Since October 1962, Nebraska has sold out each and every home football game - a sellout streak that goes back almost 54 years. Since then, the stadium has nearly tripled in size from the original 31,000 to 87,000 today. Counting media and event staff, attendance for Husker games now approaches 90,000 for each home football game.
That sellout streak is a testament to the dedication of Nebraskans, including both current residents as well as expatriates who've moved elsewhere, but still return to cheer on the Huskers. The sellout streak has come close to ending more than once; in the early 1990s, Nebraska struggled to quickly sell the tickets returned by visiting teams from their allotment. Bob Devaney had to call on members of the business community to buy up the seats at the last minute to keep the streak going at times. After Bill Callahan struggled in the aftermath of the controversial Frank Solich dismissal, some longtime season ticketholders dropped their tickets, reportedly leading to a scramble to keep the stadium sold out in 2005. Campaigns to fill stadium expansions in 2006 and 2013 kept the sellout streak alive, but fan discontent with both Bo Pelini and Mike Riley has put pressure on the streak.
How much pressure? It's hard to gauge directly, but a review this week indicates that a significant number of seats remain unsold at this time. In recent years, Nebraska has offered season ticketholders access to an online system to move or buy additional seats. Over the years, Nebraska has always had scattered single seats that required some work to sell, but with the advent of this technology, fans now can be aware of opportunities to improve or add to their seats that they may not have even been aware of.
I first purchased season tickets in 1992, and added two more seats in 1999 in the same row. It was kind of inconvenient to have two pairs (albeit eight seats apart), but it was better than not having the seats. When the new ticketing system came online, I took advantage of the opportunity two years ago to move 10 rows closer to the field and get four seats together. I'm sure several fans have taken advantage of the opportunity to purchase adjoining seats that they may not have been been aware were now available.
So earlier this week, I went online and took a peek to see what was available this year - and was surprised by the quantity of seats available. So I spent an hour, counting section by section, adding up all the empty seats. (Or at least as best as I could...after a bad day at work, I'm sure I miscounted a few times.) The final total came up at around 2,200 seats.
I say "about"...because I did see seats marked as reserved in a shopping cart, so it was a moving target. And I'm not sure where Nebraska is with their ticketing process. Tuesday was the deadline for existing season ticketholders and boosters to make their selections, but I don't know where new customers are at. Nebraska has been advertising quite a bit this year to get people to sign up for the wait list...and I suspect that those people are now beginning to be notified that they've got a chance to become season ticket holders.
Those numbers have now been confirmed by Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln Journal-Star:
#Husker football season ticket renewal rate at 94.5 percent this year, says NU's Diane Mendenhall. About 2,000 left. Will go on sale June 1.— Brian Christopherson (@HuskerExtraBC) May 25, 2016
He also notes that this happened last year:
Nebraska annually renews around 95 percent, according to Mendenhall. #Huskers had about 1,500 season tix open to public last June. Sold fast— Brian Christopherson (@HuskerExtraBC) May 25, 2016
Based on my data, the vast majority of seats are in the end zone sections. Earlier this week, it appeared that about 700 seats were available in the south end zone and around 1,000 were in the north end zone. All of the available seats at that time required a donation, starting at $150 a seat. The sections with the most availability were section 32 in the northwest corner, section 38 in the northeast corner and section 20 in the southwest corner. Only scattered seats were available in the east and west stadiums; if you want to sit by yourself, you might even find a club seat available (for a nominal donation). This data is a couple of days old, so things may have changed since.
So is the sellout streak in danger? Truth be told, this is the greatest number of seats that have been available on the open market in many years. The athletic department has been aggressive in marketing the opportunity to purchase tickets this year, so it's premature to say that it's ending. Chances are it's not. But for fans who never thought they'd have the opportunity to purchase Nebraska football tickets, this might be the opening they've been waiting for. My gut feeling says that Memorial Stadium will be sold out again when Fresno State comes to Lincoln in September, FWIW.