August 28, 2011

Dissecting Life Without ‘The Line’

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If you have been following Cornell hockey or have purchased season tickets, you probably know that the athletics ticket office — headed by Gene Nighman ’81 for the past decade or so — has been tinkering with the season tickets distribution system every August.

From the infamous “Lynah Debacle” back in 2004 and 2005, where the location and time of line number distribution was kept secret and students stampeded to badly organized distribution sites, to the more recent “No Line in ’09” campaign where the line was abolished altogether due to the H1N1 swine flu epidemic — it seems like Nighman and Co. will never make up their minds. This year, it’s no different.

In light of two consecutive seasons of not selling out seats in student sections, the ticket office decided to allow undergraduates to purchase two tickets each instead of one. This change might allow some potential pent up demand absorb the unsold tickets, but it should not have a dramatic effect because students already buy these extra tickets through their friends.

It is also possible that this will allow students who were unwilling to get up early or wait for seating selection to get tickets through someone else. Considering the new online process is relatively painless and $234 is not a small chunk of change, it stands to reason that those willing to spend this much for tickets are probably already buying them on their own.

The athletics department is missing the point by simply allowing one student to purchase two tickets in order to sell more seats. If the ticket office had to send out e-mails during week two last season saying seats were still available, it is obvious that access is not the issue.

This is a simple supply and demand problem. One must match the interest of the undergraduate student body (demand) and the cost of tickets (price) to the availability of seats (supply).

We know the need for revenues and the reduction of student activity fee allocation to the athletics department have impacted ticket prices, as I discussed in a column at the end of last semester. So if it is relatively difficult to change the cost per ticket (price) and the number of seats are inelastic (supply), then we should try to encourage demand.

One solution is to bring back “The Line.” Although it was reasonable to suspend it for 2009 due to health concerns, “The Line” is a freshman hockey initiation process that has generated so much enthusiasm for Cornell athletics in years past.

For the classes of 2013-2015, getting season tickets means going through an impersonal process to pay a considerable amount of money for a sport they most likely did not follow before arriving on East Hill. “The Line” was a rushing process that broke down these barriers by showing freshmen the amount of excitement surrounding this tradition that bonds generations of Cornellians. Unfortunately, most of them have not experienced this process, which is reflected through relatively weak ticket sales and a tuned-down atmosphere at Lynah last season.

Another solution is to introduce partial season tickets for those who are interested in trying out hockey, but do not want to commit over $200 for an entire season and risk trying to sell the rest. This might be ideal for many underclassmen who are somewhat interested but do not know enough about the Lynah tradition. Additionally, many students go abroad for the fall or spring semester, and partial season tickets might be ideal for those who only wanted half a season and did not want to deal with the hassle of selling the other half.

The difficultly with this idea is figuring out the correct number of partial versus full season tickets to sell. Many professional sports teams do this in order to sell out their seats, so this strategy has obviously experienced practical success. Fine tuning the proportion of partial to full season tickets will take time, but should not be overly difficult.

Of course, there could be enough “hidden” hockey fans among upperclassmen who did not purchase season tickets in years past, want to sit with their friends in Section B and would buy these additional tickets through their friends. We would have to wait and see if Taylor Swift and Boys Like Girls are right — maybe two is better than one.

Original Author: Andrew Hu