A Clever Compromise to Salvage the Crowd at the 2024 US Olympic Swimming Trials

Yesterday, I wrote a report about the 2024 US Olympic Swimming Trials in Indianapolis and the sleepy ticket sales so far for the sport’s first foray into a football stadium.

When I began gathering the data for that article, it wasn’t intended to be a treatise on ticket prices, but it became one as the feedback from Twitter users was, generally, that the tickets were way too expensive and that was making it harder for families to justify the cost to attend if their kids weren’t actually racing in the meet.

One user, Peter Moore, a swim guy who works in Finance, floated the idea that is was “price discrimination,” that the plan all along was to capture the people willing to pay early, then to lower the prices as the event comes closer. And that idea makes sense coming from the most capitalist of industries. That game, though, is dangerous in a sport managed by non-profits, where goodwill is the primary asset for your continued existence. Peter likewise acknowledged later in the thread that aggressive price discrimination here could backfire.

The early purchasers are:

  1. your biggest donors, and
  2. the families of your best athletes.

Those are two groups who could, rightfully, feel as though they were hustled if ticket prices drop substantially down the line. The current prices have skyrocketed from past Trials meets in a basketball arena in Omaha. The worst seats in Indy (which are significantly worse than the worst seats in Omaha) cost almost as much as the almost-best seats in Omaha.

While paying $200 for a family of four to attend a sporting event is, now, closer to the norm than not, the challenge is the run of swimming. If I’m local to Indy, I would absolutely shell out $50/ticket to take my family to a finals session. One final session. I’d love if those seats weren’t 600 level seats, but I’d probably do that. If I’m traveling, though, and investing in the trip and the hotel room, I’m going for at least 3 nights, and that’s when the costs really start to spiral.

Perhaps there’s still a flood of 20,000 people waiting to fill Lucas Oil Stadium, and this won’t be a problem come March or April next year. But, based on conversations I’m having, it seems more-than-likely that the flood isn’t coming.

As discussed in yesterday’s article, depending on the cost of Lucas Oil, this could still be a net-winner for USA Swimming financially. But there’s another goodwill risk if the meet feels flat because of a cavernous, half-of-a-half-full stadium. The meets in Omaha brought a new level of excitement, full of fans, with roars unlike most have ever heard at a swim meet injecting energy into the environment.

And I don’t know if that’s a cost, but it costs something.

So how can we balance those things? The likely need to reduce prices to fill the arena, and the goodwill?

Fundraiser Tickets

The idea is pretty straightforward: offer USA Swimming member clubs tickets to sell as fundraisers. Basically, give clubs access to the tickets at a big discount, and let them resell to their members as a markup to raise money.

An example:

600 level tickets currently run for about $500 for a full-session pass. Offer USA Swimming clubs access to those tickets for $200, and then they can sell to members for $350. USA Swimming wins, the meet wins, the clubs win, the families win. And because the tickets are a “different thing,” a fundraiser, not pure capitalism, and ‘part of the mission,’ you reduce the risk of hurt feelings.

The first-level benefits of this plan are pretty straight-forward. We can quibble about what the right dollar amount is, but I think on a surface level, it just works.

But here’s how this fits into the bigger picture:

Remember Riley Overend’s report about teams exploring moving vast swaths of their membership to AAU, which is cheaper and generally easier than USA Swimming new SWIMS rollout?

USA Swimming’s general pushback on that idea, behind closed doors, has been to remind their stakeholders that AAU can offer cheaper rates because the’re not responsible for funding the US National Team. USA Swimming is pushing a narrative that if teams leave, USA Swimming takes a hit, but so do the heroes of the sport.

This would be a magnificent reminder to those clubs about the connections to the Olympians that USA Swimming provides. The access, the appearances, the autograph sessions, the pipeline.

The dream.

At a moment where USA Swimming needs a win with its member clubs, and where USA Swimming really needs to remind the sport of their prestige and cachet, offering a fundraiser that the AAU could never, offering a connection to the Olympics, which is the dream that fills up swim teams, is more valuable than any ticket.

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1 month ago

For me, it is price..it’s not about ” I don’t want to pay those ridiculous prices, it’s I CANT pay those ridiculous prices. The money is not there.
I am not alone in this, inflation on a fixed income is brutal. I never thought I would ever say, that I can’t afford to attend a swim meet!!!

Reply to  Susan
1 month ago

I agree with you 100%!!

1 month ago

I was at nationals in Indy this year. Great sports town and fun place to go out for dinner. I would say materially better than Omaha and I liked going there. I have tickets for trials but solely because of family. If it weren’t for that I wouldn’t be going.

USA Swimming did a great job setting up the IUPUI, but even that much smaller stadium was pretty empty even for finals. I have no idea why they aren’t using the basketball stadium then prove out that they need something bigger. I know I over paid for tix But I mostly bummed that the atmosphere in the stadium is going to be muted and it is going to look empty.

1 month ago

? Is there still such a thing as AAU swimming? Although they ran the show back in my days, I thought US Swimming replaced them entirely?

1 month ago

I don’t know whose decision it was to make the ticket prices but whoever did it failed miserably! If the goal was to fill the stadium, then why in the world would you make the tickets this expensive? It makes a heck of a lot more sense to make them cheaper than Omaha, so that more people would go for more days. I know people who have an Olympian as their child who didn’t buy tickets because they were so expensive! Are you kidding me? It’s embarrassing. I bought the dang tickets, but I am very very disappointed in the way that this is going…they need to cut the ticket prices and refund the people who bought all session passes… Read more »

Reply to  Swimfan
1 month ago

Because the goal wasn’t and isn’t to fill the stadium?

The Grand Inquisitor
1 month ago

While we’re at it, here’s another shady idea: just make the the time cuts slower which would allow more swimmers into the meet, thus compelling more people to pay big $ just to watch their family member compete. The ultimate “pay to play” event!

The Swammer
Reply to  The Grand Inquisitor
1 month ago

Ok this is actually hilarious. Have all the fastest heats go first in prelims and have prelims sessions last all day up until the finals warmup starts!! MAXIMUM CAPACITY. If money is the goal might as well go all the way 😂

1 month ago

The price structure for a FOOTBALL STADIUM is just ridiculous. And, NO, I won’t be going to Indy, but I did go to Omaha – twice. A world of difference, and indy is NOT the winner in my book. I’ll watch Trials on the Tube or Streaming or whatever. It CAN’T be more expensive than being there. PS: I’ve already got my tickets for Paris 2024 purchased in their very fair, reasonable lottery, so that’s part of why Indy is not going to happen for me.

The Swammer
1 month ago

Most swim families are middle class and have multiple kids. This is outrageous and so stupid for a sport that already struggles to get viewers.

Setting the price this high is shady AF. Does USA swimming not value it’s supporters??? Did USA Swimming pay way too much to reserve this stadium to draw more attendees only to backhand supporters with high priced tickets?? Unreal. It actually makes me so sad. I feel especially bad for the families that shelled out because they’re kids are competing, only to see prices potentially lowered in the future.

I have no idea who makes these decisions, but it’s not someone who is aware of the financial situation that most Americans are in… Read more »

This Guy
1 month ago

The value of something is the amount someone is willing to pay. Pretty simple strategy in pricing terms but you don’t typically see it for event pricing which makes this a little more unique. I’m all for it and it should work out better than a fixed price strategy

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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