April 14, 2008
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - The week of the sold-out Bruce Springsteen concert in Omaha last month, you could call a local ticket broker and pay $39 for a seat.
For Saturday's sold-out Nebraska spring football game, that broker is getting $95 a ticket.
"I'm not going to be one to judge the craziness of Nebraska football fans," Ticket Express owner Chad Carr said. "The weird thing about this game, I can't keep tickets in stock."
This, remember, is not a real game. It's a scrimmage.
Nebraska isn't the only place where football craziness exists in the spring.
Alabama had 78,200 folks turn out for its spring game last weekend. This after a college football-record spring game crowd of 92,138 showed up in 2007 to see first-year coach Nick Saban lead the Crimson Tide through the glorified scrimmage.
"We weren't prepared for that overwhelming response," Alabama athletic marketing director Jennifer Martin said. "You just never believe that many people are going to come to a practice."
Admission is free at Alabama. Nebraska has charged for decades, but it cost only $3 back when Tom Osborne was coaching national championship teams in the mid-1990s.
The spring thing started to take off in 2004 when Bill Callahan's West Coast offense rekindled enthusiasm among fans who were hungry to see a program makeover. The school set its spring record attendance of 63,416 in 2005. The count slipped to 57,415 in 2006 and 54,288 last year.
After last fall's 5-7 record marked the second losing season in four years and led to Callahan's firing, the Husker faithful are primed to see what new coach Bo Pelini has in store.
"We didn't have to do a whole lot of marketing or advertising. It pretty much sold itself," said Nebraska athletic marketing director Corrie Sears. "It's our fans being excited about the new era with Tom Osborne back (as athletic director) and Bo Pelini."
Spring fever strikes other places, but to a lesser degree. A throng of 61,000 turned out for Florida's nationally televised game last Saturday. But attendance was "just" 33,624 for defending national champion LSU and 23,306 at Oklahoma.
"What we have here is very special," Sears said, "and what we have are very passionate fans. The spring game is becoming more of an event, and we're treating it more like a real game for our fans."
The Cornhuskers sold reserved seats for the first time this year, at $10 apiece. General admission costs $8. Only 65,000 tickets were made available at 81,000-seat Memorial Stadium. The remaining 16,000 were held back for students and faculty, kids who promise to take the "Drug Free Pledge" on the field at halftime, former players, a horde of prospective recruits and other guests.
The athletic department opened spring game sales Feb. 6, and 22,700 tickets were sold on the first day. That included 5,800 online orders the first hour. The game was declared a sellout April 9.
In the past few days, listings for tickets have shown up on the online auction site eBay, and the phones have been ringing at Ticket Express.
"We've never seen anything like this before," Carr said.
Ticket Express is charging $95 for a $10 reserved seat. That is more than its customers would pay this week for a regular-season ticket to see the Huskers face New Mexico State ($69), Baylor ($85) and Colorado ($85).
It would cost only $4 more ($99) for a ticket to see the Huskers play defending Big 12 North champion Missouri.
Carr is almost apologetic about his spring game price. But he said he has had to pay more than face value for those tickets, which come from fans looking to make a buck on the secondary market.
Before the game sold out, Ticket Express was selling reserved seats for $25 to $35 to people who were willing to pay a premium for better seats.
Two years ago, the first year Ticket Express sold spring game tickets, Carr lost money. Now he's getting $85 over face value for a reserved seat. General admission tickets, by the way, are going for $65.
"We don't like being at that price point because we don't feel that is a good value," Carr said. "However, if somebody wants to pay it, we're not going to be the judge of whether that person feels it's a good value. For them, maybe it is."