Sept. 15, 2006
By Chris Masters
Josh Berlo has been a member of the Notre Dame athletics ticketing staff since January of 2000, when he came to South Bend to not only serve as an intern, but also work towards his MBA (which he earned from Notre Dame in 2004). In his current role as director of ticket operations, Berlo maintains a position that holds a tremendous amount of responsibility on a year-round basis. Never has that been more true that in the time leading up to the 2006 football season, where record numbers of Irish football fans requested tickets for one of the more highly-anticipated seasons in recent memory.
Assistant sports information director Chris Masters had the opportunity to sit down with Berlo and touch on a variety of ticket-related issues at Notre Dame and the challenges he and his staff (which includes 12 full-time employees and a pool of 30 part-time workers) face entering the 2006 season.
Masters: After the success of the Irish football team a year ago, this season has become one of even greater promise. Talk about what goes into preparing for the 2006 season from a ticketing standpoint.
Berlo: “It’s without question the highest demand that we’ve had on record and without a doubt the highest that I’ve seen in my time here at Notre Dame. We set multiple records at the same time, including the highest and second-highest single-game ticket demand in school history (66,670 for the Sept. 9 Penn State game; 61,631 for today’s Michigan game for an alumni lottery pool of approximately 30,000). The amount of processing we’ve had to do behind the scenes has increased exponentially – we had a 37-percent increase in the number of applications received this year versus last year. We use the ticket lottery as a benchmark of demand because it’s pretty quantifiable and the numbers were just staggering. We doubled the amount of refunds we did for the lottery, and not only did we set records on the ticket lottery for the season, but also for the Blue-Gold Game back in the spring and the Fiesta Bowl in January. So pretty much everything we have done in regards to football and with every measure of demand we have, has been, in some way, shape or form, record-setting. That includes the amount of hours worked, the number of people we have on the job, and resources we’ve had to throw at it.”
Masters: With this unprecedented level of demand, how did you and your staff handle the added challenge?
Berlo: “Perhaps the best story I can tell relates to this year’s ticket lottery. Typically in early May, we’ll shift into a 12-hour processing cycle (with the office open weekdays from 7 a.m.-7 p.m.) and do that for about two to three weeks. It tends to be long and tiresome, but it’s very accurate and very efficient, which are both important characteristics of good customer service. This year, we started it earlier, worked 14-hour days, and finished it later than we ever have before. Initially, people may have thought it was due to problems, but it really was based on sheer volume. And the end result was it was the fastest and most accurately that we’ve ever processed our applications, which was a real accomplishment for the office.”
Masters: When you talk about all the requests that have come in for this season, there are going to be some pitfalls that go along with that. What are some of the major problems that your office has had to deal with thus far?
Berlo: “Certainly there was some disappointment from people who didn’t win as many tickets in the lottery as they had hoped for or won historically, which was essentially just a factor of demand. We understand that disappointment and what those people are going through. Notre Dame is a very important place to many, many people and being able to come back to campus is important to them. It is the mission of the lottery to enable as many alums as possible to come back. At the same time, it is a fixed quantity and there are many important constituency groups of the University that we’re charged with making sure have access to tickets.”
Masters: Another problem that has become more prevalent in recent years seems to be the rise in counterfeit tickets. How does your office deal with that issue?
Berlo: “We’ve had counterfeits, at least during my tenure, three or four times, including last year. For close to seven or eight years, we’ve had security features built into our tickets, and this year, we’ve enhanced those to the point where there are now seven separate security features in the tickets. I won’t mention them all, but one of the main ones is a 3-D interlocking ND hologram with a pinwheel inside and some other security verbiage. This has become one of the toughest things to counterfeit because it’s along the same lines as the hologram you see on your credit card. It’s very hard to truly counterfeit our tickets. That’s not to say that people don’t try. To the untrained eye, a ticket may look like it’s valid. We try to put the word out that counterfeiting does happen from time to time and give people an idea of what to look for. Does it have a fuzzy cut? Do the fonts (type styles) not match? Does it look like it’s gotten wet and dried out? Is it too slick and too smooth and feel like it came off a laser printer? If it doesn’t look professionally done, it’s more than likely counterfeit. We use probably the best ticket printer in the world. We also tell people not to buy tickets from anyone other than the University. Now we understand that does happen, and we do have people out there, specifically an undercover detail that goes out, looks for these things and tries to stop them as early as possible. Counterfeiting does happen, and we just encourage people to know who they’re buying tickets from if they choose to go down that road. Be very, very cautious and take the time to inspect the product carefully before you buy anything. Along those same lines, there has been an increase in fraud, where people use the Internet via a blog or message board posting to offer up tickets they either don’t have and will never send you, or they’re trying to get an up-front deposit out of you or something of that nature. Again, the same warning applies that `buyer beware’ – be very careful, think about what you’re doing and try to vet the source as much as you can. Ticket frauds and counterfeiting are two of the downsides of having a high level of demand.”
Notre Dame fans line up early at the Notre Dame Stadium ticket windows to get their tickets to catch the Irish in action.
Masters: What kind of recourse do victims of counterfeiting and fraud have?
Berlo: “First and foremost, they should contact their local law enforcement agency. Counterfeiting and fraud are crimes and they should certainly report them to the proper authorities. Our Notre Dame police force will work with other jurisdictions to try and prosecute to stop folks from doing this. It’s important as a University that we try and take an active role in limiting this. We don’t want them to be victims of crime. We are working with other local police agencies so that, in and around gameday, we can do what we can so that if we catch someone, we have the steps in place to go ahead and prosecute them.”
Masters: One act that, while not technically a crime, certainly has become an issue with Notre Dame fans is the sale of tickets to opposing fans, especially following the 2000 game vs. Nebraska. Are there steps in place to counteract something like that?
Berlo: “First off, we don’t have a public sale and just open up our tickets. So, initially, all of our tickets are going into the hands of our folks. We do have a contract where each opponent gets 5,000 tickets and we don’t sell any additional tickets to the visiting team. We also don’t sell tickets to ticket brokers or agencies that just sell them to the highest bidder. We sell tickets to our fans, our alums, our season ticket holders, our staff members and our students – the people that should be coming and cheering for Notre Dame. We try and get the word out that folks should come to the games and support the team, maintain that home field advantage and take pride in the team. And, if you’re not going, make sure that whomever you allow to go or sell your tickets at face value to is going to support Notre Dame.”
Masters: Specifically, there have been problems with staff and students selling their tickets and those ending up in the wrong hands. Talk a bit about that issue.
Berlo: “For the past five years, we’ve had a policy in place that prohibits the sale of tickets for more than face value. We try to enforce that to the best of our ability. We do monitor about 20-30 web sites, along with our undercover gameday detail on campus, because you’re not allowed to sell tickets on campus. We also monitor classified ads and periodically, we will actually purchase tickets. In the last three years, we’ve caught over 2,400 tickets and this year alone, we’ve caught 800 tickets, 400 of which we were able to stop the customer from receiving them and re-sell those tickets to alums who didn’t win in the lottery. So, we do have a process in place and have people in place who are dedicated to that task among their many other responsibilities, and we’re doing everything we can to limit it and curb it.”
Masters: What’s the biggest misconception people have about the Notre Dame Athletics Ticket Office?
Berlo: “I think people just need to know that it’s a place where there are a dozen people working very, very hard to serve all of our customers from many different groups as well as we can. Our greatest challenge is that most entities can solve the problem with product. If you purchase a consumer product and there’s a problem or you don’t like it, you have the ability to get more or to issue a refund. Quite often, we don’t have the ability to do that because we’re always sold out. At Notre Dame, there are really only two kinds of demand – high demand and higher demand. So it’s a challenge that we can’t just solve with more product. We really have to rely on our staff to use good customer service and we do understand that this place is very special to people. We believe that ourselves and try to be the best ticket office that we can be and the best one in the country. We face a lot of unique challenges – no one else in the country runs a lottery the way we do, no one else handles the amount of tickets and paperwork that we do because of the lottery. We’re also not season ticket-based and we’re not selling to a small, select group for tickets to every home game. We’ve got more customers than anyone else. So people need to know that we’re working very hard to help them. That’s why we have the facilities and resources that we do and that we really do want people to come out and enjoy the experience.”