Winner Winner Chicken Dinner: Basketball Success Means Higher Ticket Demand

By Rebecca Torchia
For Unwind magazine

Tiny red and white parachutes rained from the rafters. Tiny cows floated down, strapped tightly to the tiny parachutes. The cows each hugged a promotional card for free Chick-fil-A and wore bibs that read “REEL TERAPINZ EAT CHIKIN.”

The small stuffed cows and promo cards accounted for just one promotional giveaway of many at the Terrapins men’s basketball game against Bowie State. The game against the Bulldogs was the first time in the past five home games in which the student tickets weren’t put into a lottery.

The student lottery system awards tickets to students based on a loyalty points system. This only occurs when the number of tickets requested exceeds the number of tickets available, and has been happening quite often at the University of Maryland.

This season of men’s basketball has seen more games go into a student lottery than any season in the past four or five years, according to Matt Monroe, the associate athletics director of ticket sales and operations. This season, the basketball team has also performed better and won more games than it has in the past four or five years.

Following 40 minutes of playing time, and all the giveaways, the Terrapins set a record of 27 consecutive wins at home when they beat Bowie State.

The rise in the team’s success undoubtedly correlates with the number of student fans requesting tickets.

“Our team, cheering them on, they’re awesome,” said sophomore Megan Bryant. “They’re second in the country, so it’s the school spirit and … supporting our team.”

The fans that make it to games scream at the top of their lungs for the home team—or when the opponents attempt free throws. Fans chant the fight song, and they shake newspapers. They unfurl the giant Maryland state flag as the music playing over the speaker’s crescendos into a frenzy of students jumping under the flag to make it “wave.”

“You’re on your feet the whole time,” sophomore Mahe Elsayyad said.

Because so many students are requesting tickets this season, more games are going into a student lottery.

For each basketball game, there are only 4,000 student seats available in Xfinity Center, Monroe said. With almost 30,000 undergraduate students, it’s impossible to accommodate everyone. Thus, Maryland created the student lottery.

The student lottery system began in 2002. It works using student loyalty points, which they earn by going to the games. For each loyalty point a student has, they are entered into the lottery one time. A computerized system then randomly draws a set number of students—4,000 in the case of Maryland basketball games—to receive tickets. Some students get lucky, and their name is drawn. Others aren’t so lucky.

Maya Pottiger has experienced both ends of the student lottery. The junior journalism major received a ticket for the upcoming Wisconsin game, but was denied a ticket to the Michigan game.

“I don’t know why it worked that way,” Pottiger said. “I didn’t go to—haven’t even requested tickets for—any other basketball games.”

Her request for a ticket to the Maryland vs. Michigan State game was not entirely motivated by basketball. The Michigan State game this season is the annual gold rush game, where every student in attendance is given a gold T-shirt. Last year, the Wisconsin game attendees donned the gold rush shirts, and participated in a flash mob as a way to reveal their uniformity. While there is no talk currently of a flash mob approach, the student section has been promised new gold T-shirts, resulting in a massive influx of ticket requests.

“I wanted to go to the gold rush game because the only time I’ve ever went I was covering it, and I want a T-shirt,” Pottiger said.

Many students who had hoped to attend the gold rush game had similar motivations. They scrambled for tickets, but, while the game is fun, their goal was a free shirt. This happens every year for the gold rush games, and other games where promotional items—particularly T-shirts—are promised to students.

There are many other giveaways at games as well, aside from t-shirts and parachuting cows: dance for your [free] dinner from Buffalo Wild Wings, $100 gift card giveaways, free car washes and free games of bowling. These promotions keep students coming back no matter how well the team is playing.

Of course, true, die-hard Maryland basketball fans exist among the masses of students solely after the plunder. While the shirt-seeking students may sound their disdain the loudest, it is the basketball lovers who are willing to give up their free shirt to the original ticket holder should a deal be made that allows them to go and see the game.

The student lottery is the price that must be paid for the chance to watch a good team for free. The Terrapins are playing well this year, and tickets can be sold for more money to the general public. This is echoed in the student population demanding tickets. Instead of prices going up however, it is the chance of getting a ticket that’s going down.

Luckily, the die-hard fans still have the best chances of going to the games, because the more games they go to, the more loyalty points they accrue, and the greater chance they have of getting a ticket.

“[Students] get two points for any game that they attend where the game would not go into a lottery,” Monroe said. “Any game that does go into a lottery, they can earn one point for attending the game.”

Students also only earn one point for games that occur when school is not in session, such as over winter break, Monroe explained.

The aspect not calculated in determining a student’s loyalty points—and thus whether or not they get a ticket in a lottery game—is class rank. Seniority plays no part in the chances of going to see the Terrapins play, at least not once the season gets started.

“If one of the first couple games went into a lottery prior to a student having the opportunity to earn loyalty points, then it would be class initiated,” Monroe said.

This rule is relatively new in the workings of the student ticket lottery. The Student Government Association voted to implement it right before this basketball season started. It was created this year because the men’s basketball team was expected to do well, and Monroe and others were concerned that early games might go into a lottery, before students had a chance to really earn loyalty points.

“I think it’s unfair to upperclassmen,” Pottiger said. “We don’t have as many opportunities left to go.”

For some, being an upperclassman means that realizing the days of free basketball games—and tiny cows on parachutes—are limited.

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