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Ross-Ade Seating Problems Cause Headaches for Game One

What was the problem, and does Purdue have a plan to fix it?

Penn State v Purdue
Great crowd behind AOC here.
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Look, I don’t want to start this article off by bragging (but I’m going to have to). This is a pretty successful site. We do big numbers and consistently perform very well compared with the other SB Nation sites. With that comes a certain following on social media. I’m the man in charge of the site Twitter account and have been for a couple years now. We’ve got over 23K followers. It’s incredible that that many people care about what we have to say and I appreciate that each and every time I’m on Twitter to interact with fans or just post random musings.

Now, with that established I want to lay out why it matters. We are one of a handful of big name, non-University affiliated, Purdue twitter accounts. As such, people will sometimes send us bits of info or questions or even complaints about things that are going on at Purdue games that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to see or know. Game one against Penn State was one of these times.

My brother and his family have four season tickets for football. My brother, like me, wants to be in his seat for kickoff and not miss any of the game. So as I settled in at home to watch the Purdue vs. Penn State game two weeks ago I was shocked to get a text from my brother at 8:00, scheduled kickoff time, that he was still waiting to get to his seats and had been waiting for 25 minutes. He said that he tried to go down a couple sections and walk across to his assigned seats but that they were turned away by the ushers. At 8:16 he still hadn’t reached his seats and was told that the fire marshal had stopped them from getting additional people into the section and that there were no seats available. Mind you, he has season tickets for four seats in said section and was not sitting in them.

It wasn’t until 8:35 that he gave up and went down to sit in section 101 where there was available seating. He missed nearly the entirety of the first quarter just trying to get into his seat.

So, having these 23K twitter followers I wanted to determine if this was an isolated incident or if anyone else was having similar problems. It turns out my brother was not alone. We received DMs from over 30 fans, mostly season ticket holders, who were also turned away. One fan messaged us saying that their parents “season ticket holders for over 20 years” couldn’t get to their seats and ultimately were told to “go find other seats.” Others noted that policing of the student section seemed to be the problem. Our messages indicate that Landmark staff were not “posted at 106 to turn students away once that area was full so they were spilling” over into general public seating and then were “refusing to move for ticket holders.”

The problem seemed to be especially acute if you had a big group with you as a fan told us that their group of 9 tried to get to their seats but they “could barely fit 4 people for what should have been 9” seats so they decided “to split up.” This same fan described the situation as “a mess!!” The process was described by others as “a nightmare the entire first half” with hundreds of students walking across rows to get to the student section with lax enforcement of actual seating for season ticket holders. One Purdue season ticket holder who is also a Veteran noted that he ultimately had to tell some students that if they didn’t move he “would move them myself” but even then ultimately had to leave because of his PTSD and the constant piling in and squeezing. He described it as “the worst game I’ve ever attended” as a 10 year season ticket holder.

But it seems like just getting to your seat wasn’t the only problem. We also received reports and complaints of being unable to leave your seats. In essence it sounds as if fans were told, either by security or ushers or both, that if they left their seats they would be unable to get back in. This obviously is a problem for contest that lasts over 3 hours. People want to eat or drink. People NEED to be able to go to the bathroom. A ticket holder from section 105 left her seat and when trying to re-enter was told by 3-4 staff members that she was unable to come back in and their block her entrance. Ultimately she went down a section or two and returned to her seats this way. This happened to a fan in section 112 who needed to use the restroom and was told he wouldn’t be able to get back in, but as he told me, “I had to go.” Who amongst us hasn’t been there? He followed the same route and went down a section to cross over. A fan in section 107 also left to use the bathroom and was told he couldn’t get back in. Instead of cutting over he found an amenable security guard and had them escort him back to his seat.

Lest you think this was only happening to general public season ticket holders we also had students reach out. A student who was sitting in section 109 went to the bathroom in the first quarter and upon trying to return a woman who she identified as an usher yelled at her that she could not get back in. We received numerous complaints of security guards/ushers yelling or even putting their hands on fans in order to keep them from returning to their seats. Fans were often told to go to other sections including one fan from Section 109 who was told to go to 117 and sit. She didn’t want to do this though because that’s not where her seats were. She attempted to get numerous workers to help her and “either got yelled at or pushed out of the way and ignored.” Ultimately, after trying to get back to her seat for over an hour this fan got frustrated and left the stadium entirely.

Another fan was at the game with his girlfriend and after the couple exited to use the bathroom they couldn’t get back in. They were told that the student section was “at capacity” and that they wouldn’t be able to return. Frustrated, they left. One John Purdue Club member told me that after leaving to go the bathroom the officers watching the gates told him that he couldn’t return to his seats. When he asked them where he should go they told him to “figure it out.” Well, figure it out he did as he watched the rest of the game at Harry’s.

Yet more complaints came in regarding fans inability to reach their seats after heading to the bathroom. Some included fans crying because they were upset, some people’s kids were crying because they couldn’t see the game, and one fan who said he was drunk admitted that after being unable to get back to his seats he “had to watch a whole quarter drunk by myself in the concourse.” And truly, who among us can’t relate to that?

A group of 8 season ticket holders in section 112 called the situation “a nightmare” with 30+ minute waits to get back in after going to the bathroom. This fan also told me that they were denied exit of their section. Imagine, being told you can’t leave where you’re sitting. This fan also relayed a story of a student that sat near her who needed water because she thought she was going to pass out but since they weren’t letting students back in they weren’t sure what to do. As a general public season ticket holder she left to get the water but it shows how difficult this situation was. The security apparently didn’t loosen their grip until into the 4th quarter.

I reached out to Purdue last Wednesday to get their response. I gave them one week to respond, and then even extended it by a day after a follow-up email indicated that responses were coming. I received a response from Patrick Crawford, Associate Athletics Director - Strategic Communications. I asked him about the rumors and assumptions from many that Purdue had somehow oversold the student section but he assured me “[o]ur athletics department did not oversell tickets to exceed capacity for the student section,” in the season opener. He did acknowledge that Boarding passes (student season tickets) sell out fast and that students are still able to purchase tickets from the ticket office.

While he didn’t say so this to me seems like the likely culprit of the entire problem. Purdue sells 10,500 Boarding Passes and these were sold out well in advance of the season. My assumption is that students found additional tickets either through the ticket office or the secondary market and then just snuck over to the student section. I’ll admit to being guilty of this when I was a student and had friends that needed tickets. So, fair is fair, this part isn’t on Purdue.

I also wanted to know if Purdue Athletics gave explicit instructions on keeping people in and/or out of sections due to capacity. I was informed that “for the sake of safety” a decision was made to do what was necessary to keep aisle ways clear. He noted that this is especially crucial for safety and medical emergency issues. Again, fair enough. My problem here is that these things need to make sense. It seems as if they reached a conclusion that they needed to have aisles/walkways clear but failed to determine what would happen to the people blocking the aisles/walkways. Once they leave their seats they don’t simply vanish though, as noted above some got so frustrated they simply left. There should have been better communication and some forethought by Purdue into where to place these people that you aren’t letting back to their seats. Explicit instructions should have been given to ushers so that they could be communicated to fans. Hell, take them to the suites if there is available seating. Just do something concrete.

When asked what they would do to ensure this didn’t happen in the future Mr. Crawford noted that a review had been undertaken and that “notable crowd control opportunities waiting for an adjustment” were identified. While I don’t know exactly what this means he did provide concrete examples when noting that “[a]n increase in staffing and messaging toward the student section will occur during the game throughout the rest of the season.” Will this be enough? I’m not so sure. Everything seemed to work fine for the Indiana State game but that was a game against an FCS opponent. When we return to Big Ten play will be the real test. I hope new policies are implemented.

With the recent announcement of Ross-Ade renovations and the move of the student section I couldn’t help but wonder if part of the reason for the move is to isolate the student section as much as possible. Students are rowdy, students drink, students cause problems. I get all that, but students are also the heart and soul of college sports. They bring the noise, they bring the intensity, they bring the energy. So I asked Mr. Crawford if issues like what we saw during the Penn State game were one of the reasons for moving the students to the south end zone and the adjacent southeast corner. Mr. Crawford acknowledged that a “number of configurations were considered” regarding student placement before the ultimate decision was made. He was also quick to note that this move, and the completed construction, will actually “increase student section seating by an estimated 5 percent” in the years to come. Assuming that he’s basing that 5% off the 10,500 boarding passes that are sold that means that there will be student seating for 11,025 students. Meaning an increase of 525 students. Not quite as big as that 5% number makes you think but still progress.

Perhaps the most important part of his answer to my question, and the information that likely will have the most impact going forward, was when he noted that these new south end zone seats are being designed specifically with students in mind. Mr. Crawford said that this new construction “provides our athletics department a better path toward hosting and entertaining that segment of our fan base. The newly relocated south end zone patio will be uniquely positioned to handle the additional traffic that comes with a student section.”

To me this is an acknowledgment that there currently is a problem with seating in Ross-Ade and that this construction is meant to help alleviate these problems. It’s a problem Purdue has not had to face much in prior years as ticket sales dwindled during the Hope years and outright cratered under former Coach Hazell. As Purdue built its season ticket holder base back up they likely weren’t prepared for this kind of situation. Jeff Brohm has reignited the Purdue football fandom. And while Purdue took an L on the field against Penn State, and Purdue Athletics took an L in the eyes of many fans regarding their handling of seating that night, it sounds like better days, and more Ws, are on their way to Ross-Ade Stadium.

Purdue gets their next chance to prove they can do this right when the team returns home to face FAU on 9/24. However, the real test will be the game against Nebraska on 10/15 as this is the return of Big Ten football. I’ll be keeping my eyes open for issues but I hope that despite our big following we hear nothing but the sound of Hail Purdue as the team routes the Cornhuskers.