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Sunday, September 24, 2023
The Badgers basketball team has lower expectations this season as evidence by the slower sell out of student season tickets. 

The Badgers basketball team has lower expectations this season as evidence by the slower sell out of student season tickets. 

"Ungrateful Red:" Slow season ticket sales show lack of student interest

There is perhaps no better indicator of expectations and interest in a team than ticket sales. An emptier Kohl Center highlights the perception of the Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team.

In 2014, student season tickets for the men’s basketball team sold out in five minutes. In 2015, it was four minutes; the next year, it was down to three. Last season, even with admittedly lower expectations, it took twelve minutes.

This year, it took far longer – nearly four days. After a run of 13 sellouts in the previous 16 seasons, it appears the 2018-2019 season will be a down year in terms of enthusiasm for the student section (nicknamed the Grateful Red) after the team’s disappointing performance last year.

Senior Nick Vander Hayden, who has been a lifelong fan and describes himself as “an avid sports fan,” has held season tickets all four years. He expressed his surprise at the failure to sell out quickly after a period of high demand for student seats.

“It’s a shame to see our student section turn into the Ungrateful Red,” Vander Hayden said. “You hate to see it.” Yet, he and other fans can understand why students would be less excited to attend over a dozen home games.

The Badgers finished in ninth place in the Big Ten in the 2017-2018 season, missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998. Despite the team’s struggles, the program still ranked fourth in average attendance in the nation, enough for best in the Big Ten. Yet the losses took their toll. Vander Hayden summed up fan sentiment: “The Kohl Center definitely felt deflated towards the back half of the season, the energy was lacking and the atmosphere was dull. It’s understandable people wouldn’t be excited to experience that again.”

This year, guards D’Mitrik Trice and Kobe King, both significant contributors last season before being injured, are set to return. A team that heavily featured underclassmen last year also bring in a few new freshmen, and preseason All-American Ethan Happ will be back for his final year in the program. As a result, many people expect a stronger finish from the 2018-2019 campaign.

And yet, it appears disappointment from last year’s failures persists within a fan base that had grown accustomed to winning. A student section consistently ranked among the best in the country may struggle to fill every seat. A day after the tickets went on sale, the Wisconsin Athletics Twitter page tweeted that student tickets were still available. Two days after that, the athletic department sent an email to students advertising student and winter break tickets. By Monday afternoon, it appeared tickets had at last sold out. Yet unlike in previous years, when the rapid sellouts were widely trumpeted on social media, no public announcement was made when a sellout finally occurred.

Responding to a request for a statement, UW-Athletics spokesperson Patrick Herb said, “We are once again thrilled to have sold out the largest student section in the Big Ten (approximately 2,100 tickets) prior to the start of the season.”

Given the proven loyalty of Wisconsin’s fan base, it is likely the program will rank highly in the national and Big Ten attendance rankings this season. Yet the diminished interest shown by students shows that this support isn’t completely unconditional. In the end, potential attendance issues may only be resolved by a return to the NCAA tournament and more winning seasons. While some students are now more reluctant to pay to attend, others remain hopeful for the future. With a young but promising core, this year’s team has the opportunity to prove to fans, and especially members of the Grateful Red, that they’re worth the cost of attendance. 

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