SOUTH BEND — Jack Swarbrick can live with some bald spots on Notre Dame Stadium home football Saturdays as long as the golf clap never returns as the signature response to what’s going on down on the field.

Even if the vacant seats represent a piece of history absconding.

And that’s exactly what is happening Saturday, when Notre Dame (7-2) and Navy (7-1) clash for the 93rd consecutive season — the Notre Dame home sellout streak will end at 273 games.

It’s the second-longest in NCAA history, with Nebraska’s run of 373 No. 1 and still active heading into Saturday’s matchup with Wisconsin.

“It was never sort of important to me to keep it alive, but I understand why other people thought so,” said Swarbrick, ND’s athletic director since 2008. “It’s a point of distinction to a lot of people and our fans.

“For me it’s always been: What’s the stadium environment like? Are we creating a great environment for our team and for our student-athletes? That you can say it’s also sold out is sort of a byproduct of that.

“But if my choice is (77,622) people in an environment that’s not really good versus 75,000 in a raucous environment, I’ll take the latter every time.”

That Notre Dame has the fourth-longest active home winning streak in college football at 16 games — behind only Clemson (21), UCF (20) and Ohio State (19) — is at least a partial reflection of how far the Irish have come in changing the gameday vibe, even at the expense of rankling some traditionalists.

So if the product on the field is appealing and the acoustics, videoboard and wider concession choices enhance that, why for the first time since Thanksgiving Day 1973 will a Notre Dame home game go down as something less than a capacity crowd?

The answer is layered, with the most compelling of those being that Notre Dame let it happen.

Swarbrick acknowledged the streak could have snapped at several different points over the past few years, and that the university got creative in extending it.

By creative, there were some deep, 11th-hour discounts.

“Group sales were a big part of keeping the streak going, too,” he said. “We’d go to somebody who was ‘a friend of Notre Dame’ and say, ‘Gee, can you help us with this game? Can you buy 50 tickets and distribute them to your employees?’ That would be an example.”

That typically happened in November. But this November there was a glut of home games — three to be exact, with no marquee names (Virginia Tech, Navy, Boston College).

It’s only the fourth time since the stadium expanded from its old 59,075 capacity in 1997 that there have been as many as three November home games in a season. In five of the past 10 seasons, there has been just one November home game, including last season.

“When we’d have one game, we could clearly focus on it,” Swarbrick said. “This is a circumstance, where you’ve got games in consecutive weeks in mid to late November, and so you don’t have some of the same strategies available to you.

“And because of the number of our fans that travel (a great) distance to the stadium, is just a challenge for us. It’s endemic to that schedule. And we knew it a year and a half ago, as we were looking forward, that you know what, that might be the time where the streak ends.”

The knee-jerk explanation is that Notre Dame simply has priced itself out of comfortably selling out anymore.

And Swarbrick acknowledged he received plenty of pushback when Notre Dame when to a tiered pricing structure in recent years, changing from a standardized ticket price for all games and all seats to charging more for the big games and the best seats and less for ho-hum opponents and seats with bad angles.

“It was basically an equity argument. The person who sat high in the end zone and the person who sat on the 50-yard line shouldn’t pay the same amount,” Swarbrick said. “We wanted to discount and create a lower price for corner seats and upper seats, and adjust the premium seats in the other direction.

"I was proud of the fact that we did not increase the revenue out of the bowl when we did that. We were very careful to sort of back into the numbers by saying, ‘OK, how much revenue did we produce last year out of the bowl from ticket sales and what are we going to do this year?'

"And so it was important to me that people not say, 'Hey, you raised the prices to gouge me.’”

Chris Manuel is a 38-year-old professional and 2002 Notre Dame graduate living in Austin, Texas. Because he is a Sorin Society member, getting access to tickets at face value isn’t challenging.

And while the increased price in premium tickets didn’t sway him from buying tickets, it did “annoy him.”

“In the past three to four years, I find myself going to away games more than home games,” Manuel said. “Part of it’s the ease of travel. Getting to Atlanta for the Georgia game. Seeing different environments. The hassle of getting into Chicago and then from there to South Bend on game day are all factors.”

But the biggest factor is the weather. Manuel, a Texas native, simply won’t attend a Notre Dame home game past the middle of October. Or at least not yet.

“And I think I’m a lot like other people that way,” he said.

Where he’s different is that he doesn’t buy tickets from the secondary market. And the propensity for fans to do that these days is the big hidden factor in the streak subsiding.

“People know they can buy a ticket to a sporting event at any time,” Swarbrick said. “And people under 30, they tend not to come to the event site for tickets. They go right to Vivid Seats or StubHub or TicketMaster.

“We’re always going to have extraordinary demand for the best games, but in the fluid market like this, people are less likely to make a commitment to buy tickets to a game that doesn’t feel premium or is at a bad time of year. They’ll wait.”

Back in 1973 there was no StubHub or internet, though there were ticket brokers/scalpers. That didn’t matter. During a national championship season for Notre Dame, ABC-TV elected to move ND’s final home game of the season from Saturday Nov. 24 to Thanksgiving Day, packaging ND-Air Force as part of a doubleheader with LSU-Alabama.

Roger Valdiserri, a former longtime sports information director and ND administrator, insists every ticket was sold for that game, but capacity at the time was determined by turnstile counts, not tickets sold — as it is now. And the 57,236 who did show left the stadium 1,839 short of capacity.

The Notre Dame students en masse elected to go home for Thanksgiving instead of sticking around for the game. One of those students was a junior named Jack Swarbrick.

“I don’t have a memory of that game not selling out, or watching it on TV with my parents in Bloomington, Ind.,” he said. “I’m sure if it was on, we would have built it into the Thanksgiving schedule. It just didn’t make an impression on me then.”

It does now, and so will Saturday, because the challenges of selling out on a regular basis aren’t going away.

“You can say limit the home games in November, but then is that fair to your football team to make them travel so much at the end of a season?” Swarbrick said. “You’re balancing the competitive desire to put yourself in a position with the (College Football Playoff) versus the challenges of selling games.

“It’s great next year that Clemson will be here later in the year (Nov. 7). We’re not going to have any trouble with that ticket. But when it’s not a Clemson game. there’s just a unique dynamic here where our people come from.

“So late-season games, where weather has the potential to be a major issue, become more of a challenge for us than a place where your fan base is essentially local.

“That’s our reality.”

ehansen@sbtinfo.com

Twitter: @EHansenNDI

(10) comments

Dave48310

In the horrible outing at Michigan's Big House, a couple weeks ago, a "football- unforgiveable-Sin" occured: Not that ND lost, but that there was NO evidence that a serious,well-thought out Game Plan existed ( as was evident with the USC game ..only a four man rush, with extra, drop-back coverage for USC's dangerous receivers).

Two-losses, even a 1968+ fan, like myself can stomach; but "what seems like" non-existent Coaching Preparation, NO!

JackMBA

I disagree about the supposed dearth of planning by the Notre Dame coaching staff. As Coach Kelly aptly pointed out that the ND punt return unit was successful in blocking a punt at the beginning of the game but a marginal backup player on special teams was completely inept in not falling on the loose ball but instead touched the ball which allowed Michigan to recover the ball. No coaching staff can plan around this this kind of bungling ineptitude by a player who should not have been on the field in the first place

OverAll

No... They obviously didn’t plan or coach for that game at all. i’ve been a fan since the 70s and I have never seen a team less prepared, more laughably inept, and with less passion than that team on that day. Especially coming off of a bye week. And you’re absolutely wrong when you say that no amount of coaching can prevent that. On a well coached team you would never see a player on the field that didn’t know the basics of special teams. And even if you take that play away, ND loses big. the entire team was lethargic, lackadaisical, and totally unprepared to play football. No, sorry, i agree with the commentator above. as a fan - and i’m hardly alone in this- I had given him chance after chance even though he has not shown improvement against the top teams in the sport in ten years. But that was like the test you flunk that finally makes it impossible for you to pass the class. 10 years in? He is a failure. #FireKelly

OverAll

Haha. Please. More spin from the clown factory. between this coach and this lame administration they spin more than a merry go round. If we had actually built a true national championship contender at any point over the past decade i’m pretty sure the games would be sold out! Swarbick is a lawyer, and he sounds like one when he talks. They jack the prices up, made it harder for regular people and regular fans to get tickets, and keep this middling lame duck coach in place even when it’s painfully obvious to everyone he’s never going to win a championship. What do you think is going to happen? Yeah i can’t wait for Navy, BC and the Camping world bowl. The suspense is killing me. Man in the absolute best case scenario we might even end up somewhere close to the top ten!!! #FireKelly

Ludwig von Football

Notre Dame did overprice their tickets when they went to a tiered system. The philosophy changed from wanting to sell out the stadium to wanting to maximize revenue. You can spin it any way you want but that is the main reason for decreased ticket sales. Not being competitive in the big games has also played a role. Twenty-six years have passed since Notre Dame competed for a national title. The 1993 squad defeated an undefeated Florida State team in mid November to become the number one team in the nation. Unfortunately, the final poll didn't reflect head to head competition and Florida State was given the national championship. This means that anyone under the age of 35 doesn't remember the great ND tradition of seriously competing for a national championship. Give a young person the choice of going to an Ohio State, Penn State, or Notre Dame game and they'll chose the first two over ND. What should ND do? 1) They should reduce ticket prices for all games. 2) Reduce the tiered pricing to four levels. 3) Adopt two uniform prices, one price for all Power 5 conference opponents and one for non power five opponents. Trying to predict how good a team will be a year in advance and pricing tickets accordingly is impossible. Last year, the price to see a terrible Florida State team in South Bend was so high it was laughable unless you were someone who had to pay $250 to see a terrible team.

Brian Kelly is not an elite coach, but after the terrible years of Davie, Willingham, and Weis, he looks good. The academic standards are a big part of the problem. An elite coach knows it is hard to get elite talent and develop depth if 40% of the best high school players can't be recruited because ND won't admit them. A great coach wants to compete for a national championship and he knows he needs NFL caliber talent to win it. ND won't let him have it so he's not interested in the job.

Finally, on Monday I thought about attending the Navy game especially when I noticed there was a basketball game on Friday night. I haven't been to a basketball game since 1979. The year I graduated. The thought of seeing a basketball game on Friday and the football game on Saturday peaked my interest. Guess what I discovered, the price to see the basketball against a MAC opponent this Friday is much higher than the price to see the basketball game next Thursday against another MAC opponent. Why is this the case? ND knew a lot of football fans would be in town so they decided to charge more for the game this Friday. Back to my original point, the philosophy has changed from putting a lot of people in the stands to maximizing profits. Who is responsible for this philosophy?

P.S. - The people who work at the ticket office, especially the ticket managers, are often rude and are well trained in spinning the truth.

OverAll

Yeah LVF u nailed it. True, getting rid of Kelly would only be a start, you would definitely have to find a program builder like Fleck and make other changes elsewhere, including admissions and AD. But it’s past time to do that - or they can keep raising the price of an inferior product while showing that they’re not interested in doing what it takes to win here, and we will continue to respond accordingly. And you’ll be seeing a lot more of those empty seats on TV.

jim masterson

Eric; That surely became a Hot-Button topic, didn't it?

I can't find any bones to pick with the three commentators.

I believe if ND was in the hunt for the NC'ship, the House that Rock built would be rocking, Regardless of the quality of the opponent.

'89 Alum

Read John 2:13-16

Alohajen3

I think a big factor that's being missed here is the huge amount of retirements that happened over the last year. Being a season ticket holder through my mom, who works for ND, I believe the majority of retirees that used to have season tickets did not re-up due to high ticket prices and a less than stellar schedule. Most probably thought they wouldn't get their money's worth reselling, even at face. I had a hard time finding someone to take our 2 tickets for Virginia because we couldn't go, and that was a September game! And we have decent seats in the north endzone! While I agree with the logic of people not paying the same price in the upper bowl as they would on the 50 yd line, face value needs to be dropped a solid $20, if not $25 or more, if they're going to be playing the Little Sisters of the Poor and Boy Scout Troop 312. However, we all know this will never happen and those who make the decision to visit ND's iconic campus will end up using their life savings to do so. Want to sell out again? Lower the ticket prices. It's truly as simple as that. Til then, I know we'll be dropping football next season, and only continue to be hockey season ticket holders. Because, let's be honest, hockey is way more exciting than football anyway 😁

Irish Venice Florida

Notredame had and has great players the last 10 years we also have sawbuck and clown kelly.Also notredame has the second most players in both collage and nfl hof.More than Alabama,Clemson,Oklahoma,Miami,Florida,and Florida st.We can and will draw great players.Lower standards the attracting thugs for players with their friends on the campus no thank you.Would rather win 10_12 games with a coaching staff that has integrity.Fire kelly and his clowns.Sawbuck sold out nd to the Acc until 2035 .Duke,Wake,and the rest of the Acc teams will not come to south bend to a football game.Michigan,Michigan st,Stanford,and Six will.Good luck even trying to find the Acc network in the Midwest or the southern states.

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