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COLUMBUS -- Ohio State football fans are experiencing the rarest of phenomena lately.
A buyer's market.
Tickets to Buckeyes games -- one of the toughest to obtain in sports during the last decade -- are becoming increasingly available to a broader swath of fans.
Despite the tide of excitement generated by the hire of coach Urban Meyer, a light nonconference schedule, the sluggish economy, and the program's bowl ban have combined to temper demand for the second straight year.
A school official said 1,500 tickets officially remain on sale for No. 16 OSU's noon game Saturday against heavy underdog Alabama-Birmingham while the secondary market is inundated with thousands more -- many selling at prices well below the $70 face value.
StubHub, an online ticket resale company, listed more than 950 tickets starting at $35 as of Tuesday afternoon. Virtually every national broker had two seats together for $50 each or less.
Two weeks earlier, the announced attendance of 104,745 for Ohio State's game against Central Florida marked the first Ohio Stadium crowd below 105,000 since a late-season game against New Mexico State in 2009.
"It's hard to give away some of these [early] games," said Ryan Forgacs, president of Main Event Ticket Service in Columbus.
Ohio State officials are not alarmed. By any measure, the Buckeyes' business side is thriving. More than 100,000 will pour into Ohio Stadium for the 72nd straight game on Saturday, the same way they will the rest of the season. Ohio State's home games against Nebraska and Michigan are sold out, and only scattered single seats remain for visits from Purdue and Illinois, said Brett Scarbrough, OSU's senior director of ticketing.
Per usual, Ohio State is on track to finish second nationally in attendance behind only Michigan. (The Buckeyes averaged 105,278 and 105,231 fans the past two years, respectively.)
Demand, though, is no longer busting at the seams. This season, alumni sales dropped for the fourth straight year while students did not swipe up their allotment.
Alumni Association spokesman Jay Hansen said 44,000 dues-paying members applied for tickets as recently as 2008; this year, 33,436 applied -- down from 35,490 in 2011.
Students, meanwhile, bought 14,535 of 15,556 available tickets to the four nonconference games and 26,057 of 28,333 tickets for the Big Ten games, Scarbrough said. The ticket packages cost $256 for all eight games and $128 for just the conference schedule.
"The main thing we look at is season ticket demand, and actually we're up a little bit," said Scarbrough, noting OSU sold about 50,000 season packages to donors. "That's really where we gauge. With students and alumni, it's a big unknown year to year."
The uncertainty extends to those who earn their living off OSU football. Brokers said the scandal that cost former Jim Tressel his job before last season took a steep toll. Matt Colahan, manager of Tickets Galore in Dublin, Ohio, said demand for OSU tickets last year was the lowest he's seen in at least two decades.
"A lot of people mention the economy," Forgacs said. "I don't think that's it. Buckeyes fans are willing to spend when the team is rolling. Demand after we won the national championship in 2002 was as high as I've ever seen. It was awesome. From 2002 to 2010, we had the same large group of people buying season tickets. As soon as [former coach Jim] Tressel was let go, several of those fell off the bandwagon."
Many fans returned this season, and he believes it is only a matter of time before the Buckeyes money machine is rolling again. Forgacs is looking forward to a 2014 schedule that includes home dates against Virginia Tech and Michigan.
"We're going to get back there," he said. "Maybe not this year, but looking ahead two years from now, when you look at the schedule ... "
Contact David Briggs at: email@example.com, or 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.