Basketball preview: Lottery system considers all students loyal

By Gwenn Barney

When it comes to getting Pitt basketball tickets, senior Asher Finkel might be one of the… When it comes to getting Pitt basketball tickets, senior Asher Finkel might be one of the luckiest guys on campus. Every time Finkel has applied for a ticket to join the Oakland Zoo, he’s ended up in the stands.

“In four-and-a-half years, I’ve never been turned down,” Finkel said. “If I’ve had low levels of loyalty points, I’ve gotten a ticket, and if I have high levels, I’ve gotten a ticket.”

Finkel’s experience plays into a common myth shared around the Pitt community that loyalty points — awarded to help determine who receives the limited, yet highly demanded, men’s basketball tickets — don’t matter.

For each basketball game, 1,400 tickets are reserved for the Pitt student section, said Justin Acierno, director of marketing and ticket operations for Pitt’s Athletic Department. When fewer than 1,400 students apply for tickets to a game, there’s no problem — every student who applies online receives a ticket.

Problems arise when popular games, such as those against Big East rivals West Virginia, Syracuse and Villanova, come to the Petersen Events Center. These games often lead to more than 1,400 students applying online for tickets. In such cases, everything becomes a matter of chance.

Everyone who requested a ticket is entered into a lottery, and the more loyalty points a student accumulates by attending Pitt athletic events, the more times he’s entered into the lottery. The additional lottery slots boost his chances of scoring one of the 1,400 tickets.

The part of the lottery system that frazzles some die-hard Panther fans is that it’s randomized: While a person with five lottery points has five times as many chances to be drawn for a ticket as a person with one lottery point, there is still the potential for the person with one loyalty point to be drawn and the person with five loyalty points not receive a ticket.

This statistical anomaly isn’t just theoretical talk — it actually happens on occasion. Those occasions have led to the now widespread assumption that loyalty points don’t matter.

Oakland Zoo President Eric Haybarger said he sometimes hears criticisms of the lottery system.

“I’ve heard a few complaints, but not too many because usually if you don’t get in the first round, then you get in the second round or third round,” Haybarger said.

When students are awarded a ticket but don’t claim it within two days, the ticket is released back into a second lottery or third instant-access round.

“They think just because they have more loyalty points, they should get a ticket. Because of randomization, it doesn’t always work out that way,” Haybarger said.

Acierno emphasized the irregularity of students with few or even zero points earning big-time tickets.

“Rarely do we see somebody with zero points get a ticket to high-demand games,” Acierno said.”It happens based on probability. Someone with zero points does get a ticket now and then, but it’s rare.”

The Pitt Athletic Department first implemented a digital point-keeping system that would allow for the assignment of basketball game tickets based on fan loyalty in 2005 — three years after the opening of the Petersen Events Center.

Students earn one loyalty point for each men’s basketball game for which more students request a ticket than there are seats. Two loyalty points are given to students who attend games where fans do not fill all of the seats.

On five occasions this year, four loyalty points will be awarded for attendance at women’s games: Nov. 18 vs. Loyola, Dec. 7 vs. Georgetown, Jan. 21 vs. West Virginia, Feb. 21 vs. Connecticut, and Feb. 25 vs. Seton Hall.

Senior Michael Backman praised the awarding of more points for attendance at women’s games.

“I guess it makes sense to give more points for events less people come to because each person is more valuable,” he said.

But students lose a loyalty point if they claim a ticket and then don’t attend the game. The software, which was created by TicketReturn, keeps track of how many points each student earns.

Pitt basketball is one of many athletic organizations to use TicketReturn. The software service also counts University of Maryland, West Virginia University football and numerous minor league baseball teams as clients.

Opinions about the fairness of the loyalty lottery system vary, but most students seem to agree the system is mostly a good institution.

Sophomore Blake Carroll praised loyalty distribution for showing students that they’re awarded for their fandom but suggested a slight change to the system.

“If you have the highest number of loyalty points available, you should automatically get tickets,” Carroll said. “Whatever the max number is, within a deviation of like 10 of that number, you should be guaranteed a ticket.”