Carlson: Why 5,000 OU football season-ticket holders didn't get seats — and why it's a total bummer
James and Linda Love punctuated some of the biggest moments of their lives with OU football games.
OU-Texas in 1984.
OU-Penn State in the Orange Bowl after the 1985 season.
“OU football is simply a part of our family life that we enjoy, look forward to and partake of,” James said. “We scheduled our wedding in 1985 around football and have scheduled life events avoiding football conflicts ever since.”
The Loves are willing to do whatever it takes to see their Sooners.
That made the news they got a couple weeks ago hard to stomach — they aren't going to be getting OU football season tickets this season.
As OU prepares for its season opener Saturday against Missouri State, thousands of Sooner fans are coming to grips with the reality they won’t be able to be there.
The coronavirus pandemic forced OU to reduce its seating capacity to only 25%. There are several thousand people like the Loves who wanted season tickets, being willing to wear masks in the stadium and sit wherever was needed to socially distance — “Opting out was NEVER a consideration for us,” James said — but they were denied.
“I did not take the news well,” he admitted.
They weren’t alone.
About 5,000 OU football season-ticket holders who wanted seats this season can't be accommodated safely, said Patrick Nowlin, OU associate athletic director for revenue generation and ticketing. He understands the frustration because he understands the passion of Sooner fans.
“One of the biggest takeaways from the last six months is how ingrained they are with OU athletics,” he said. “It’s more than just a sporting event. It’s something that they do with their family.”
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He knows it hurts people to lose that, whether they didn’t get tickets after opting in or opting out to start with.
About 60% of OU season-ticket holders opted out this season — 38,400 of the 64,000 total.
Once OU knew how many people wanted season tickets, it went about devising a seating configuration that would keep fans safe.
A wide swath of people working in the athletic department teamed with Dr. Dale Bratzler, OU’s chief COVID officer, and Populus, the sports-centric architectural firm that most recently at OU designed the south end zone renovation. They came up with a plan allowing season-ticket holders on the same account to sit together while leaving at least three seats between the next group and an empty row of seats in front of them and behind them.
When all was said and done, OU had space for just under 21,000 season-ticket holders.
“We did everything we could to try to create as many opportunities as we could,” Nowlin said.
The athletic department even went to administrators and coaches who have football tickets in their contracts and asked for their seats.
“We all know that we’re in this together,” Nowlin said. “Our internal tickets reduced significantly this year because we’re trying everything we can to make sure that we get in as many of our fans who raised their hand and said, ‘I want to get into the stadium.’”
“We had more people opt in than we had possible seating for.”
OU used its priority-points system to determine who got tickets, much as it has for OU-Texas and postseason games in the past. Season-ticket holders earn points in a variety of ways. How much you donate beyond the cost of the tickets accrues points, but so does how long you’ve been a season-ticket holder and how often you attend games.
Ronnie Thatcher was among the season-ticket holders who got his seats. The Oklahoma City resident has had four seats in Section 18 since 1994, and he hasn’t missed a home game in 30 years.
He didn’t think twice about opting in.
“Not a tough choice at all,” he said.
He’ll be sitting in Section 12 instead of his usual section this season, and while he suspects that will be weird, he’s happy to be able to still go to games.
Ditto for Michael Phillips.
He and his wife will be sitting this season in Section 13 in the northwest corner of the stadium instead of their normal spot in Section 9, but the Plano, Texas, residents have no problem with the temporary relocation.
“If we can safely do something that approaches normalcy, such as attending games in Norman like we normally do each year, we’re all for it,” Phillips said. “Had we not been fortunate enough to get in this year, we fully understood it and had no issue with that possibility.
“We’re all simply trying to get through this together.”
Hoping to get through the pandemic with a little football in their lives is one of the reasons fans who didn’t get tickets are bummed.
David Williamson first started going to OU football games in 1973. His dad managed the JC Penney on Main Street at the time, and the family got their tickets for several years from the Norman Transcript. They bought season tickets in 1976, and since moving to Dallas in 1986, Williamson has driven to Norman for games, always sitting in Section 2.
But not this year. He was denied his season tickets.
“I really wanted to be part of the atmosphere,” he said.
Williamson wants it so badly he plans to drive to Norman on Saturday anyway and try to buy a ticket from a scalper.
“If I don’t get tickets,” he said, “I’ll find a TV.”
Losing that routine, that normalcy, that tradition is what James and Linda Love hate most about not getting the season tickets they’ve had since 1990. Both are OU alums — James was a RUF/NEK in 1980-85 — and since 1989, they have only missed two home games.
Sitting in Section 5, Row 2 just behind the Sooner bench, they arrive at least an hour before kickoff and stay until the final strains of The Pride’s post-game concert.
“Outside of my family,” James said, “there is nothing that I am more passionate about than my beloved alma mater.”
The Loves considered buying tickets on the secondary market, but even looking at tickets added to their frustration. They wanted tickets and didn’t get them, and now, some people who got tickets are selling them?
James Love said they’re likely to just watch on TV.
“Our fall routine from the past 36 years is not going to happen,” he said, adding that at least their son, JD, an OU student, got a ticket and will continue to attend games.
“It will be a tremendous change for us.”
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.