It’s a non-eventful Thursday night. A father comes home from work and his son is lucky enough to not have any homework (or so he told his parents). Instead of everyone going to their rooms and watching TV, they want to get out and do something. Both share a common bond most father/son combinations have, sports.
It’s basketball season and there is only one team in town. The family isn’t native to the city. They aren’t boosters or longtime fans of the team. They just want to have a bonding moment of going to see a basketball game together. It’s affordable and they decide to go.
They’re on a budget. They park for free blocks away from the stadium because "God blessed you with two good legs to walk with." They share a large soda. They sit in an arena that the team could never dream of filling, but everyone still cheers to make it sound like a packed house. The father/son duo enjoys the game and time spent together. It’s affordable enough for them to go several times a season. They continue this tradition every season until the son goes off to college.
We'll get back to story-time in a minute, but let’s get to talking about the Hogs. Arkansas has now reached the yawner stretch of the schedule. Of the Hogs next five games, not one of them is ranked better than 180 in the RPI. Translation: Arkansas’ next five games are against teams in the bottom half of Division I college basketball. Three of those five are ranked worse than 300.
I hate seeing Bud Walton empty, but I can’t blame anyone for not wanting to pay $20 to go see them whoop Savannah State (2-8). Nothing against Savannah State, who made the CBI Tournament last year, but they are currently dead last in RPI at 351. Their two wins aren’t against Division I teams.
Because Arkansas uses a flat $25-$20 price for all conference and non-conference games, fans get a steal for premium games (Kentucky and Florida), but are ripped off for basically the entire non-conference schedule. To be fair to the administration, these prices have only kept up with inflation. A ticket to see the Razorbacks play Jackson State on Nov. 30, 1994, a year after Arkansas won the national championship, was $13. That’s $20.50 in today’s money and not coming off a national championship.
However, there is another way to do ticket pricing. Most schools now use a sliding scale. They go cheap for non-conference games and up the price for premium games. A couple of examples:
The cheapest ticket to see the Florida play Savannah State at home is $12. Conversely, it costs $30 to sit in the worst seats in the O’Dome to watch the Gators play Kentucky.
Vanderbilt’s non-conference single game tickets start at $18. Tickets against their rivals Kentucky and Tennessee are $39 and the rest of their home SEC games are $25.
Missouri’s single game ticket pricing list looks like it was done during an all-night Adderall study binge. Almost every ticket price is a game-by-game basis. The cheapest ticket against Southeastern Louisiana was $10, but when #18 UCLA came to town the cheapest ticket was $65. They clearly over-estimated the demand for those tickets because only 8,826 attended, when their arena holds just over 15,000.
Poor attendance isn’t just an Arkansas problem, it’s even hit SEC basketball power house Kentucky. John Clay of the Lexington Hearld-Leader documents the decrease in home attendance for the Wildcats over the past four seasons and some of the potential causes. Just for reference, the cheapest ticket to a Kentucky game is $42, and that is if they aren’t already sold out.
The story I told in the beginning was about my father and I. The team was the UALR men’s basketball in Little Rock. Are the two programs comparable? No, it’s not even close. But, there are plenty of families that move to work at one of the major businesses in Northwest Arkansas. They have no ties to the University of Arkansas, but the Hogs are the only team in town. Tonight could be that dull Thursday night for a father and son/daughter duo in Northwest Arkansas. Are they really going to pay $40-$50 to go to the game?
Maybe I’m the one stuck in the past. I know major college sports are different and times have changed. I know the Hogs have a basketball practice facility to build.
I want to make it clear, I’m not writing the University of Arkansas needs to completely change the way they do ticket pricing. If there are two things this athletic department knows how to do, it is make money and spend money. I’m simply stating that the current system in place is conducive to having some poorly attended games, especially when they host the worst team in Division I college basketball.
What I do wish for with a couple of these bad non-conference games is that there was a way for a family of four to get in for $50, or a father with his son/daughter could get in for $25. There may not be a market for this, but I don’t see them doing anything else that is putting people in the seats.