BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Everyone knows how passionate fans are for LSU football. The program has sold out its allotment for season tickets 12 years in a row, with another 74,350 purchased this season. LSU sold 102,321 seats for the Eastern Michigan game two Saturdays ago for crying out loud.
People plan their lives around those seven or so home games in Tiger Stadium each fall and count them down all summer long. All of this fuels both sides of the argument for Saturday's very sparse gathering during LSU's 45-24 dismantling of the hurting (on the field and off) South Carolina Gamecocks.
Or was it sparse? There are many people who will argue selling 42,058 tickets on just a few days' notice is nothing short of amazing. For example, the 2015 Bayou Country Superfest, with seven months of relentless promotions and some of the biggest musical acts on the planet (including arguably the biggest in Taylor Swift), averaged 41,666 people per day during the three-day extravaganza. This isn't an apples to apples comparison, but you get the point. It's hard to mobilize and stimulate thousands of people on short notice, especially if Swift, or in this case LSU, played Tiger Stadium last weekend against those Eastern Michigan Eagles and will play it again the next versus Florida.
However, some of the greatest memories and moments are often created from spontaneity. With that in mind, I did think more people would attend the game in Tiger Stadium against the Gamecocks. Here it was, out of nowhere, an impromptu and bonus home contest against an SEC opponent. This was a great opportunity for thousands of non-regulars to grab prime real estate in Death Valley, usually reserved for season ticket holders, even for a day, to watch an undefeated and top 10 LSU team featuring perhaps the best player in all of college football in Leonard Fournette. Many people say they had plans arranged months in advance (weddings, hunts, festivals, etc.) that couldn't be broken or other reasons for passing on this chance. The paid crowd of 42,058 was the lowest to watch LSU in Tiger Stadium since 33,728 against Alabama in 1957.
Were the ticket prices to blame? As someone who once paid $22 to watch losing Curley Hallman-coached teams at LSU in the 90s (his smallest crowd was 51,710 against Southern Miss in 1994), it's very difficult to say $40 for the current product is too high. Heck, rock dinosaur Cheap Trick (who still puts on a great show) is playing the Cypress Bayou Casino in Charenton in late November for ticket prices of $50-$65. The most expensive seats for the LSU/South Carolina game, however, did go for $75 a pop. My parents' season tickets for the Auburn contest earlier this season, located in the lower north end zone, were $90 each by comparison.
As someone who has put on numerous events (for charity on a much, much smaller level and for mostly hundreds, not thousands of people), I know the pattern. People wait to hear and inquire about your initial sales. If they're strong, folks want to be part of the party and fear being left out - they'll buy. If your early reports are poor, many people sense opportunity - they stand on the sidelines, hands in their pockets, waiting for those prices to be slashed or to be comped some free tickets. In LSU's case, the lower than desired early sales never led to later discounts.
The $10 nosebleed, the buy-one-get-one-free, the kids 12 and under for $5 options never transpired, even on game day when roughly 60,000 seats remained unsold. The Monday morning marketer can go on and on with this - free admission for veterans or military personnel that present their ID, etc.
LSU made it clear South Carolina established the ticket prices. The Gamecocks were to receive all of the money after LSU covered its expenses and they certainly deserved every penny. This was South Carolina's home game and in the wake of the devastating flooding the state is suffering through (which obviously moved this game in the first place), it was clearly the right plan.
But ask yourself this question - what motivation did South Carolina have to slash those ticket prices? Sure, the school could possibly receive more money during this trying time, but do you think Steve Spurrier was campaigning to pack Death Valley with more LSU fans? Probably not. And the lackluster, daytime atmosphere certainly benefitted Carolina early, as techno, fist-pumping, 2 a.m. classic "Sandstorm" seemed to prompt LSU's Trent Domingue to wobble the opening kickoff out of bounds and spark the Gamecocks to an early 3-0 lead.
No matter your stance - the crowd was great, the crowd was poor - the eerie feeling we all experienced this past Saturday undoubtedly will vanish next weekend. Those bare parking lots we witnessed will once again be packed and unfortunately, the bumper-to-bumper traffic that comes with it returns. The conversations we could clearly understand 10-15 feet away in the arena will be nothing more than lips moving beneath a sea of deafening noise. Every section in Tiger Stadium will definitely be occupied and each ticket likewise sold. The undefeated, No. 8 Florida Gators are coming to town and LSU fans have actually been planning months in advance for this one. And, oh by the way, the game is at night.
The REAL Death Valley will indeed be back.
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