U drops forced ticket bundling after Dayton complains

Facing student complaints and even sharper criticism from Gov. Mark Dayton, the University of Minnesota said Friday it will not force students to buy football season passes to get season tickets to other sports.

Next year, the university's athletic department will offer season tickets to individual sports at the same time it offers multiple-sport packages, Senior Associate Athletic Director Chris Werle said.

The decision ends a practice Werle said was designed as a reward for fan loyalty but which some students said locked out those unable to afford more than one sport.

"I think we tried to do something to help our students who are most engaged,” he said. “And I think we did do something to help our most engaged students. In the end, for whatever reason, it didn't work for the larger group."

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In past summers, the U has allowed students to buy season tickets for just the sports they wanted. For hockey, the price this year was set at $99.

But Werle said this summer the U gave students who bought a season-ticket package of multiple sports first crack at men's hockey and basketball tickets.

He said giving first dibs on those sports – in addition to the usual package discount – was a way to reward the U’s “best fans.”

If the hockey season tickets didn't sell out through the package deals in the summer, Werle said, students could buy them in the fall. But students who refused to pay $175 for a package deal found that by fall, package sales had eaten up all the hockey season tickets.

Student Senator Kyle Kroll said such a system either froze out students or unfairly forced them to buy more sports than they wanted.

On Thursday, his fellow student senators agreed, and passed Kroll’s resolution asking the U to drop the practice.

Friday morning, Gov. Dayton intervened with a sharply-worded letter to President Eric Kaler.

Dayton told Kaler he was "appalled" that students are required to buy tickets they don't want to obtain tickets they do. “The Legislature and I did not provide the additional funding for the University to freeze students' tuitions over two years so that you could invent other ways to increase their costs,” he wrote.

The governor said the purpose of the bundling appears to be to increase football attendance and raise money.

The right way to do that, he wrote, would be to “play the kind of outstanding football your team displayed in trouncing Michigan last Saturday,” referring to the Gophers' 30-14 win.

“And,” he added, “I strongly oppose your raising additional sports revenues by overcharging your students.”

Within hours, the U backed away from bundling.

Kroll called the U’s change of heart “awesome. That’s the ideal situation.”

He said, “I genuinely believe they did want to increase student engagement by trying to get students involved in more sports, and just didn’t really think maybe as much about how that would impact some students.”