The cost of owning Gophers football season tickets will rise each of the next three years for thousands of fans under a plan the athletics department unveiled Tuesday.
Explaining the need for more money to counterbalance the sharply rising costs of athletics, the Gophers announced their plan to add more revenue through scholarship seating fees — built-in donations attached to season-ticket packages.
Scholarship seating fees have been commonplace in college football for decades, but the Gophers first started using them on their premium seats — between the 25-yard lines — when they opened TCF Bank Stadium in 2009. That initial plan affected about 9,550 seats, but that number will jump to 28,050 under the new plan.
This year was the first time since the stadium opened that the Gophers raised season-ticket prices. All chair-back seats, for example, went from $275 to $330. Under the new plan, that base price won’t rise for the next three years, but many seats will become increasingly more expensive through scholarship seating fees.
“I’m sure initially there’s going to be some concern, and I understand that,” Gophers Athletics Director Norwood Teague said. “But I hope in the end, they’ll understand that we’re trying to be more competitive.”
The Gophers’ athletic budget is being stretched with increasing travel costs caused, in part, by the Big Ten’s expansion to include Rutgers and Maryland. Equipment and health insurance costs are rising. The NCAA now allows schools to provide unlimited snacks to its athletes, and beginning next school year, Power Five schools will be able to provide additional cost-of-attendance stipends to their athletes.
Here are some examples of how Gophers fans will be affected under the new plan:
• There will continue to be no scholarship seating fees attached to student season tickets.
• For lower-level seats between the 35-yard lines, there has been an annual $500 scholarship seating fee attached to each seat. That annual amount will rise to $650 next year, followed by $850, and then $1,000 in 2017.
• Lower-level seats between the goal line and the 25-yard line previously had no scholarship seating fees, but beginning next year it’ll be $150, followed by $300 and $500.
• The seats above those, in the second deck, will have new scholarship fees of $75, followed by $150 and $250.
Joe Van Thomme, 31, has season tickets in Section 208 and is among those facing the new fee.
“People look at it and they think, ‘I want a top 10 program, I want to beat Wisconsin, I want to beat the big schools every year,’ ” he said. “The reality is the big schools everywhere are doing things just like this. They’re doing this for facilities, they’re doing this for recruiting, and those are the edges those programs need to compete.’’
Not everyone was as understanding. Steve Nordgaard of Arden Hills says he shares four tickets with a friend in a section that will see increases of $450, $600 and $750 per seat over the next three years. He also shares two tickets with his father in a section that will have the same increase, and questions the increase for retirees like his father “who don’t have the disposable income to do this. … My initial reaction is: What the heck are they thinking?” he said.
“It’s ridiculous. My big question is how do they think they’re going to sell out this stadium? They haven’t been able to do it to date, and boy, they’re really going to have to put one heck of a product on the field.”
Matt Fisher of Minnetonka has two season tickets in Section 138 that have been in his family for more than 30 years. Fisher’s cost will rise by $150 per season ticket in 2015, $300 in 2016 and $500 in 2017 under the three-year phase-in.
Fisher and his wife have two children, and soon will add a third child. He said he had been considering adding to his season-ticket total, but the increase “might put those plans on hold a little bit.’’
Extra money needed
The Gophers consulted with Aspire Sport Marketing Group, the same company that has helped Ohio State, Rutgers and other schools implement similar scholarship fee plans. Aspire CEO Bernard Mullin was quick to note that scholarship seating fees are tax-deductible.
Mullin said the Gophers are currently charging well below average for season tickets — base cost and scholarship fees — by Big Ten standards.
“Even with these changes, we’re looking at being about the average price in the Big Ten three years from now,” Mullin said.
Teague and Mullin said schools throughout the Power Five conferences (Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC, ACC) have implemented scholarship seating plans, with periodic price increases. Teague said additional revenue is needed “to fully support our programs and also to enhance our budget moving forward.”
The Gophers are pulling in $27 million in Big Ten revenue distribution this year, including the Big Ten Network, and according to the conference’s own estimate, that number could reach $44.5 million in 2018.
Minnesota’s athletic department budget is $85 million this year and will reach $96 million in 2015. The school projects to add $1 million in revenue through scholarship seating fees next year, followed by $1.5 million in 2016 and $2.2 million in 2017.
“The Big Ten money’s been great in the past, and it’s great now, and it will be a great augmentation moving forward,” Teague said. “But when we’ve looked at our drastically rising expenses, we have to do something. I’m really pleased in the last year, we’ve finished in the black. I thought we were really responsible, but I don’t know how moving forward, we can stay out of the red, even with the Big Ten money, with the rising costs that we have.”