New Notre Dame football ticket lottery process aims to produce similar results

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — There are no guarantees in the Notre Dame football ticket lottery, but the process has added a layer of clarity this year.

For the first time in the history of the lottery, ticket buyers are able to purchase their exact seats with a new online system.

The process, which as recently as four years ago involved filling out forms with No. 2 pencils and providing an upfront deposit, has been streamlined to better reflect the modern ticketing market.

Those eligible for the lottery, which includes a pool of more than 40,000 graduates and special contributors with relationships to the university, were sent information on the new system last month. The gist: each lottery member is given a start time when they can log onto the ticket purchasing website and select tickets based on availability at that time.

In theory, the new system makes the whole process more transparent for lottery members.

“What I’ve been telling people about the new process,” said Rob Kelly, Notre Dame’s associate athletic director of ticketing, premium and technology, “is the process has changed, but the results should generally reflect what we’ve seen historically. Meaning the activity that people are engaging in is just a personalized version of what our director of ticketing was doing at his desk for the month of June.”

That transparency can also cause anxiety. A lottery member who has a start date in early June may worry about ticket availability from a process that started in late April for small groups. By mid-May, thousands of lottery members have already had access to tickets.

But that timeline was built to reflect the hierarchy of the previous system. In the past, the ticket office did all the work in finding available tickets for those who filled out applications, selected the seats for them and notified lottery members of the results in July.

The biggest factor that changed between this year and last year is the decrease in Notre Dame Stadium’s capacity from 80,795 to roughly 78,000 — an exact number has yet to be released. Demand will determine the rest.

“That’s the one factor that could have an impact in what we’re looking at,” Kelly said of the capacity change. “We’re really interested to see how it shakes out. But I would expect that in general that we’ll see something similar to what we’ve seen in previous years in terms of the final result.”

The lottery has always come with some mystery to fans. Not just in what the results would be, but exactly how it works. Winning the right to purchase Notre Dame football tickets is quite different than winning the Powerball.

“We joke that people often thought we had this cage of balls that we rolled and selected people’s names out. It didn’t work like that,” Kelly said. “There was a randomization within individual groups for who would get access to tickets. What people didn’t know was there was still a prioritization. You would allocate tickets and people into seats based upon that priority.”

That priority is informed by a number of variables that isn’t publicly available in detail. But now in knowing which date a lottery member has access to tickets, where that person falls on the priority list becomes clearer.

“Prioritization is based on a number of factors, which benefaction is one. But it’s not the only one,” Kelly said. “Your status as a senior alum. Your status as a monogram winner or a football monogram winner. Your status as a parent. All these things factor in and contribute to our chain of classification in the category that you fall into.”

So even though the process is called a lottery, a first-year donor making the minimum contribution never really had a chance to get prime seats on the 50-yard line. The lottery still includes an element of chance because members are entering with no guarantee of receiving the opportunity to purchase tickets, but there is plenty of information dictating the outcome.

“We talked about rebranding the process,” Kelly said. “The lottery has a certain amount of cachet. People know it as the lottery. It’s sort of a uniquely Notre Dame thing. That’s actually kind of fun.

“The part that will still make it feel like a lottery is when I come into the system, I’m still not going to know what’s going to be in front of me when I get in the system. Is it possible that there’s access to some of the premium games? Maybe not. Maybe there will be. You might actually get access to, depending on what inventory has been picked prior to you, some great seat locations for the Miami of Ohio or Wake Forest game. There’s that aspect.

“If you think of lottery more in the sense that there’s an element of surprise, it still does have that. The process has changed. I don’t know that the results are going to be that different. The transparency the process provides will make it feel less random, but I would argue that the reality before was that it wasn’t (random).”

The different levels of the lottery, which Kelly described as application types, have not changed. To qualify for the 2018 lottery at the lowest level, Notre Dame graduates of the last decade, and those who graduated prior to 1968, are required to make an annual gift of $100 at some point in 2017. The gift requirement is $200 for every class from 1968 through 2007.

Depending on the demand for tickets, availability for lottery members at that level has been hit or miss. Kelly said 10 years ago, applicants in the entry-level group had win rates of less than 10 percent for the majority of games.

With the changing price structure at Notre Dame Stadium this season, Kelly has reserved some of the lowest-priced tickets ($45) to make sure some members of the entry-level group have affordable options to the games against Temple, Wake Forest and Miami (Ohio).

“We know that some of those groups are going to be junior alumni, or maybe just graduated, working in service roles, teachers, working for AmeriCorps,” Kelly said. “That access to that ticket price is going to be extremely appreciated in that circle. We’re protecting some ticket availability to ensure that we can provide that access across all the groups.”

If the process doesn’t play out as intended, Notre Dame could adjust for future years by changing ticket limits for lottery members. For 2017, Kelly decided to keep ticket limits the same.

“With everything else that was changing, we didn’t want to introduce any more change than we needed to,” Kelly said. “But there’s a reality that a Notre Dame team that is very successful and drives increased ticket demand could result in an outcome where we actually look at ticket limits to ensure that we’re still reaching the broadest possible group of Notre Dame family that we can.”

Kelly did note that the information sent out to lottery members this year did not include the ticket limits for each applicant. That information isn’t available in the online system until 24 hours prior to the start time for each lottery member. Kelly said the ticket office can provide that information ahead of time with a call to 574-631-7356 or an email to tickets@nd.edu.

Early feedback has been mostly positive, Kelly said, as those who have entered the system to purchase tickets have appreciated the relative ease and convenience the site offers. A landing page — und.com/lottery — was created to help guide users through the process.

Naturally, many of the expressed concerns have come from those who have yet to hit their start time. When their time comes, Kelly said, users shouldn’t feel rushed.

“If you log in within a day of your sign-in time, outside of the few rare cases where it’s the last few seats left for the Georgia, you’re not going to run into a lot of issues finding inventory for a game,” Kelly said. “Within your week, you’re going to be amongst peers that are in the same sort of group. What we’ve been telling people is don’t wait a week to log in after your selection start time. Try to get in as soon as you can after.”

tjames@ndinsider.com

574-235-6214

Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Notre Dame fans cheer on the Irish during the Notre Dame-Duke game at Notre Dame Stadium last fall. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)