Notre Dame football season ticket holders face tough decisions at renewal deadline
Casey Tahara just can’t say no.
Despite the uncertainty of what college football will look like this season amidst the coronavirus pandemic, the 39-year-old mechanic from Hawaii renewed his Notre Dame football season tickets for 2020.
The 2020 season will be his sixth with Irish season tickets. Tahara rarely gets to more than a couple games each season, but he believes it’s still worth the cost. This year, he paid $2,250 for two tickets to each home game. That includes the annual membership fee of $750 per ticket. The tickets alone cost $375 each.
Tahara said he hopes to at least attend the Clemson game in November. His trips typically require a red-eye flight out of Honolulu and a layover before eventually arriving in Chicago.
In the past, Tahara lined up back-to-back home games so he could spend a little over a week in Chicago and catch two games. When Tahara signed up for season tickets before the 2015 season, he thought he’d be waiting years to actually get them.
“Everybody says I’m crazy, and I think they’re kind of right, but it’s just something that when the opportunity was in hand, I just couldn’t say no,” Tahara said. “I said let’s do it and I make it work every single year.”
Tahara was concerned about renewing his season tickets this year, but after learning that Notre Dame would refund ticket costs for canceled games, he moved forward with the purchase. Notre Dame’s Murnane Family Ticket Office kept him updated of its policy as the ticket renewal deadline moved from May 1 to May 15 and eventually June 1.
“They did the best they could,” Tahara said. “With so much uncertainty about what’s going on, whatever information they could give out, they did. I just had to make the decision to renew or not.”
If he opted to cancel his season tickets, Tahara was worried he wouldn’t be able to get similar seats in 2021.
“I didn’t want to lose the seats,” Tahara said. “If the season gets canceled, I can just roll it over to the next upcoming season.”
Brian Pracht, Notre Dame’s associate athletic director for marketing and ticketing, said the ticket sales staff encouraged season ticket holders to address their specific concerns with them ahead of Monday’s renewal deadline. He understands that many fans are dealing with different circumstances.
“We want to be very accommodating to those fans that may not feel safe coming to the games or financially they’re not in a position to renew their tickets for this year,” Pracht said. “We’re going to be as accommodating as we can be for them to secure their same seats for 2021.”
Douglas McAnally, a season ticket holder since 2016, isn’t sure if he’ll even be allowed to travel to Notre Dame football games from Ontario, Canada. The United States and Canada have restricted all non-essential travel across the border since March 21. The measure, which has been extended in 30 day increments, currently runs until June 22.
McAnally, 46, still hadn’t made up his mind as of Saturday.
“I am still in the process of making the decision,” McAnally said. “My biggest reason is because of the border. Although I’m probably going to renew my tickets because Notre Dame has told me that in the event the border does not open to allow me to come down to games, either because of the Canadian government or the American government, they’ll refund my money.”
Pracht said Notre Dame reacted quickly to announce its refund policy in early April. The policy includes the option for a full refund for canceled games or games in which fans are prohibited from attending, applying the refund as a credit for 2021 season tickets or the opportunity to donate all or a portion of the refund to the Rockne Athletics Fund for Notre Dame student-athletes. Tickets will not be refunded for rescheduled games.
The ticket office offered extended payment plans to help season ticket holders. It also offered access to Shamrock Series tickets for Notre Dame’s game at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field against Wisconsin on Oct. 3 if customers renewed their tickets by May 15.
Athletic director Jack Swarbrick answered questions submitted by season ticket holders in a video in mid-May.
“A lot of people are concerned trying to find answers,” McAnally said. “Unfortunately as we’re going through this, everyone is trying to figure out the answers at the same time. Even the people making the decisions don’t have the answers right now.”
Notre Dame still has to figure out how many fans it will let into Notre Dame Stadium for games and how it will establish social distancing. That means season ticket holders might not end up sitting in their exact seats this season.
“As long as they can figure out a way that we can be in the stadium safely,” said McAnally, who plans to finalize his renewal decision Monday, “we will be there.”
Notre Dame has made a practice out of not revealing its total number of season ticket holders. Pracht stuck to that tradition by declining to disclose his projection for the 2020 season. Though he won’t have a complete picture until the deadline passes on Monday, Pracht said the trajectory of season ticket renewals hasn’t been significantly different than previous years.
“We’re probably not expecting it to hit all of the historical numbers we’ve done in the past, as you might imagine, “ Pracht said. “But it’s not terribly different.
“We’re optimistic and certainly appreciative of our fans’ response to the situation.”
Much to figure out
The annual membership fees for season tickets stayed the same between the 2019 and 2020 seasons. The most expensive tickets in the “preferred” sections come with an annual membership fee of $2,700. The cheapest tickets in the “upper end” sections have a $750 membership fee.
The cumulative price of the tickets themselves remained relatively the same, though Notre Dame will play one less home game in 2020 (six) than it did last season. A season ticket in the preferred section cost $1,500 in 2020 — the same as last season. The upper end season tickets dropped from $400 in 2019 to $375 in 2020.
If calculated on a per-game average, the ticket prices did increase at varying degrees depending on the section. Pracht said that accounts for the higher profile opponents coming to Notre Dame this season like Clemson, Stanford and Arkansas. Last season, only the USC game was priced at Notre Dame’s most expensive tier.
New season ticket packages are still available through the ticket office (email email@example.com or call 574-631-3500) beyond Monday’s renewal deadline. Pracht said Notre Dame sold more new season ticket packages this May than it did last May.
The next step in ticket sales remains on hold, Pracht said. The annual alumni ticket lottery, which typically accounts for 25,000-35,000 tickets per game, has been delayed. It’s uncertain how many single-game tickets will be made available until Notre Dame can determine how many fans it will let in the stadium.
“We’re still working through those plans,” Pracht said. “Jack Swarbrick has said multiple times that the groups that we’re going to prioritize starts with our students. That will be the first group that we’ll look to accommodate. Then of course season ticket members are high on our priority list as well.”
Jack Cunniff decided to take himself off the season ticket list this year. The 66-year-old from Utah owned season tickets since 2009, but he couldn’t justify the purchase this year with so much uncertainty.
Given his age, Cunniff understands COVID-19 could be a significant threat to him. He’s taken precautions to keep himself safe even as he boarded an airplane a few weeks ago. Attending a football game without a clear way to treat COVID-19 is a risk he wasn’t sure he was ready to take.
“I would have pulled the trigger if we had something going on — there was a vaccine or medicine to help it. Something you could at least do,” Cunniff said. “It’s just too much. I’ll keep my money and give it away to somebody out here, that’s all.”
Cunniff’s season tickets would have cost him $5,700 this year for two seats. But the possibility of being stuck with significant travel costs if games were to be rescheduled was too much uncertainty for Cunniff. He’s curious to see how this all plays out from afar.
“If I was a local or if I could drive in, it would be different,” Cunniff said. “But I have to plan ahead of time. I have to get airfare, car rentals, hotels. It’s all too much of an if. That’s why I decided, well, not this year. We’ll see what happens next year.”