Zimmerman: Student ticket shortage shouldn’t be a surprise

Oct. 7, 2011, 1:46 a.m.

If Andrew Luck makes a one-handed catch in 2008 and only 34,258 fans witness it, does his miraculous toe tap make a sound?

Probably not.

But this ain’t 2008, baby. I can no longer walk through the parking lots outside of Stanford Stadium and find people begging fans to buy their tickets for five dollars. In fact, scalpers are actually scalping. It’s like I went to sleep after the mysterious clipping call at Wake Forest and woke up, two years later, in some sort of twisted football dimension where a Stanford sellout wouldn’t necessarily stem from a charitable donation of 10,000 tickets.

I guess that’s just a logical consequence of the nation’s longest winning streak.

This past week, the Cardinal prepared to take on the UCLA Bruins in the first home game since students returned to the Farm. Despite earning the label of an expected blowout (Stanford was favored by three touchdowns), the game drew the fourth-largest crowd in the history of the new stadium, attracting 50,360 fans to one of the more underappreciated venues in the country.

As a football school still desperate to shed its pretender image, this is exactly what we need. The Department of Athletics has been tasked with drawing a professional-sports-oriented crowd to what used to be considered the fourth-best football option in the Bay Area. Fourth best. Behind the Raiders. It was that bad.

Think times aren’t changing? In 2008, average attendance at Stanford home games came in at a crisp 34,258, well below Stanford Stadium’s capacity of 50,000. That number climbed to 41,436 in 2009, and then, for reasons unknown, dipped to 40,042 in 2010. I will repeat that: attendance numbers declined during the best season in school history. Still, nearly 6,000 more people came to each game in 2010 than in 2008.

What’s more incredible is that nearly 48,000 people were on hand to see the Card demolish San Jose State in the 2011 home opener. This was before students had even sniffed the end of summer vacation. That’s what happens when you win — demand for tickets rises. Crazy!

Do you know what else happens? Demand for student tickets increases. Hence the new online ticket claiming system for which Stanford Athletics has absorbed a bevy of complaints. I’ve had several classmates approach me, swearing at the school for selling out. Change is hard, and not being able to just casually decide midway through a homework assignment on a Saturday afternoon that you want to check out the second quarter of a nationally televised game may really throw a few wrenches into your weekend plans.

A week ago, the school was abuzz with news that student tickets lasted only five hours. The first rule of being a football fan and turning this institution into a football school: don’t wait five hours to claim your free tickets and then gripe about having to wait in a standby line.

At the University of Florida, student tickets are decided by lottery. If you aren’t selected, tough. Kids go four years without receiving discounted tickets, instead settling for entry to the game at an insanely marked-up price. At Oregon, a school that also uses an online method for student-ticket release, reaction time is of the utmost importance. If you don’t click at the exact moment of distribution, it’s over for you. The things those kids would do for five hours of leniency.

Instead of knocking the Athletics Department for slightly inconveniencing your lives, take a moment to realize just how unbelievable this transformation has been. This season, there are legitimate national-championship aspirations. By taking two minutes to claim a ticket near the time of release, you get to see one of the best teams in the nation, led by one of the best players in the history of college football play in one of the most modern collegiate stadiums in one of the best football climates in the world. Typing that sentence made me giddy. It should have the same effect on you.

I grew up surrounded by SEC football, so this backlash against athletics probably offends me more than most. But unless you’ve experienced or at least heard stories of true college-football culture, you can’t possibly understand how fortunate you are to be in this situation as a fan.

There’s no need to sleep on concrete for three nights before a game. And although half of you probably could, there’s no reason to create a bot that perfectly times the online ticket release.

Just don’t wait five hours, you filthy procrastinators. See you on Saturday.

Zach Zimmerman didn’t get the memo about the new ticketing system, so he camped out in front of Stanford Stadium for three days at Camp Luck before the UCLA game. Send him notes from all the classes he must have missed at zachz “at” stanford.edu, or follow him on Twitter @zach_zimmerman.

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