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How one school is using the MoviePass model to market itself to Millennials

If you follow business news at all (and maybe even if you haven't), you've likely heard of the sad tale of MoviePass. Launched in 2011, MoviePass is a subscription service where users sign up for different tiers that allowed movie lovers to attend a certain number of movies per month at a set price. Last August, though, a pair of analytics firms bought a controlling stake in the company and dropped the price of an "unlimited" subscription to $10 a month. For just a single $10 bill, MoviePass subscribers could now attend a new movie every day for a month, all at the time price as a single movie ticket.

The business model was simple: moviegoers paid MoviePass a set price, MoviePass paid the theater chain for the tickets and everyone went home happy -- as long as too many people didn't actually use the subscriptions they were paying for.

You're not going to believe this, but too many people used their subscriptions.

MoviePass's quarterly losses exploded from $3 million to $126.6 million in the span of a year, with only enough cash on hand to survive another two months. "Unlimited" subscriptions have now been limited to three movies a month, while at the same time limiting access to movies people actually want to see.

So what does any of this have to do with college sports?

This week, Rice announced a similar plan, but with a catch: this one is guaranteed not to bankrupt the athletics department. The Owls have launched Owl Access, a subscription service that guarantees tickets to all Rice sporting events to all fans under the age of 30 at just $9.99 a month.

Unlike MoviePass, Rice gets to keep all (or at least most*) of that $9.99, since it doesn't have to turn around and pay AMC or Cinemark; the school already owns the tickets.

(*Rice partnered with Ticketmaster to run the program.)

From the school's announcement:

An Owl-Access membership includes a general admission ticket to every regular season home event hosted by Rice Athletics. Each month, Owl-Access members will have promotional access to an upgraded reserved or premium seating option. The service will renew automatically on the first of each month. Members have the option to cancel at any time. Throughout the year, Owl-Access members will have the opportunity to sit with other members, receive exclusive invites to special events, and support the Owls easier than ever.

"After reviewing fan feedback and looking for the best way to get our young professional fans more involved at our home games, we developed our new monthly subscription, Owl-Access and are excited to partner with Ticketmaster to deliver this unique mobile-friendly membership," said assistant AD for ticket operations Travis Leyndyke.

Rice is selling Owl Access to a customer based that already understands it at an innate level. This is a generation that rejects cable for Netflix and Hulu, where they pay a nominal fee with the understanding they won't use a fraction of what their subscription buys them, but the content they do want to use is available to them on demand. An Owl Access subscription won't automatically start a Rice football or basketball game at 11:30 on a Wednesday night, but this is the next best thing.

Rice gets guaranteed revenue, fans reserve guaranteed tickets, and nobody goes bankrupt. It's a win, win, win.