Thursday, August 24, 2017

System for awarding KU basketball, football seats changing in effort to boost donations

Fans react as Kansas guard Wayne Selden crashes into the seats after saving a ball that was tossed to teammate Joel Embiid for a bucket during the second half on Monday, Jan. 20, 2014, at Allen Fieldhouse.

Fans react as Kansas guard Wayne Selden crashes into the seats after saving a ball that was tossed to teammate Joel Embiid for a bucket during the second half on Monday, Jan. 20, 2014, at Allen Fieldhouse.


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.”


Mike Barnhart 5 years, 1 month ago

What a shame! Raising seat prices year after year and watering down the schedule just wasn't enough. Now "elite donors" are being blackmailed into shelling out tens of thousands more to sit a few rows closer to the court. For the first time in 15 years, not me!

Let's face it, not many season ticket holders make it to every game and that's a good thing. It allows non-season ticket holders the opportunity to see games as well. Last year was the first year I couldn't re-sell some of my tickets... AT ANY PRICE! There are way too many crummy games on the schedule. When I saw this that this years Fieldhouse schedule included just five 2017 tournament teams (all Big 12) and seven essentially "exhibition" games, I quit.

I can literally buy a 70 inch 4K TV, surround sound, kegerator and a years worth of DirecTV for less than 2 season tickets and a Williams Fund donation. And I'd still have money left over to buy re-sell tickets any three games I want! The only difference is, I wont be in the building for the first five games trying to learn the names of this years new crop of one-and-dones!

Brett McCabe 5 years, 1 month ago

You do make an interesting point about the home schedule. Self always puts together a challenging non-con, but many of the highlight games are often on neutral courts. Still, you get the entire Big 12 home schedule which, as you say, includes quite a few conference teams.

In terms of blackmailing elite donors, that made me chuckle. I don't worry too much about the expenditures of the elites, I'm confident they'll be fine.

The other point you make that I think they could address is coming up with home game packages that don't necessarily include the entire home season. I do wonder if they could actually make more money by offering some multi-packs, maybe 6 or 8 home games. It would take more work on their behalf, but they might net more total donors.

Mike Barnhart 5 years, 1 month ago

The big eye-opener to me, was my inability to re-sell tickets last season. All of the pre-Christmas tickets were virtually worthless, I couldn't get $20 for them. The athletic department has to know this. Instead improving the product, they decided to ask the "deep pockets" donors to bail them out.

Kent Clark 5 years, 1 month ago

What? $20? You couldn't get $20 for your tickets? ...... That sounds exaggerated, I definitely would have bought them for $20! Where in the world are your seats located? Or were they located?

The influx in price is something I agree on, I'd love to see the attendance dip below 16,300 a few of these games, I really would! I'm also tired of so many games at the Sprint Center, to me, that's taking away from AFH and we're playing in an Arena that we haven't had a ton of success in, we've actually lost a handful of games in that place! - Self needs to swallow the bullet and schedule a Home/Away with Missouri, nobody wants to watch Texas A&M... Stop it with that! You mean to tell me that the Rockhurst High School football program has more guts to schedule high, high quality programs throughout the US to play at Rockhurst than Bill Self and KU does? .... This needs to stop! I'm tired of seeing UMKC and Siena! ... From a basketball standpoint the Non-Conf schedule isn't all that bad, but if I were going to be a season ticket holder? I see nothing in the Non-Conf that is all that appealing.

Daniel Kennamore 5 years, 1 month ago

I think the decline in non-con home game quality is likely due to our incredible home record. Over the last decade we've other teams' chances of winning at AFH have gone from 'it's possible' to 'if we play the perfect game there's still only a 40% chance we could win'.

Why would a team trying to build resume for a high seed schedule an automatic loss?

Phil Leister 5 years, 1 month ago

You make a couple good points, but the jabs at the "new crop of one-and-dones" and the "crummy games on the schedule" are ridiculous. Every team in America has a slate of games against teams that definitely won't make the NCAA tournament. And last year we had a single one-and-done, and if it took you 5 games to figure out his name was Josh Jackson, you got problems.

Mike Barnhart 5 years, 1 month ago

No, Phil, all of my points are good (ha). I'm kind of indicting the whole system by pointing out how much things have changed and how poorly the athletic department has responded. That said, it's undeniable that in the last ten years ticket prices have doubled, the competition has declined and the players turnover MUCH faster.

Brett McCabe 5 years, 1 month ago

So done with OAD's. It absolutely has to go.

Steve Corder 5 years, 1 month ago

Why doesn't someone "blame" the university administration for running up the cost of attending KU?

Lets put some perspective on this money issue: 1972-73 (maybe '71-72) out-of-sate tuition for 15 hours was $660/semester. 1973 1st year Lawrence High teacher with BS degree salaried at $6,600.

Do some proportional math with today's numbers.....14K/semester for out-of-state would make that 1st year teacher salary around 140K.

Marcia Parsons 5 years, 1 month ago

Most of the preseasons games are with NCAA tournament teams, although not big names. I think you have to consider how many "known" opponents refuse to play us in Allen or demand home and home games. That creates a scheduling nightmare and the reason they end up scheduling the best teams they can get. Now that we play all Big12 teams twice, the options become even more difficult. Nobody likes price increases, but that figure of $87,000 paid per scholarship student is impressive. With football the goal can be to increase attendance. With basketball, attendance is already at maximum so the only choice is to increase the charge per ticket. I don't like it either, but I don't go to games to watch the other team. And while close, tense games are exciting, I also love a good blow-out when you get to see the Hawks having so much success and fun.

Bryce Landon 5 years, 1 month ago

"With basketball, attendance is already at maximum so the only choice is to increast the charge per ticket."

Not necessarily. Is there a way to expand the capacity? We've been at 16,300 for a long time, but when the joint opened, it was 17,000. So we either need to expand our capacity, or (and here comes a blasphemous statement that will set this message board on fire) build a newer, larger arena.

Henry Joseph Hofmeister 5 years, 1 month ago

Keep it the same but raise the roof and put in some million dollar a year donor suites.

Phil Leister 5 years, 1 month ago

I second the call to tear it down and build something bigger! It'll only cost a couple hundred million, right? Should take no time at all to recuperate that money with the extra 3000 or so seats.

John Brazelton 5 years, 1 month ago

America is a semi-Capitalism system, money talks! Too many Socialist federal programs to be a true Capitalist system. One place where the current KU Athletic Administration could cut costs is administration staff. Now every assistant Administrator or staff member has an assistant or two and salaries usually above the normal Lawrence rate. People need to do the jobs they are hired to do and not pass most of the workload on to an assistant to do. Take a look at the number of employees now versus 20 years ago.

Armen Kurdian 5 years, 1 month ago

Still trying to pay off Gill's and Weis' contracts eh?

Ryan Shelton 5 years, 1 month ago

That was my immediate reaction too. Did KU raise all the funds to pay off these two coaches? As I recall, they hit up some of the big donors to pony up the money right away, but maybe I'm wrong.

Clara Westphal 5 years, 1 month ago

The students should have the court side seats like they do at Duke. That will happen but that is the way it should be.

Doug Roberts 5 years, 1 month ago

So the athletic department is so short on cash that they now outlaw bringing your own stadium seats to Memorial (now you have to rent one from them), but there always seems to be more than enough Adidas money so the football team has 86 different uniform combinations for every game. Sorry, I don't want to hear how poor KU Athletics is while I see this disparity in allocation of money.

Shannon Gustafson 5 years, 1 month ago

Pretty easy to "afford" all those uniforms when Adidas is paying KU to wear them...

Marcia Parsons 5 years, 1 month ago

As I recall, the stadium seat thing is a result of the gun laws. You can't bring much of anything in, including a purse. And I don't believe KU pays for all the Adidas stuff--they pay KU.

Jay Hawk 5 years, 1 month ago

Please feel free to DM me when you have tickets that you can't sell for $20. I'm here to help fellow Jayhawks!

It's a waste of time to think that generating revenue isn't a major consideration for most of the moves being made by EVERY athletic department in the NCAA. And at the end of the day, it seems to be a necessary evil in order to compete at the highest levels. McCarthy Hall. Locker Room Upgrades. New Practice facilities. $5 Million coaches salaries. Personally, I think we need these things if we are going to compete with the elite. If part of the revenue comes from higher ticket prices, then so be it because I want to keep winning at an elite level. The alternative could be $10 tickets at a program with the success of our neighbors to the west or the slavers to the east.

Finally, I don't know the financial math specifically, but I can't imagine total revenue improves by scheduling a home and home with a power 5 team and essentially give up the revenue of a home game. As a fan, I know I'd like a game with UNC instead of Long Island U. But, the dollars don't agree with my fan preferences.

Andrew Whitehead 5 years, 1 month ago

I'm wondering to what extent the new concealed carry issue plays into this new point system due to increased security costs. Now that Kansas law allows for concealed carry on campuses, the university (stupidly IMO) is now paying unknown sums of money to add more security staff as well as metal detectors to the games. All to prevent any law-abiding citizen who has jumped through all of the government's hoops to be licensed to defend themselves - from carrying concealed into the Fieldhouse. That's something that any fan could have easily done for decades, yet amazingly has never once been an issue in all these years.

Jay, I couldn't agree more that I would much rather have high ticket prices and a top 5 program perennially, than average prices and average performance levels. My question would be, if Beaty et al. can raise our program from the ashes back up to legitimacy and even to a high level of competitiveness, will the increased revenue spur the athletic department to reconsider this change in the point system? Obviously we know the answer would be no, because this change will undoubtedly raise revenues and no sane, for-profit institution would willingly take a step backwards even if a different revenue stream increases massively.

But this does serve as a reminder to the department, and even to us as fans, that we can't forget where our collective support garners the best "bang for our buck." The earning potential of a competitive football program eclipses that of our elite basketball program. I wonder if the difference in revenue that the department is seeking could have been made while also generating more support from the fan base for other sports (like football) by some other tweak in the point system by more heavily rewarding season ticket purchases for other sports, and even attendance, etc.

Keven Courtney 5 years, 1 month ago

In all honestly, ever since Missouri left the Big 12, no basketball game at Allen Field House has had the same atmosphere as any Missouri basketball game. Even when KSU and WVU or when Baylor is decent or Oklahoma comes in to the Field House it's nothing compared to Missouri. Plus, with all the additions around Allen Field House (All great for the University) but has taken parking away and yes the parking garage is nice until you get to the game 20-25 minutes before the game you have to park at the very top then it takes forever to get out. All the more reason to stay home and watch the games on TV, especially since every game is on TV.

Jeff Rank 5 years, 1 month ago

During a recent conversation with an insider friend, it was explained to me that two things are at work driving this change:

  1. The lifetime accumulation of points priority system allows long-time members with a bunch of points to basically stop making contributions and still get all (most) of the perks.

  2. There's no incentive for a new member to start donating because the threshold for quality BB season tickets is so freaking high, it's not attainable. FACT: It requires more than a $250,000 donation to get into tier one for a new member.

So, there's no incentive in some cases for the old members to donate and there's no incentive for new members to donate. Not a good combination. Something had to change.

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