How Important is the Sellout Streak?
Nebraska has a sellout streak in football going back more than half a century. While it's a point of pride, how does that translate in terms of wins and losses? We've seen the Huskers outdraw most every other school for the spring game and yet the team still finds itself perenially ranked outside the top 10. Would an end to the streak make things worse or would there really be a difference?
Obviously, a sellout puts more dollars into the athletic department. That money is often reinvested in ways to help the team be more competitive. But when the streak ends, it might just be a few hundred tickets short. That might amount to a few thousand dollars which is really just rounding error when it comes to an annual budget of tens of millions of dollars. But you also have to consider it from another angle. The sellout streak was not in jeopardy when tickets cost half what they do, but the difference in revenue with ticket increases is obviously substantial. The optimum number to maximize revenue may not be a sellout. You might be better off selling 70,000 seats at $100 each versus 100,000 seats at just $50. As fans we may not want to accept that, but with scalpers in the mix, the price may get driven back up near $100 anyway. Would you rather see the money help the University or a shady "entrepreneur"?
The Point of Pride
The streak has also been a big marketing point for recruits. But how many kids do you think reached the tipping point because of the streak? If it's more about the recruiting visit, would they even notice if a few hundred seats went unsold? Isn't fan behavior equally important? If a recruit shows up to see a sold-out stadium where fans boo the team and leave early (as we've sadly seen at times) isn't that worse than positive fans even if the stadium has a few empty seats?
The TV Experience Has Improved
It's also hard to ignore that the experience of watching games has gotten much better over the years. Who doesn't love the yellow stripe to indicate where a first down is? You get a lot more instant gratification with that than having to look at the scoreboard and waiting for them to update the down and distance. When a play is under review by officials, you get a much better sense at home what the likely outcome will be. With a DVR you can instant replay any play for that matter. While it's cool to see an option pitch go 40 yards, it can be cooler still to go back and watch the play develop. I don't know how much I would have enjoyed watching Nebraska play Wisconsin in Indianapolis a year and half ago, but I certainly liked rewinding and rewatching the play where Kenny Bell levelled the Badger defender ten times in a row. Also, it can be an unexpected pleasure to start watching the game an hour after it's started and basically skip all of the ads and dead time between plays. You can catch up by the end of the game (so you're not the last to know the outcome) and not spend near as much time waiting for things to happen. And let's face it, a lot people enjoy the game in a condition where they shouldn't be attempting to drive somewhere afterwards.
Certainly, it would be a bit sad to see the sellout streak end. But it's hardly the end of the world or the end of Nebraska football. Bob Devaney didn't inherit such a streak and he still managed to build the best program in the country. Heck, Alabama lost theirs last fall and they still seem to have a program that's the envy of college football.
Is the real point of the streak self-glorification? Proof you can point to that the Huskers have the best fans? I'd like to think we're better than that. You don't tell people you're the best fans, you have to show them.