Notre Dame football season ticket holders react to university's attendance decision

Tyler James | South Bend Tribune
ND Insider

Dan Hunt had long expected he wouldn’t be able to use his season tickets for the 2020 Notre Dame football season. The Chicago teacher had already been making plans to gather with his tailgate partners at their homes on game days.

When Notre Dame announced Monday that Notre Dame Stadium will be limited to 20-percent capacity and tickets will only be sold to students, faculty, staff and families of players, it confirmed Hunt’s suspicion and put his mind at ease.

“It’s absolutely what I expected to happen. I’m just happy they sent it to us,” Hunt said of the email he received Monday from athletic director Jack Swabrick detailing the decision. “I knew this was going to happen, but I was starting to wonder what would happen if for some reason they did give season ticket holders their tickets on a week-and-a-half notice when I wasn’t planning on going to the game.”

Season ticket holders have been given the option to receive a full refund, apply their payment to the 2021 season or donate a portion to the Student Emergency Relief Fund. Hunt said he will probably offer a small portion of his ticket fees as a donation and apply the rest of the money to next year.

Hunt, 39, said he likely wouldn’t have attended any Notre Dame games this season if he was allowed. He’s been a season ticket holder for about 15 years.

“Maybe I would have gone to the Clemson game if the situation improved,” Hunt said. “Honestly, the colder games seemed more palatable to me, because wearing a mask in the heat sounds absolutely disgusting. If it’s cold, wearing a winter hat with a covering on it would actually be better.”

Notre Dame Stadium attendees will be required to wear masks and practice social distancing. Tailgating will be prohibited and tickets will be digital.

Hunt, also a Chicago Bears season ticket holder, doesn’t anticipate being able to attend any games at Soldier Field either. The Bears have already announced they will start the season with no fans at home games.

“Unless the situation changes, which at this point it’s hard to believe it will during this football season. I’m not planning on going to any games,” Hunt said.

Chris Fleck, a 36-year-old mortgage lender for a local credit union, still hopes his tradition of attending home games with his 10-year-old son can continue. Fleck has been purchasing season tickets through his father, a Notre Dame employee, for two decades.

Fleck found himself trying to parse through the details released Monday. Though his father may still have access to single-game tickets as a staff member, Fleck isn’t certain if his purchased tickets will still be valid. Fleck said he has already paid for this season’s tickets through his father.

An FAQ shared with Notre Dame season ticket holders indicated folks like Fleck would not be allowed to use tickets purchased through a faculty or staff member. If available, faculty and staff may purchase up to two tickets per game, but can’t resell them. They will be asked to show a Notre Dame ID when entering the stadium and can only attend with someone in their immediate household.

Fleck would be in attendance if given the opportunity.

“I would much rather be a part of it,” Fleck said. “I’ve never sold my tickets. I never sold my tickets to Georgia fans or Nebraska fans or anybody. That wasn’t me. We were right there.”

Fleck has formed relationships with the other season ticket holders that sit in his section. He had hoped they’d all be able to reunite in Notre Dame Stadium this season.

“That’s half the draw — the people you get to experience it with,” Fleck said. “That’s why I prefer to be there, especially with my son who now has been going to games since he was four years old. It’s ingrained now in him for better or worse.”

Brian Thomas hasn’t missed a home Notre Dame football game in 15 seasons. For the last six, he’s been a season ticket holder. The 47-year old Thomas, who works on the automotive side for SiriusXM, made the drive up on Saturdays from Indianapolis. His network of friends has grown to include close to 40 tailgating together on game days.

As they waited for an announcement on tickets, Thomas and his friends started to ponder the logistics of getting a crowd in Notre Dame Stadium. Even though they’re good at peer pressuring each other, Thomas said he likely wouldn’t have attended games.

“In a COVID environment, I don’t know if I would feel overly comfortable doing that,” Thomas said. “I probably would have pivoted away from going in person as long as I wouldn’t forfeit my season tickets.”

Thomas will apply the payment he already made for 2020 tickets to the 2021 season. It took Thomas a few reads through the email Swarbrick sent Monday morning to make sure he understood his options, but he appreciated that it came from Swarbrick instead of the ticket office staff.

Thomas said he would like to know more about what was the tipping point that influenced Notre Dame’s attendance decision and what caused the announcement to come so close to the Sept. 12 season opener against Duke. But he supports letting the students get the first crack at attending games.

“They’re the ones on campus,” Thomas said. “Right, wrong or however they’re handling themselves, give them the first-ditch effort of going in if they’re going to have anybody in the stands. I’m perfectly fine with that.”

Fan sections in Notre Dame Stadium will look a bit different during the 2020 football season.

“Honestly, the colder games seemed more palatable to me, because wearing a mask in the heat sounds absolutely disgusting. If it's cold, wearing a winter hat with a covering on it would actually be better.”

Notre Dame football season ticket holder Dan Hunt