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Minnesota Football Season Tickets: Increased Donations - The Reaction

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Let's skip by the HOT TAKES and talk about the increased donation news rationally.

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

As I'm sure most of you know by now, Minnesota has announced a plan to increase seating donations on most Gopher Football season tickets. I know a lot of folks are upset about this change and that's understandable. What I'd like to do is go through what the U has laid out as it's case for the increases, what it means for season ticket holders, some pro's and con's, and our staff thoughts on the matter. Before we get started, I'd like to note that TDG member Drysil also put together a FanPost with his thoughts. Please give it a read!

The Announcement

Let's go to the message from athletic director Norwood Teague that was included in the recent email sent by the U. As we go through the email, I'm going to give my take on what I think it means.

We are announcing adjustments to scholarship seating donations associated with football season tickets. These adjustments will be spread over each of the next three seasons and will increase scholarship seating donation levels in the stadium and expand the number of sections that fall within scholarship seating. This announcement affects all season ticket holders who currently make an annual scholarship seating donation with their seat purchase, as well as any season ticket holders sitting in a chairback seat in the lower or upper bowl, those sitting in any bench seating in the stadium's lower bowl, and those in the first nine rows of bench seating in the upper bowl.

If you're already paying a yearly donation it will be getting bigger. And some folks who don't have to pay donations now will find their seats in a new donation zone.

These adjustments are necessary. Most Big Ten schools and FBS schools in major metropolitan areas adjust the price of their tickets, which includes the seat-associated donation, on a regular basis. We have made only one modest increase to our ticket prices and have not adjusted our scholarship seating donation levels since TCF Bank Stadium opened in 2009. Not adjusting our donation levels has put us at a significant disadvantage in serving our student-athletes.

We're not raising as much donation money as our peer Big Ten institutions. Seriously, Purdue is outraising us. That can't be allowed to continue. And we're not alone in changing donation levels.

In that time, our total scholarship costs have risen by 11 percent, while cost of attendance has increased by more than 20 percent for our student-athletes. That adds up to millions in additional expenses each year. Your scholarship seating donations fund these costs and create academic and development opportunities for Gopher student-athletes.

Cost of attendance scholarships are coming and we need more money to pay for it.

Planning for the future, instead of reacting year-to-year, is the responsible and strategic way to manage our annual budget. We are sharing all of the details about the timing and amount of this increase today so you are able to plan appropriately for future seasons as well.

We want to deal with the upset fans right away and perhaps if the reaction is bad enough we might not implement every step in the the step by step increase plan.

The new donation levels were determined through extensive research into our current football pricing structure, during which we reviewed comparables in the Big Ten and other major metropolitan areas. This increase is not one particular dollar amount or a certain percentage applied to every affected seat. We assessed our current donation structure and established new scholarship seating donation levels for each section in the stadium.

We had a process.

The changes detailed in today's announ cement will not catapult Gopher Athletics to the top of the Big Ten in revenue or resources. They are needed to keep our programs competitive with our conference peers, fulfill our promises to fully support and provide opportunities for our student-athletes, and maintain a balanced budget for years to come.

We're being responsible, not greedy.

It is important to stress the need for this increase and how the additional revenue will be used. We support 750 Gopher student-athletes across 25 programs. Both of those figures are the fourth largest in the Big Ten. In all, our student-athlete support expenses totaled more than $25 million in 2013-14. Across all sports, scholarship seating generated about $8.6 million for Gopher Athletics last year, covering less than 40 percent of those expenses.

Meanwhile, those expenses will continue to rise in the years to come, just like the cost of everyday living. This
increase will help us sustain a balanced annual operating budget as those expenses rise. The additional revenue generated by this increase will not be applied outside our annual budget. I want to be clear that today's announcement is entirely separate from our facilities campaign or any other long-term projects.

We need more money for scholarships and here are the numbers that illustrate that. We're not raising the money to pay for new practice facilities (the last line is important and we'll come back to it).

If you would like more details about today's announcement, please visit GoldenGopherFund.com. If you have specific questions about how today's announcement impacts you and your seats, please email fans@gopherfanrelations.com.

While sharing today's news, this letter also gives me a brief opportunity to reiterate my sincere gratitude to you as fans. Your support of Gopher Football, and all of our 25 programs, means so much to me and our entire athletics department

Please be nice to us when you comment and please know that we don't want you to cancel your season tickets.

The Details

Let's open with a video from the U that does a pretty nice job of summarizing the facts and presenting the need with infographics.

The one thing I'd say is that while I do believe the U cares about their student-athlete investments, it's not the actual focus of the effort. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Let's see what season ticket holders will be affected each year:

2015

2015 increase

2016

2016 increase

2017

2017 increase

Essentially if you're not sitting in the corners of the stadium you're going to have a donation. This includes me and gopherguy05. Full disclosure, we're in Zone 5 on bench seats. The U also has a FAQ for common questions and notes about the next steps for season ticket holders. You can find those here.

Cons

Lets start with the not so good things that come with the price increases:

- This is going to price out some Gopher fans. Young, old, and in between. That stinks, there is no way around it.

- There will be stories in the newspapers about long time fans who can't afford their seats anymore. Book it.

- This will reduce the number of season ticket holders. How many? We'll have to see.

Pros

- This is going to raise a lot of money. That's money that can go to pay coaches more money, hire more support staff, and generally make sure that the U is able to compete in the non-facility side of the college sports arms race. Ultimately, this is the primary positive. The U is saying this the existing revenue streams that will be freed up by the increased donations will not be used for facilities. I don't think there is any reason to doubt this. New facilities are capital projects and you don't really fund capital projects from an operating budget. Those projects are funded by donations and bonds.

- This puts the U back on a more equal footing with the other schools in the Big Ten. It catches the U up to schools like Purdue that were outraising the U on the donation front.

- It prepares the U for the coming cost of attendance scholarship increases that will soon be here.

- Donations are tax deductible. This won't help everyone (essentially only helps season ticket holders who own homes) but it ends up being a better deal than straight ticket price increases.

My Thoughts

I don't know. I know this is necessary. Without question increases are warranted and badly needed. But at the same time this feels like too large of an increase. By 2017 even the Zone 5 folks will be seeing a total increase in cost per season of 50% or so. Ultimately I know I'll stick it out. I might mean moving back a few rows to get into Zone 6, but I'll stick it out. My wife and I don't have kids and Gopher sports is my primary source of discretionary spending so I also know that my situation isn't applicable to everyone.

TDG Team Thoughts

DK5: I also wonder if there is an element of the hard sell here. You know, drop the bomb, then roll it back. Maybe they're asking for more than they need now. If people still buy the tickets, great. More money. If there's a big push-back, you can roll the amounts back and look reasonable.

Matt: Rule #1: People will ALWAYS complain about donation price increases, no matter the school or the sport. We'll see how much of an impact it actually has on ticket sales, especially with a better team and a better home schedule.

Teague is serious about trying make Minnesota more competitive with the upper echelon of the B1G. You don't raise donation prices that aggressively unless you are making a move to maintain and expand the resources needed to make football and basketball successful (I.e. Coaches salaries).

We realistically can't expand the stadium, so we have to price our seats accordingly to remain competitive and not fall into the Purdue/Illinois/jNWU trap. The donations are 80% tax deductible, so it's more front end sticker shock than a true net cost increase. Keeping the ticket prices the same was a clever way to do this.

The idea we need to sell out the stadium consistently before we can raise prices is a little asinine to me. The seats were under-priced from the very beginning, and now we're forced to play catch up. Casual fans have proven they won't flock to games no matter how good the team is nor how cheap the tickets are. Waiting around for them is a slow death spiral that leads to debt and the department running severely in the red.

We consistently lag our B1G competition in donation revenue every single year. It's seriously embarrassing how Purdue, Indiana and Illinois can rake in $10M+ more than us. This goes back to the donation levels being under-priced from the beginning.

gg05: I don't think my seats in the corners of TCF are worth another $150 per season on top of the $310 per ticket. That's an extra $20 per seat per game. I'm now going to be paying the equivalent of $62 per game to watch us play Ohio and Eastern Illinois. And I'm on the cheap end. I can't imagine how the people whose seats are going up 500-1000 per season feel.

You are going to price out fans in the margins. You better improve the experience to increase the cost that much. College sports in general are fighting a losing battle to big screen tvs and at home experiences. This isn't going to help.

Norsk: I think greatly expanding the seats impacted is a very good idea. I think increasing it over 3 years is a good idea. I think the increase at the end of 3 years should have been lower, say $750 for the top seats, $50 for the worse seats, with others being in-between. We can't have our cake and eat it too, if we want to compete we have to spend the money which means we have to raise the money.

JDMill:

In Conclusion

I don't blame anyone who is upset. We're being asked to pay more to watch the Gophers and that's never fun, even if you can afford it. I have two final thoughts I wanted to share though...

1) If the changes will prevent you from staying in your current seats, I strongly encourage you to consider the non-donation zone. As someone who sits in one of the corners I can assure you the view is good in the corners and that you'll still be happy when all is said and done.

2) We really can't have our cake and eat it too. We want the U to do what it takes to win. This is one of those things. Could this be too aggressive? Yes, quite possibly. But if you have ever wanted the U to be willing to open the checkbook for a coach then you should not also be opposed to a decent sized increase in donations.