Because the reseating plan for West Virginia men’s basketball is ostensibly a revenue generator, some outcry from fans was a given. Imagine the class-warfare debates that will spark from seeing all the $25,000 donors in the VIP seats. (Or rather, watching games where the $25,000 donors aren’t in the VIP seats.)
But the WVU athletics department group that spent a year formulating the plan sprinkled in several elements of fairness — the most you can hope for from a fundraising scheme that, regrettably for the middle-class fan, has become an industry norm.
On Wednesday, WVU associate athletics director Matt Borman said his group examined the donation programs previously implemented at schools such as South Carolina, Kansas, Virginia and Virginia Tech. From their research, Borman and his colleagues found there is no off-the-shelf approach to enacting such systems. Each school is essentially dealing with its own mini-marketplace and must gauge the sensibilities and tolerances of its customer base before establishing price points and seating priorities.
Change is difficult, especially change that drives up costs or squeezes longtime ticketholders out of their seats. But in this respect WVU has made an allowance for its longstanding loyalists: A few hundred fans who have bought season tickets for 25 consecutive years can retain up to two lower-bowl seats for $400 annually.
“A lot of individual schools don’t have the ability to keep your seat at all, but we did feel like that was an aspect we needed,” said Borman, whose joint title as executive director of the Mountaineer Athletic Club (MAC) focuses on fundraising. He points out another donor-friendly facet: WVU’s basketball donors will receive credit for gifts made to other sports programs and academics at the university. Borman said he is aware of only one other school that makes such an allowance.
Amid questions of how the new seating plan will impact gameday atmosphere, Borman doesn’t believe affluent donors are more apt to be no-shows in the premium low-level seats. He said donors from Beckley or Charleston typically have friends in Morgantown with whom they share unused tickets.
“Ultimately, we’ve got to trust that we’re going to have a product that makes people excited to attend games,” Borman said. “We can’t punish our big donors and assume they’re not going to be there.”
As athletic departments strive to modernize arenas, weight rooms and practice facilities, not to mention meeting travel budgets heightened by conference realignment, the auctioning of de facto personal seat licenses has become common. And the WVU athletic administration is banking on metrics that say the fans’ passion for Mountaineers basketball will outweigh the cost inflation associated with watching the team in-person. The old system actually provided a disincentive to would-be high-dollar donors, who were justifiably reluctant to give big with no promise of premium seating.
The skinny on the WVU Coliseum reseating timeline: Fans have until March 15 to choose their donation level, and in July, the seat-selection process will begin via Internet appointments. (Borman raved about the third-party web company that make the seating chart easy to navigate.) Donors in the Mountaineer Scholars/Stadium Suite Holders ($25,000-plus) get first dibs, followed in descending benevolence by all MAC members who purchase basketball season tickets (currently 1,217 strong).
“A lot of people are hearing the negatives, but I’ve heard more positive feedback, because we now have a transparent process in place, and people know what they have to do to sit in the best seats,” Borman said. “This provides a system where the level of donation is representative of where fans sit.”
THE UNIVERSITY’S NEWS RELEASE:
The West Virginia athletics department and the Mountaineer Athletic Club are implementing a reseating project for the WVU Coliseum that will take place prior to the start of the 2013-14 men’s basketball season.
The reseating project will begin in the summer of 2013 and will provide fairness and equity in the allocation of men’s basketball season tickets. Current MAC members and current or retired WVU faculty
and staff who request season tickets, will receive the benefit ofpersonally selecting available seats for the 2013-14 season.
“The reseating of the WVU Coliseum is essential for the success of the Department of Intercollegiate Athletic,” says WVU athletics director Oliver Luck. “This initiative achieves our goal of rewarding past support and season ticket purchases while balancing the need to provide resources for our student-athletes and afford more equity in the seating process. As we did with our Priority Points Program, we have put together a plan that carefully considers the needs of West Virginia University and our loyal stakeholders.”
Through the seat selection process, MAC members and WVU faculty and staff will have the opportunity to improve their season ticket locations and/or purchase additional season tickets in the priority seating areas. MAC members at the Champion annual giving level and above, as well as season ticket holders who have purchased season tickets for 25 or more consecutive years, will also have the benefit of maintaining a certain number of seats in the WVU Coliseum, based upon established guidelines and limitations.
“The Coliseum reseating initiative provides a unique opportunity for the Mountaineer Athletic Club to allocate seats in a systematic and transparent process,” says Matt Borman, associate athletic directors for Development/MAC Executive Director. “Our staff has spent more than a year researching the best practices to construct and implement this system. Our donors and fans will see that we have created a program that is unique to WVU and provides MAC members and faculty and staff the opportunity to personally select their season tickets.”
In addition to the seating project, two current MAC benefit levels will change and a new benefit level will be created for the 2013 giving year. The Gold Scholar benefit level will recognize donors who make an annual contribution between $15,000 – $24,999, while the Mountaineer Scholar benefit level will be reserved for donors who make annual gifts of $25,000 and above. A new annual benefit level – the Blue Scholar level – also is being established for donors who contribute between $10,000 – $14,999.
To address questions about the reseating process, the MAC will host open houses at the Coliseum prior to the TCU game on Jan. 23, the Oklahoma State game on Feb. 23 and the Iowa State game on March 9.
Information outlining the reseating process and 2013 giving level changes will be mailed to all current MAC members and all 2012-13 basketball season ticket holders in the coming days. More information can also be found online at MountaineerAthleticClub.com or by contacting the Mountaineer Athletic Club at 1-800-433-2072 or MAC@mail.wvu.edu.