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Different Ontario Universities Have Different Strategies For Ticketing Varsity Games

by John Bruyea

University of Windsor students receive free access to varsity sporting events, but no one has ever stopped and asked the question; why?

It turns out it isn’t just a UWindsor thing and the vast majority of students at Ontario universities receive free access to regular season Ontario University Athletics (OUA) varsity games.  All that’s required in most cases is a valid student card.

For the most part, the OUA does not have any policies that bind universities when it comes to regular season ticketing for students. Schools must charge, however, for certain playoff games (e.g. football). The OUA’s website explains that a minimum charge of $5 for students must be in place, and a maximum of $10 for a quarter-final game; the policy shows that these fees do increase throughout the playoffs.

No, every school treats its students to free regular season varsity games as ours does. Wilfrid Laurier University, for example, charges students for all varsity sports with prices ranging from $2 for a basketball game up to $5 for a football game.

Peter Baxter, Director of Athletics and Recreation at Laurier and former OUA President, noted the school used to offer free admission to students but charging students for tickets actually bumped attendance.

Baxter also wanted to specify that no students attend games for “free” across the OUA, rather it is included within a specific Athletic incidental fee or student services fee that they pay to their institution each year. These fees provide students access to facilities and certain recreation and fitness programs. The Athletic fees are always a negotiation between the Athletic Department and the student government of a given institution as per provincial fee policies.

At the University of Windsor this is the “recreation fee” which is approximately $93.10 per term according to the university’s fee estimator. The fee here includes access to varsity events. Laurier’s fee, which is less, requires students to purchase varsity event tickets instead.

Dawn Simons, Marketing & Events Coordinator at Laurier, noted that the benefits of charging students to attend varsity games were not only the additional revenue but also how this technique increases the perceived value of Laurier’s sporting events. However, there are understandable challenges when the university charges their students.

“Students are charged for every little thing on campus it seems these days, so we must have a higher perceived value for them to find it worth it,” Simons stated.

Simons explained that one of the ways Laurier aims to provide value to students is through promotional giveaways and contests prior to the game, partnering with local charities for fundraising initiatives, and an enhanced social atmosphere.

There are different ticketing strategies to attract fans to the stands.  For UWindsor, free is that path the Lancers pursue. Elisa Mitton, the Sport Information Coordinator for the University of Windsor, stated that the decision was made in collaboration with the president’s office. Lancer Athletics decided that since students already pay a recreation fee as part of their tuition and student fees, students should receive free admission to regular season varsity events.

“We recognize that most students face financial challenges and we are sensitive to that,” says Mitton. “They should have the opportunity to have a great night out without adding any additional financial strain.”

Even though Lancer Athletics is heavily prioritizing the student body, there remain challenges and, in that sense, are no different than most in the OUA. The challenges of generating student attendance, according to Mitton, is due to the fact that Windsor is largely a commuter school.

“A vast majority of the student population live off campus and have part-time jobs across the Windsor-Essex area so once they are done class and leave campus, they tend not to come back.”

She also noted the vast number of competitors that the university has to compete with in order to engage student’s time and attention. These competitors include local teams as well as professional teams in Detroit.

Filling the seats remains a riddle in the Canadian university context.  Michael Khan, Dean of Human Kinetics, believes that the varsity experience “has to be more than just watching the game” and refers to the fun fan experience at soccer games in the United Kingdom complete with chanting fans.

Khan emphasizes that Lancer Athletics staff do a great job in terms of different aspects of the game day experience; such as promotions and half-time events.  The onus, he believes, needs to be placed more on the students to help create the atmosphere they desire. The students and crowd need to get into the action, suggested Khan, and mentioned the previously famed but somewhat forgotten Party Army or Lancer Nation as examples of students taking pride in creating an energetic game environment.

Khan states that there are plans and discussions in place to try and revamp a Lancer Nation equivalent with current Lancer students. He believes that students need to be a part of this process because they are the key to making it a more social atmosphere.

Clearly, there are a variety of strategies and complex reasoning behind different ticketing policies across the OUA, but ultimately students are the cause of and solution to any attendance issues.

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