SPOILED!!

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Spoiled. Of the hundreds of words spoken on that show, it was the one that resonated. Yet, unlike most sports talk shows, that label wasn’t thrown at a player, but this time aimed at fans. Not the fans of the opposing team, either, but the very fans of the team around which the program centered.

It was an episode of CSNNW’s ”Talkin’ Ducks” following the first UO game that Autzen Stadium had failed to sell out since 1999. When the topic came up of why Oregon failed to sell out, various theories were debated by the panel. That it was Labor Day weekend (which hadn’t prevented every other Labor Day game during the streak from selling out), that it was an FCS opponent (ditto) or even that concerts six hours away might impact attendance.

When it was former Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington‘s turn to address the question, he could have given an answer along the lines of, “Demand didn’t exactly equal supply for tickets as the result of a price point set by the athletic department to place an emphasis on maximizing gate revenue over guaranteeing capacity attendance.” That  would be the succinct, correct, boring answer. What did he think was the cause of the less-than-capacity crowd?

“People are spoiled. Duck fans are spoiled. Let’s be honest. Let’s call a spade a spade.”

Artist's rendition of attendance against UC-Davis (approximation)

Kevin Cline

Photographic rendering of attendance against UC-Davis (approximation).

Based on his comments to the Statesman Journal last fall, I assume the target of Harrington’s comments were not the generational die-hard fans but rather the fair-weather fans whose only loyalty to any given team is dependent on the game’s outcome. (We need a good name for these types of fans, like “Drakes” or “Chesneys” or something.) Those fair-weather fans have piggy-backed on Oregon’s recent success. Unfortunately for the less-funded die-hards, many people in that group tend to have money, or at the very least are willing to pay more for a ticket.

With more fans came higher demand for seats and with it a dilemma for the athletic department: keep prices lower to reward loyalty and guarantee sellouts or increase prices to a threshold that would allow for a capacity audience but not guarantee it in the event of demand shift. Given that no team in the history of sports has ever chosen the former, it was inevitable which direction the pricing model was going.

The risk involved with that strategy is that the team has to stay competitive or it will lack a guaranteed revenue base to fall back on. If that price is pushed past the brink of elasticity, even the slightest hiccup can result in a loss of revenue. A hiccup like, say, suffering the biggest halftime collapse in bowl history in the game prior to the one it is trying to sell out.

So, for the Davis game, the price was too high for some die-hards, the team wasn’t ranked high enough for some fair-weathers but 53,817 people decided the cost of a ticket was worth it. Oregon has had a certain amount of success, and that success has generated interest. Prices were set based on that interest, and purchases were made based on that value. After 17 years, the market for Oregon tickets discovered what its equilibrium is, with supply finally outpacing demand, however narrowly.

Fans who stayed home missed the debut of Oregon QB Dakota Prukop

John Sperry

Fans who stayed home missed the debut of Oregon QB Dakota Prukop.

If you want to know what spoiled looks like, you would want to find a team that has gone so long without finding its equilibrium, one that has experienced so much success historically that it doesn’t even know where its place is in the sport. That would be the only two schools that had longer sellout streaks than Oregon: Notre Dame (going on 43 years) and Oregon’s opponent Saturday, Nebraska (54 years and counting.) While their sellout streaks are held as banners of fan loyalty, they are also the two fan bases who have demonstrated some of the most outsized expectations in college football.

Nebraska fans love their Huskers, and have shown it by selling out every game going back to 1962, the first year of legendary coach Bob Devaney‘s tenure. Devaney was succeeded by his offensive coordinator, Tom Osborne, and the pair combined for five national titles as head coach from 1962 to 1997. For 35 years, Nebraska was as good as any team in college football. However, Nebraska hasn’t won a conference title since 1999 – only two years after Osborne retired in 1997.

The last time Nebraska won a national championship, former Oregon OC Scott Frost was its QB

From Video

The last time Nebraska won a national championship, former Oregon OC Scott Frost was its QB.

Despite the lack of success, Nebraska has sold out every game during that stretch. While some might characterize that type of purchasing power as a sign of loyalty, that loyalty hasn’t come without a mountain of expectations and demands.

Osborne was replaced by offensive assistant Frank Solich, who went 58-19 at Nebraska, and to date has won the school’s only conference championship since Osborne’s departure. But after going 9-3 in 2003, he was fired as head coach by athletic irector Steve Pederson who stated, “I refuse to let the program gravitate into mediocrity.”

Sadly for Huskers fans, it did anyway. Pederson hired Bill Callahan, whose 27-22 record was the chief reason Pederson and Callahan both are no longer there. Next came Bo Pelini, defensive coordinator under Solich, to replace Callahan, whom Pederson had passed over on the previous hire to instead land Callahan. Pelini led the Huskers to nine wins or more all seven seasons in Lincoln, which was deemed insufficient for a coach at that program. Pelini was then replaced by Mike Riley, who has won more than nine games just once in his college coaching career.

Nebraska fans endured all that for nearly two decades and still continued to sell the stadium out. The 35 years before were so good that 19 years later, despite the lack of top-end success, they are still expecting the program to be an elite contender. A fan base that has so overvalued the financial value of ticket that Saturday’s game, a matchup of teams with a combined 15-11 record last season, that the “get-in” price, the cheapest ticket available, is $200. That’s the seventh-most expensive game in college football this season. The six games ahead of it are all matchups of two teams who have been ranked in the top 11 at some point in 2016.

When demand makes the price of ticket that high despite the team not even being ranked? That’s a case of a team so spoiled by success it quantifies this matchup with marquee prices, even if the game is no longer hosted by a marquee team.

Oregon sideline vs. Virginia

Gary Breedlove

Oregon sideline vs Virginia.

The end of the sellout streak prevents Oregon from ever dealing with that delusional state. Fans sold out the stadium when the team was good and the games were affordable, and it sold out when the Ducks were great and expensive. But fans have shown they won’t accept good and expensive.

It’s now up to the program to decide which team it wants to be.

Top photo from video

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Nathan Roholt

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  • Mike Merrell

    Zipping over to the coast or up to the mountains instead of going to the game is not an option in Nebraska or Indiana. I think that helps.

  • Platypus

    First of all I’m one of those long time supporters going all the way back to watching games at Hayward Field. The fact is my generation of fan is coming to an end and the newer fan base is not the same at least not in the Northwest. I personally know some of the younger Duck fans and their great people not spoiled, it’s just that they have family’s that like to partake in the other things that Oregon has to offer, Football is only one of their recreational activities. As for the other two schools that have record sellouts were’re not comparing apples to apples…Nebraska has no recreational outlets like the Ocean, Mountains, The Gorge and i could on but you get the picture. Notre Dame has two zillion Catholics that are bound by faith to attend the games. I think if you could call any fan spoiled it would have to be the LA fans, 30 million people and you can’t fill a football stadium? Come On!

    • I am Catholic and am not a big ND fan; I am a DUCK! The rules of weekly obligation in the faith do not apply to football games…

      But I get your point about a ton of fans as they are very near (80 miles) from Chicago, and have a world-wide following.

      • Platypus

        Thank’s Charles for getting my point, that ND has a HUGH following. There’s many variables that go into why people go or don’t go to games and just because the sell out streak ended doesn’t mean that the fans are spoiled.

    • bruce

      It’s actually 13 million fans in the metro LA area and I having been a resident there for 40 years, the attitude has always been to not bother with poor product when you’ve got the beach, the mountains and a zillion other things to do.

  • !BIGDUCKFAN

    Agreed about the new fans. I hate them too. Just one of the reasons I didn’t get season tickets, BUT. The U of O has been raising prices since 1984 and we’ve all paid the prices.
    And WE’RE the spoiled ones? One non sell out game and they act like they’re going out of business.
    U of O is Spoiled. Maybe time for me to pick a new “Underdog” school to root for. 1981 until now. I guess it’s been a good run.

  • Notalot

    I go back a long way, too, and now live on the right coast of the U.S. I’m a zealous Ducks fan. Beating the drum few want to hear – Mark Helfrich grates on me. He has cooled my 55-year fervor. Hope for the Ducks, even through the doldrums years, sprang eternal. The expectations of fans are considerably higher now than then, and recently reached NC levels for parts of the past 7-8 years. I feel impending doom with MH at the helm. My hope has faded. Some others may feel the same way. The HC has pulled my focus from the field of play to the sideline. There went my “hope”.

    • Whether it has been as OC or HC, the Oregon offense has been in the top five in scoring in the nation each of the last five years, unlike any other coach in Oregon history. The Ducks have played seven true freshmen this year thus far, hence recruiting under MH is passing the upperclassmen brought in under Chip.

      The challenges of creating a top 25 defense at Oregon have existed with every single coach at Oregon before Helfrich, and yes….he is having the same issues.

      When he figures it out he won’t be bolting for retirement or the NFL….but will apply it here to make Oregon football better.

      I believe you and the MH doubters will see that some day…

    • Anthony Joseph Gomes

      helfrich’s record of 35-8 is 5th best among active coaches in the NCAA. the fact that you have some unsubstantiated fears and feelings of gloom about helfrich is probably why few want to hear your drum. most people operate on at least a certain minimum of facts.

  • Nathan Roholt

    Thanks for all the feedback, been hearing a lot of similar stories from long time Ducks fans.

  • Anthony Joseph Gomes

    when i look at the “photgraphic rendering of attendance against UC Davis” and then attempt to reconcile that with the fact that actual attendance was 53,817 out of a possible 54,000 seating capacity and i am left wondering. does the fact that 183 tickets went unsold for this cupcake game really make that much difference?

  • Aaron Bonar

    Lol. The author is a bit of an idiot, no? “Spoiled” is supporting a struggling team for 20 years? Not jumping ship regardless of whether the team is having a good year or a bad one is spoiled? News flash, Osborne coached for decades before winning a NC, NU fans were there for him selling out the stadium every year regardless.

    If this guy is an example of the type of “fans” the folks at CSNNW were talking about, they aren’t spoiled they’re just plain dumb. I doubt it. Rather, I think Oregon fans are just unhappy about the recent changes, and there really isn’t much more to it than that.

    As an aside: Authors like this one are annoying as hell. The Oregon fans we have seen have been anything but. It’s been a pleasure to meet them, and a pleasure to play such a great team. We are looking forward to our trip up NW, we expect it to be another great game.

  • “fake” fan

    Joey didn’t make those comments to the Statesman. It was on the same deal as these. CSN’s Talkin’ Ducks. I think it’s funny that anytime a fan questions what they are seeing on the field they are automatically labeled a “fake” fan or spoiled. It’s a tired and lazy position to take.

    • “fake” fan

      also, these spoiled fans are still the ones that sold that place out for so long. and now that one game wasn’t, it’s the fans that were spoiled. not the program. failed logic.