“Please know we appreciate that UConn fans like you have helped carry the load for many years and have provided countless opportunities for the 600+ young men and women who proudly wear the Husky uniform,” writes David Benedict, the athletic director of the University of Connecticut.
There’s nothing like fans showing loyalty to your team and that’s no different at UConn, the home of the Huskies. It’s a main contributor towards team energy and overall enjoyment of the game experience. It’s essential, especially when you have scenes like men’s basketball coach Dan Hurley going the extra mile to hype up his fans, even if it means an ejection.
When you step outside the beloved grounds of Gampel Pavilion or the boisterous environment of the XL Center on a typical day of UConn basketball, what do you hear? It’s probably the sound of many fans creating an enjoyable experience and memories that those same fans will cherish for years to come, whether they’re young or old, with classic chants of U-C-O-N-N.
It’s unfortunate that those same loyal fans that inject that lovable energy into games may be forced to give up their seats in those arenas for a seat in front of the TV screen.
When UConn season ticket holders checked their phones to a message from Benedict on Monday afternoon, many were expecting a minimal price increase to their current ticket prices. What they weren’t expecting was a total price increase of more than 200% for many tickets, and lower level season ticket prices reaching $5,000, in some cases.
It’s even more confusing with the timing of the announcement. Fans were ready to travel all the way to New York to see the Huskies compete for a Big East Tournament championship. They were ready to create plenty of memories at what many UConn fans consider the team’s third arena, Madison Square Garden. When the hype for the program was arguably at its highest since 2014, when the team won its last National Championship, it feels as if the attention of the program keeps drifting away from the fans.
Those same fans, who set aside income for years to watch their beloved Huskies with pride, are now faced with a tough decision. Do they cough up the big bucks to continue to support their Huskies in person or skip out on games?
It’s a tough task and it’s something that needs to be given attention.
As someone who’s covered the team throughout the season and has watched fans flock to games, whether it’s more than an hour away or just a 10-minute walk, I have to feel for the fans. Whether the game is at the XL Center, Gampel Pavilion or even a road game, the support of the fans has not faded. It’s inspiring to watch the passion and the drive of UConn fans. Personally, when I first stepped foot into Gampel Pavilion this season in the team’s home opener against Central Connecticut State University, I could already feel how different the environment was from anything I had ever experienced in my 20 years of life on this earth.
I’ve been to NBA playoff games, NFL games, and even my taste of some NHL action. But, when you talk about UConn basketball, it’s something that is so unique to anything you’ve ever experienced that you can easily understand why thousands of fans dedicate their lives to it. You understand why fans fork over money, time, and energy to put into a fanbase that never seems to go away. Even when the game is over, fans run to social media, where they stay up till as long as 3 a.m. to argue about UConn basketball.
When you want to take away those in-game experiences, especially from young children that have yet to experience their first game or season, it becomes even worse. It becomes infuriating to know that those same children won’t be able to experience and create the memories that made their parents lifelong fans. Hearing parents talk about the topic with sadness rather than anger is justifiably aggravating. There are no other words to describe it.
But, it’s more than just season tickets as well — there’s also the effect that the price hike will have on single game tickets. Fans, or even families, will now have to compete with many of the now previous season ticket holders for single game tickets that will spike with an increase in season ticket prices as well as the increased quality of the program.
Now, it’s understandable that the UConn athletic program needs money. The program just paid former coach Kevin Ollie more than $11 million earlier this year. UConn’s athletic department overall was in a $43.5 million deficit for the 2020 fiscal year, according to The Hartford Courant. Even with the overwhelming support of fans through sold-out games and donations when the team wasn’t selling tickets, the athletic department is still in an overwhelmingly poor financial position compared to other NCAA Division 1 programs.
While the athletic department has not addressed the relation of Ollie’s settlement payment to fans’ season ticket price increase, there is certainly a high likelihood of a relation, especially considering how high that price increase is.
But when the program has to go this route to price out its fans for that extra money, you kill a considerable amount of love and support for the program. Most importantly, you nullify the support of the fans that make you that money in the first place.
Jackie Robinson once said, “Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you’re wasting your life.” It feels like the entire UConn community has embraced this statement through the thick and thin of the program with their unfading support. If there’s one thing I know that would continue to fuel the success of the program, it would be to listen to the fans.