The Rock Hill School District will examine how it manages football game passes after some fans with district-issued passes had to buy tickets for Northwestern’s Aug. 23 game against Byrnes, said board chariman Jim Vining and Superintendent Kelly Pew.
Administrators and school board members also plan to discuss how the policy on passes is communicated.
At the Aug. 23 game, which was played in District 3 Stadium and broadcast on ESPNU, board members and Pew saw people holding district-issued passes who had to buy a ticket to enter the game. These passes include “Club 65” passes for people 65 and older and “VIP” passes, which are given to select people such as teachers of the year.
Passes issued by Northwestern High School and the South Carolina High School League were honored.
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Board member Ginny Moe said she encountered people who were confused about why their passes weren’t honored and were scrambling for cash to try to get in the stadium to see the game.
Two days before the game, a message was posted on the district’s website and Facebook page stating no district-issued passes would be honored at the game “due to the district’s contract with ESPN.” Similarly, Moe said people told her they couldn’t use their passes because the game was “ESPN-sponsored.”
Any reason for not honoring passes that involved ESPN is simply “not true,” said Northwestern High School athletic director Lauren West.
“If that’s what was communicated at the gate, that was incorrect,” she said.
The contract Northwestern officials signed to broadcast the game confirms West’s position. The contract, released to The Herald by the district, did not mention ticket sales or passes. It granted sole responsibility for managing District 3 Stadium to Northwestern High School.
The contract was signed by Paragon Marketing, the agency that handles contracts for televised high school games on the ESPN networks.
Several years ago, West said, the high schools in Rock Hill established a precedent governing the practice of honoring passes at different types of games. To help control capacity at large, popular games like those shown on the ESPN networks, the decision was made to not honor district-issued passes.
“When we play these games, capacity at these stadiums becomes an issue,” West said.
The maximum capacity for the Aug. 23 game was set at 8,500.
Once capacity is set, the school then factors in the number of season passes sold by the school, faculty passes, the average attendance of S.C. High School League pass-holders and the number of extra people they know will be attending, like members of the marching bands, West said. From there, school officials determine the number of spots they have available and if district-issued passes, which are free, will be honored.
Other games, like intra-city games, have pass limitations, too, West said. At Friday night’s Rock Hill-South Pointe High game, for instance, only faculty members from South Pointe and Rock Hill could get in without paying for a ticket. All other district faculty members had to purchase a ticket to help control capacity. District-issued passes were also honored.
“At a game like that, when you can’t predict the number of people coming without passes, you could end up with the problem of not everyone getting into the game,” said Pew, the superintendent.
But the message about district-issued passes not being honored clearly didn’t make it to all fans.
The administration, the board and the athletics directors for the three high schools need to have a conversation now to try to make sure any miscommunication or confusion about honoring passes won’t happen again, Pew said. The topic has been added to school board’s September work session.
Pew said she is unaware of any official district policy regulating passes and honoring passes.
“The district and the board want the support of our community and that’s why we’re discussing it so we don’t have that miscommunication again,” she said.
One option may be to create a way for district pass holders to pick up their game tickets in advance so the school can know how many people to anticipate, Pew said.
The school board is waiting to hear what administrators say about the topic at the September board meeting, said Vining, the school board chairman.
“We want to know the decisions that were made and what we’re going to do moving forward,” he said. “We just need to have the discussion.”