An even tougher ticket
Curtaining off Hilton limits Iowa-ISU crowd
By Andy Hamilton
Iowa City Press-Citizen
Iowa State examined ways to improve its wrestling attendance when Cael Sanderson became the head coach, and the Cyclones came up with an unusual strategy -- limiting the number of fans who can attend dual meets at Hilton Coliseum.
Iowa State's home arena has room for 14,092 at capacity, but only approximately 9,000 fans will be able to get through the doors Sunday when the top-ranked Cyclones wrestle No. 4 Iowa.
Iowa State curtained off nearly one-third of the arena to create a more intimate setting for its dual meets and help boost its season-ticket sales.
"Our attendance hasn't been great, and this was one of the first things we looked at as a coaching staff, "Sanderson said. "How do we make this a more exciting environment? How do we make it more appealing for people to buy season tickets? It's just for the overall atmosphere, and that's really it. We don't have enough fans right now to use (all of) Hilton and have the atmosphere we want in every match. We knew this Iowa match would be the one exception. The only problem is this match only comes around every two years."
Sanderson said school officials discussed making more room for the Iowa dual but opted to drop the curtain. Thus, all of the tickets have been sold for a showdown that drew 13,732 last year at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Those who couldn't get a ticket can watch the 2 p.m. dual live on Iowa Public Television.
"We put a lot of thought into it, especially a year or a year and a half ago when we decided to set it up this way, "Sanderson said. "We knew it would be an issue, but my concern is just being loyal to the season ticket holders and their seats. Many of them asked when they bought season tickets, 'What about the Iowa match? Are you going to move it?' We said we weren't moving the mat."
Some argue that turning away followers doesn't benefit a sport that has been trying for years to build its following.
"Really what we're trying to do is get more people to all of our matches and make it a better experience for people, "Sanderson said. "We don't want to turn away fans. A week ago we had close to 2,000 tickets left. We were uncertain we'd even be able to sell out the set up we had. I believe it's for the best for our program and being loyal to the people who are loyal to us, and you also want to keep your environment the same for the student-athletes. That's part of home-field advantage. Switching things up for the biggest match of the year really doesn't make a whole lot of sense."
Wrestling has been known as a sport that often attracts a big walk-up crowd on the day of marquee dual meets, but all of the tickets have been sold and approximately 5,000 seats will sit empty behind a curtain Sunday. Nevertheless, the Cyclones have seen their season ticket sales double since Sanderson was promoted to head coach in the spring of 2006 and Iowa State wanted to take measures to draw bigger crowds for opponents such as Northern Illinois, Rider, Wisconsin and Oregon State.
"I don't think it was anyone's intention to keep Hawkeye fans out of the arena, "Sanderson said. "The intention was to make it a more exciting atmosphere for our fans and get our fans to come to more events and not just come to the big ones, and that's been working."
Hilton's current configuration for wrestling requires fans to purchase season tickets or have a National Cyclone Club membership to purchase tickets in the lower level for the Iowa dual. Sanderson said Iowa State lifted those restrictions in mid-November when all of the tickets in that level hadn't yet been sold.
On the surface, the ticket restrictions might seem like another Jamie Pollard strategy. The Iowa State athletics director employed a similar strategy earlier in the year when the Cyclones sold single-game tickets to every home contest except Iowa. Those who wanted tickets to the Iowa game through Iowa State had to purchase season tickets. Those who tried to get tickets from Iowa's allotment for the game were required to pay the host-school-set fee of $90 compared to the $60 fee Iowa State charged for games against Texas and Oklahoma.
Pollard has been known to get under the skin of Iowa fans. When the Cyclones won the multi-sport Cy-Hawk Series in 2005, Pollard put a billboard up approximately 25 miles from the Iowa campus proclaiming Iowa as the "Cyclone State "accompanied by a picture of Iowa State football players hoisting the Cy-Hawk Trophy.
"I give Jamie Pollard a lot of credit, "Iowa wrestling coach Tom Brands said. "He's brought it to the point where he's made some people mad on our side of the fence, and that's exactly what his intentions are. In a way, you're dealing with someone who's trying to play head games, and that's why you have to stay focused on the task at hand."
Brands said he isn't among those on the Iowa side of the fence who have been irritated by Pollard.
"I love it, "he said. "It's right up a competitor's alley. I think his dimension is a little bit like a high-level athlete."
Reach Andy Hamilton at 339-7368 or [email protected]