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Ohio State football ticket price increase likely; but is it a big deal?

Fresh off the success of a perfect 12-0 season, university officials are hammering out the details of a significant increase in football ticket prices, with premium pricing for big games likely part of the plan.

Ohio State ticket prices are about to go up.
Ohio State ticket prices are about to go up.

If you aren't a current Ohio State student, going to Buckeye home games is likely about to get a lot more expensive:

If approved, the rate hike, the first in three years, would start for the upcoming 2013-14 academic year. Ohio State will raise public ticket prices $9, from $70 to $79. Faculty and staff prices will increase from $56 to $64. Student tickets will go up $2 in 2013 and another $2 in 2014. Students paid $32 per game in 2012.

At the Dec. 6 Faculty Council meeting, Charlie Wilson, chairman of Ohio State’s Athletic Council and a professor at the Moritz College of Law, revealed a plan that would set prices for premium games during the 2013 and 2014 seasons between $110 and $125. That increases to the $125 and $150 range in 2015 and $175 in 2016 before returning to $125 and $150 in 2017. Faculty and staff tickets will cost 80 percent of the public’s price. Students will not pay a premium rate.

That means that faculty and staff would pay between $100 and $120 for a premium ticket in 2015, and $140 in 2016, assuming these numbers are final. If you're a student at Ohio State in 2016, those $36 tickets are starting to look pretty good.

The rationale for this move is fairly simple. Ohio State contracted a third party consulting firm to do a study on athletics pricing, and they found that the university could make an extra $40 to $60 million dollars in athletics revenue, primary by changing their pricing model. Most big time college football programs employ some manner of premium pricing (charging more for specific games, like Michigan, or a highly rated out of conference opponent), so it was likely only a matter of time before Ohio State followed suit.

Some are concerned that such moves will price students and alumni out of athletic events. That's possible, but those fears may be a little overblown. Comparing the current prices to say, Rose Bowl tickets in 1997 and getting outraged forgets both budget austerity problems at the state level, and inflation (that $75 ticket, in 2012 dollars, was actually $110). A $2 increase in student fees is barely more than the rate of inflation, and given the skyrocketing costs of higher education and other necessities, and the likely robust secondary market for football tickets, the season ticket package for OSU students remains a bargain. A creative undergrad could probably flip a premium ticket for the cost of his entire ticket package.

It's true that an increase in premium pricing could prevent many residents from attending games, although I'm not sure if nine dollars is the breaking point for too many people. Demand for big home games still far outstrips supply, and bringing ticket prices up to reflect that is just good business sense for the university. What's slightly less defensible is the idea of paying 80 bucks to watch the Buckeyes play Buffalo or an FCS team, but the administration has signaled it is willing to trade a slightly less full stadium in exchange for more athletic department profits.

And why not? Ohio State is unique among most FBS universities in that their athletic department is completely self-sufficient. It doesn't rely on student fees like most schools, or general university subsidy. Extra AD revenues go towards important projects like the renovation of Value City Arena, or non athletic projects like the new Oxley Library, which received a $10 million donation from the athletic department.

As Buckeye fans, we sometimes forget that Ohio State is a *huge* school, and thousands, even tens of thousands of are associated with the institution and do not care about football, or sports, at all. Funding athletic departments primarily via user fees (ticket prices) is probably more defensible then asking exchange students, or those who have zero interest in sports for a subsidy, or worse, to ask Ohio taxpayers to help foot the bill. Ohio State students are already forced to pay mandatory student activity fees for things like OUAB, or for a COTA Bus Pass, services that while valuable, are not used by thousands of students. Putting another "tax" on everybody in the name of cheaper football tickets doesn't seem fair.

For those of us who can't afford to write a $1,500 check to the Buckeye Club in order to secure tickets, it would appear that the secondary ticket market may be the place to go. University administrators hope that demand will remain high enough to sacrifice a tiny bit of homefield advantage over overmatched foes, in order to make sure the department's balance sheets strong. If that money is put to good use, that still sounds like a smart risk to take.