Penn State

Hedging Our Bet on Alabama Tickets

Ordering away game tickets from Penn State is not usually a problem if you’re a season-ticket holder with a decent amount of Nittany Lion Club points.  Each year, in April, we are asked to indicate which away game tickets we wish to order.  We include the away game ticket order in our season ticket renewal and then we usually receive the tickets 3-4 weeks before the actual game.  We can usually order 2 away game tickets, which is just what we need. 

However, occasionally there are games where the ticket demand is tough, and we don’t qualify.  Meaning, quite literally, that we haven’t donated enough to Penn State to order away game tickets directly from Penn State Athletics.  It has happened to us three times since the early 1990’s.  Two of those times were when we played Notre Dame in South Bend.  We’ve always managed to get tickets, but sometimes at enormous cost.

When it comes to providing away game tickets for Penn State Nittany Lion Club members, money talks.  My good friend Jim Meister, Penn State Athletics supporter and fundraiser extraordinaire, told me once, “Carolyn there’s an easy way to solve the points problem.  Just make a huge donation.” 

What can I say?  He’s right.  But we have always donated more than the minimum amount to Penn State for the last 40 years, and more recently we became Honorary Coaches.  Our problem is for too many years we also contributed significant dollars to a pooled membership where somebody else got all the donation points instead of us.  That’s another story... and it’s over now.

So this year, for Alabama, the minimum cutoff on donation points is 650.  That means, roughly speaking, that you would need to have contributed about $32,000 to Penn State Athletics over the years in order to order tickets.  Essentially, you receive 1 point for every $50 you contribute.  I’m ignoring certain other points in this calculation. But those points are just noise.  For us, we are not alumni of Penn State (5 points), nor are we lifetime members of the Penn State Alumni Association (10 points).  We do get 2 points per year for being continuous season ticket holders, but that doesn’t add up to much.  80 points for 40 years.  We are in the top 12% of current Nittany Lion Club members in terms of total monetary donations, but we are a bit short of the 650-point cutoff.  So we can’t order tickets through Penn State. 

What else can you do?  If you know someone who has donated enough to Penn State to accumulate 650+ points, you can beg him or her to order tickets for you.  Assuming, of course, that they aren’t planning to go to the game themselves.  People who have 650-4999 points can order two tickets.  If you know someone who has 5000+ points, they will be able to order four tickets.  But according to the Nittany Lion Club website, there are only about 65 Nittany Lion Club members who have contributed that much to Penn State Athletics. 

And you might have to get in line or pay a lot for those tickets.  There is competition for those tickets, especially from on-line ticket brokers. For example, you can check out the ticket inventory at Hound Dog Tours, a State College company, which is offering 20 Alabama tickets in the PSU section for $300.00 apiece.  Steve Keesey calls himself the “Penn State Ticket Man”.  He has long white hair and wears a long white embroidered coat to games.  Where does Steve acquire his tickets?  He buys his inventory from Penn State Nittany Lion Club members who are season ticket holders. Steve also appears to have acquired tickets from Alabama fans.  Prices for those tickets range from $337 to $1219 each. 

There is also Stub-Hub.  Individual tickets for Penn State-Alabama are selling for between $320-$1199 per ticket.  Or you can go to eBay where the asking price for Penn State-Alabama tickets is around $300 each.

While on-line ticket brokers would tell you they are offering a service by getting buyers and sellers together, in fact it creates artificial demand.  Season ticket holders with 650+ points who have no interest in actually traveling to Tuscaloosa will order away game tickets simply to sell them to brokers for a profit. 

That drives up prices, and the amount of donation points it takes for loyal fans like us to order away game tickets.  We have never scalped a single ticket in our long history as Penn State fans.  We sell any extra tickets we have at face value regardless of the game demand.  But that’s the reality we deal with today.  It impacts us whether we like it or not.  We’re probably being stupid by not trying to scalp extra tickets for big games.   It might help us pay for a higher donation to achieve more points! 

The demand for Alabama tickets is already great.  Penn State fans love to travel to away games, and Tuscaloosa is a premium destination.  For a lot of Penn State Nittany Lion Club members who choose one or two away games per year, Alabama is THE destination.  We’ll be playing the pre-season #1 team with hopes of spoiling their season. Also, the traveling PSU fans we know have now been to all of the Big Ten venues and so for many of them it’s getting a bit boring to go back to the same venues again and again.  The last time we played Alabama in Tuscaloosa was in 1990.  It’s new and different.

Add to that the presence of Penn State alumni in the south.  In the Atlanta area alone, there are over 3500 Penn State alumni.  Kelly-Jean Erwin, the President of the Atlanta Chapter of the Penn State Alumni Association, and a former student of mine, is planning to organize buses from Atlanta, only 4 hours away.  Last we talked, she was trying to negotiate with the Penn State Alumni Association for a decent allocation of tickets and for possibly hosting the Penn State tailgate.  I don’t know the latest on that, but that’s another factor:  it’s not just Nittany Lion Club members who receive a limited allocation of away game tickets.  It’s also the Penn State Alumni Association that receives an allocation and uses them to reward chapter leaders and volunteers all over the country.

Finally there are “informal” tours.  For example, a former student of mine has booked a whole bunch of rooms at a hotel in Tuscaloosa and is booking an air charter out of Philadelphia for the game for his fellow Penn State friends from NJ and Philadelphia area.  I asked him how he’s going to get tickets and he told me he doesn’t plan to get any. They just plan to party.  I advised him that he had best make that clear to anyone who is planning on taking his “tour”. 

So what to do about Alabama?  Stay home?  Buy from scalpers?  Absolutely not!  This year, we expected that Alabama would be a tough ticket.  We weren’t sure we would have enough points.  We hedged our bets.  We pre-registered with Collegiate Athletic Tours of State College for a 4-day air tour package to Alabama, including a stay at a deluxe hotel in Birmingham, and recently we booked that tour. It includes reserved seat tickets in the Penn State section that they acquire through Penn State.  Centre for Travel offers a similar 4-day air tour package.  It’s a bit more premium-priced and includes even more luxurious accommodations.  They too acquire a certain amount of tickets from Penn State.  There are a variety of other packages available through their websites – 3-day packages or land tours.   Both companies are reputable and do a decent job.  Both are offering additional features such as a tour of the University of Alabama campus on Friday.  If you’re interested, check them out.  They are favoring people who have already pre-registered, but the packages are either now being advertised at their websites to the general public or will be soon. 

And guess what?  You don't need to contribute anything to Penn State to sign up for these tours.  They do, however, encourage you to order away game tickets from Penn State if you qualify.  They will provide a discount for that and it helps them manage their limited ticket supply.

So Alabama is the place to be this fall – the demand will be unprecedented, the supply will be limited, and the game will be exciting.  Of all the football venues we’ve been to, Alabama is #2 on our list.  We’re ready!  We’re just glad we hedged our bets and that we don’t need to appeal to Penn State or try to pull strings for tickets to keep our “streak” alive.

Oh, and by the way, it’s cheaper for us to book the occasional tour to hedge our bets on tickets than it is to make the required donations to Penn State to up our points to a level that will assure away-game tickets under such unusual conditions.

There’s something wrong with this picture.  But frankly, I’m not sure I am smart enough to solve all the allocation problems and fairness issues that Penn State has to deal with to meet enormous demand conditions with limited supply that are exacerbated by scalping that is now legal in Pennsylvania.