The University of Notre Dame routinely manages and sells nearly 80,000 tickets for each of its home football games.
So handling orders for 13,000 tickets for a single game should be a piece of cake, right?
Yet it’s greatly magnified because this is no ordinary football game — it’s a College Football Playoff semifinal to be played Saturday at the Cotton Bowl in AT&T Stadium in North Texas.
And so there is particular interest in the availability of those tickets.
This marks the first time Notre Dame has appeared in the CFP, so the format is new for the Irish. It’s compounded by the short turnaround to the Jan. 7 title game in Santa Clara, California, requiring all four semifinalists to pre-sell tickets for the championship contest.
So how did Notre Dame athletics attack this challenge? By working off the roadmap created six years ago from the Bowl Championship Series and then by utilizing technology to a degree never previously accomplished by the Irish ticket operation.
According to Notre Dame assistant athletics director for ticketing John Breeden, the University began by utilizing its all-digital e-mail and online ticketing system to send and post applications two to three weeks before the end of the football regular season.
“We posted every bowl game that Notre Dame was eligible for, including the playoffs, all the way down to the Atlantic Coast Conference tie-in games,” says Breeden.
The rub here is that Notre Dame was ticketing two games simultaneously — with season-ticket members, contributing alumni and parents of current undergraduate students in that offering that went to 55,000 customers.
The deadline for that group was the Friday before the CFP pairings were announced Dec. 2.
Says Breeden, “That way we could turn around the lottery as quickly as possible for people to make travel plans as quickly as possible. We actually had Cotton Bowl results out the day after the announcement.”
By Wednesday all student ticket results had been announced and on Friday credit cards were charged for tickets.
Adds Breeden, “At the same time, we were running the lottery for the national championship game and by that same Friday (Dec. 7), less than five days after the announcement, you knew if you had tickets to the Cotton Bowl or the national championship or both. None of the other teams had results available that quickly.”
Cotton Bowl tickets were shipped Dec. 12.
All national championship tickets are mobile tickets, so recipients received instructions on access and potential transfer, including access to a 20-hour-per-day hotline.
“That’s a change for our fans,” says Breeden. “They’re historically used to having hard tickets in hand. But it is something that is mandated by the CFP. Talking with other institutions who went through this — and this is the second year they’ve done all mobile — there is a learning curve.
“Once people get logged in it’s fairly simple to use. You don’t have to worry about losing your tickets. You can transfer them to someone else. You don’t have to worry about the holidays and shipping them off. You can pretty much manage your tickets from your phone. It’s the way of the world now, especially in professional sports.”
Both Notre Dame and Clemson received Cotton Bowl allotments of 13,000 tickets — and the national championship game allotment is 20,000.
Taco Bell pays for 500 students to attend the games for free (both the semifinals and the title game). For the Cotton Bowl, Notre Dame allocated another 1,500 tickets to students, not counting nearly 500 band members who will be in attendance. For the national championship game, 1,500 Notre Dame students received tickets (including the 500 paid by Taco Bell).
From the Notre Dame standpoint, there was no shortage of demand for Cotton Bowl tickets.
Says Breeden, “The national championship game — and this is true for all teams — typically is less demanded because of the uncertainty around it. The good thing was that Anthony Travel, while it didn’t have any tickets through our office or through athletics, did put together some travel packages for the championship game that allowed fans to place a refundable deposit for booking hotels and airfare.”
Breeden adds that the CFP semifinal game “was described to us as kind of your traditional bowl game and it has played out to be that way. The difficult part is you’re also planning for the national championship concurrently — and that holds true for the football office, too.”
2018 also represents the first time Notre Dame has played a game of this magnitude with its Vivid Seats relationship in place. Through the Notre Dame Ticket Exchange powered by Vivid Seats fans who were unsuccessful in the lottery were still able to secure tickets to the game.
“That gives people options,” say Breeden. “In 2012 there really weren’t a lot of dependable options, and I think people have gotten comfortable with the Notre Dame Ticket Exchange. It gives people who weren’t able to get tickets in the lottery an outlet.
“All of this is less frantic than in 2012 for a number of reasons. One, I think we were better prepared this time. Maybe even over-prepared. A second factor is that the online system, which was fairly new in 2012, is fairly routine now.”
Breeden expects a strong Notre Dame presence at AT&T Stadium on Saturday, in part because of the large Irish alumni presence in Texas and the Dallas area.
If Notre Dame defeats Clemson, Breeden will kick the next step into action, charging credit cards and beginning the education process for use of mobile tickets in Santa Clara.
That would mean some extra holiday-time work for the ticket office staff.
If it comes to that, they won’t mind at all.
John Heisler, senior associate athletics director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 1978. A South Bend, Indiana, native, he is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame. He is the author, co-author or editor of 12 books (one a New York Times bestseller) and editor of the award-winning “Strong of Heart” series.