SeatGeek is offering about 200 lower-level tickets from various outlets around the web starting at a little more than $134 apiece. — ed.]
• Tickets for the championship game failed to match the prices of other notable Big Ten games this season--including games involving each participating team. Tickets to see Michigan State vs. Notre Dame ($230), Michigan State vs. Michigan ($214) and Michigan State vs. Ohio State ($171) all exceeded prevailing prices for Big Ten Championship Game tickets. Wisconsin 's meeting with Ohio State ($161) also outpaced current ticket prices for the title game.
In case the point needs to be driven home, those tickets all outpaced the championship game by a lot, all of them going for more than twice the current asking price for tickets on Saturday night. But the comparisons only get worse.
According to another ticket aggregator, TiqIQ, the average ticket for Indy is going for barely a third of the average ticket to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta, and is also going for less than both the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte and — brace yourselves, Midwesterners — the Conference USA Championship Game in Houston. (If it's any consolation, the Pac-12 is faring even worse: By all accounts, the inaugural Pac-12 title game is easily the cheapest championship ticket of the weekend. Then again, that's what you get when one of the teams is backing in with a 6-6 record and faced a 32-point spread.) As of Wednesday evening, TiqIQ lists more than 8,000 tickets still available for the Big Ten Championship, more than twice as many as it's offering for any other game, starting at just $10 apiece. SEC Championship tickets are starting at $100.
Which brings us to the relevant question…
How does a conference that routinely draws more than 5 million fans for its regular-season games stand to fall so fall short of filling stadium that seats fewer people than seven of the conference's regular venues, including both of the home stadiums of the teams playing in the game?
The most direct answer is that many of the general admission tickets — which sold out in less than two hours in July — were bought up by the largest fan bases, from Michigan, Nebraska, Penn State and Ohio State, which have subsequently flooded the market as their teams have been eliminated from the game at the end of the season. Demand in Wisconsin has also been sluggish, forcing the school to return 2,000 unsold tickets from its 15,000-ticket allotment for sale to the general public. Deadspin has also speculated that empty seats are concentrated in one particularly choice section as a result of a "Premium Ticket Package" that didn't go over so well, which may have resulted in the call for seat-fillers because the section in question will be front and center on the TV broadcast. (That claim is based on the location of tickets currently available through the first-sale market on Ticketmaster; I don't find any such concentration on other sites.)
But the fact remains: If you live in the Midwest, you can conceivably get a family of four into the Big Ten Championship Game for less than it will cost you to fill a tank of gas on the way. See? They may have settled on an indoor venue, but at least something is going to be cold.