The amount of annual donations it takes to secure prime seating at KU sporting events — especially including men's basketball — is likely to change for many University of Kansas fans.
Officials with Kansas Athletics Inc. on Wednesday confirmed to the Journal-World that, beginning in 2018, the fundraising arm that supports KU athletics known as the Williams Education Fund would restructure the way it distributes seats for season-ticket holders to all of KU’s ticketed, home sporting events.
No longer will the process, known as Select-A-Seat, be based entirely on a donor’s lifetime accumulation of Williams Fund points. Instead, those who donate at the highest levels on an annual basis will be given priority.
“For the past 14 years, the whole system was based on total points and not really on annual dollars,” said Matt Baty, KU’s associate athletic director for marketing and sales at the Williams Fund. “And now, we’re trying to go to a model where annual dollars is what drives your seating locations.”
The reason is simple, he said. After seeing the Williams Fund’s annual revenue grow from $5 million in 2003, when the point system was first installed, to $20 million in 2016 — including what Baty said was a jump from $5 million to $11 million “overnight” — Williams Fund revenue has been stuck in neutral, netting between $19-$20 million a year during the past five years.
In an era when the price of education continues to rise and student-athletes, who now also receive a pay-for-play stipend, cost the athletic department an average of $87,000 per year, per athlete, both Baty and Jim Marchiony, KU’s Associate AD for public affairs, said finding new ways to create revenue were more important than ever.
This, they believe, will do exactly that, while at the same time giving donors even more incentive to continue to donate money to support their favorite programs and athletes.
“It’s one way to encourage large, new gifts, while still taking care of people who have a lot of lifetime points,” Marchiony said.
While the new funding system will reward annual donations at a much higher level than in the past, Baty made sure to emphasize that a donor’s WEF points will still matter.
Baty said KU’s top 200 or so donors — those who have accumulated the largest number of lifetime priority points or who have surpassed $500,000 in lifetime donations — are exempt from the new process.
“They get to keep their same seats,” said Baty of the roughly 3 percent of KU’s 6,000 donors. “We felt that that was very fair for those that have continued to step up and given us the most money.”
In addition to being important to those top 200 donors, the points will help determine the order in which people select their seats within specific tiers. For instance, donors who give at the Hall of Fame level ($50,000 annually and above) will be arranged in a most-to-least manner, with those holding the most points selecting their seats first.
Baty said this system should be familiar to many donors, who have experienced similar structures with regular season parking designation and postseason ticket purchases.
The Williams Fund’s 6,000 active donors are broken into 10 groups, from a $25 Scholar Students tier all the way up to the Hall of Fame level, where 168 donors currently reside.
According to Baty, 90 percent of the Williams Fund’s annual revenue comes from the 1,100 or so donors at the Legend ($5,000 annually) level and above.
While the Williams Fund and athletic department are bracing for some less-than-enthusiastic responses to the change, Marchiony, who was at KU when former KU athletic director Lew Perkins instituted the points system in the first place, said he believed people would get used to the system this time around the way they got used to the system then.
One thing he believes will help is KU’s plan to get out among the public to have open and honest conversations with donors about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. Baty calls them “Town Hall meetings,” and they will begin in October and run into January.
“It was good for us to sit down and talk to them,” Marchiony said. “We knew it would be controversial, but we also knew we had to do it. I think it’s going to be very much the same this time around. If we’re going to compete at a Power 5 level, we need to raise money at a Power 5 level.”