After Michigan made the NCAA tournament in 2009, the bandwagon filled up quickly, especially amongst students. Combine that tournament run with a promising outlook for the 2009-10 season, as well as measures to make buying season tickets easier, and ticket sales went way, way up for this past season.
The student section went from less than 500 in 2008-09 to around 2,500 this past season, positively impacting the atmosphere at Crisler Arena in a big way. During my freshman year (2008-09), the student section barely filled the bleachers unless Duke or Michigan State was in town, and the athletic department was giving away free tickets to get students to go to games. This past season, however, demand was so high that an entire section of the lower bowl had to be added to the student section, not to mention three or so more sections in the upper deck were added. All 2,500 students didn't attend every single game, but for the big ones like MSU and UConn, the atmosphere was awesome with a packed Crisler Arena.
Unfortunately, due to Michigan's struggles this past season and the fact that DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris are gone, the bandwagon has unsurprisingly lost quite a few people. According to Mark Snyder of the Free Press, only 687 returning students have purchased season tickets for next season. Last year, that number was over 1,300 at this time and rose to around 2,500 after incoming students had a chance to purchase tickets. There's no doubt that this year's freshmen will help that number increase from 687, but Michigan basketball isn't the hot commodity like it was last summer.
Although the Wolverines ended up having an awful season, the hype going into the year was quite large. Michigan was ranked as high as 15th in preseason polls, and fans were expecting a Sweet 16 run led by DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris. With the football team coming off of its worst season in ages, the basketball program's stock was extremely high, and the ticket sales reflected that. A new system was even implemented to create incentive to go to the games and to get to them early in order to secure bleacher seats and premium seats to the big games. That helped give Crisler Arena an atmosphere that hasn't been seen in years. The student section went from barely being able to fill the bleachers to maxing them and a section in the lower bowl out in one season. Just as quickly as the Maize Rage grew, however, it has shrunk with the struggles of last year and the loss of players like Sims and Harris.
As a student season-ticket holder, my hope for next season is that the bleachers and at least most of the lower bowl section are filled for the majority of games. It's unrealistic to expect there to be a ton of people at games against Cupcake State on a Wednesday night in November, but during the Big Ten portion of the schedule I hope to see a full student section. It's a guarantee that the more casual fans will show up for games against the likes of Kansas, Ohio State and Michigan State, but the key is getting them to the games against lesser opponents.
Although Michigan may sell more than enough tickets to fill the student section in the bleachers and lower bowl, that doesn't mean everybody with tickets will show up to games. That wasn't a big problem last year since the sheer size of the student section resulted in the seats being filled for most games. Even if some people didn't show up for one game, there were 2,500 total students with tickets, easily filling the bleachers and lower bowl sections for most of the year. The upper deck sections were only really filled for the bigger games, but most students up there didn't do anything anyways. Not having those seats filled isn't my concern; I just want to see a lot of students in the bleachers and behind the basket on the non-tunnel side.
One bit of good news from Mark Snyder's article is that football ticket sales are still pretty strong despite what has gone on the last couple of seasons. I guess it is going to take more than two less-than-stellar years to cause fans to lose interest in the football program. Hell, even if Michigan struggles again this year, chances are there will be a new coach in place in 2011, likely creating excitement rather than a loss of interest. And if Michigan doesn't struggle and finally gets things on track under Rich Rodriguez, demand will only start to go back up again. In that regard the Michigan football program is in good shape, especially when you consider that hundreds of luxury suites and thousands of new seats will open this coming season.