The best seats in Jordan-Hare Stadium that are not in the scholarship sections or suites will now cost approximately $700 per season with a $400 donation to Tigers Unlimited plus around $300 more for the price of the home game tickets.
All season ticket books at 87,451-seat Jordan-Hare Stadium for seven home games were purchased by Tigers Unlimited members for the upcoming season that opens Sept. 3rd vs. Georgia Tech. AU officials say the new priority system will continue to reward long-time season ticket holders when it comes to figuring priorities for purchasing seats.
Executive associate athletic director Tim Jackson says the need to generate more revenue is essential to keep Auburn's overall athletic program competitive with the top programs in the SEC and around the country.
"In March we were at a meeting in Atlanta and we found from that meeting with other CFOs (chief financial officers) that our operating budget (approximately $47 million for 2004-2005) was roughly eighth in the league (Southeastern Conference)," Jackson says. "We started doing more research. We found that there are about four schools (Florida, LSU, Tennessee and Georgia) that had a separation from us from anywhere from $15 million to $20 million in operating budget.
"In looking at all of our areas of revenue, the one that really stood out is that compared to other schools where we were really behind is in our priority seating for the general seating in the stadium," Jackson says. "With suites and scholarship seating, we are right up there above most folks.
"What has happened is since the program started in the early 1950s is that every seat in the stadium, other than scholarship seats or suites, requires the same amount of donation per seat so if you sit on row one in the end zone, or row 36 in the upper deck, or the 50-yard line, you pay the same amount per seat. Looking at the other schools we are competing with, we don't have anybody who doesn't have some type of tiered system.
"Any sporting event you go to, or most any entertainment event, it is going to cost more for the premium seat," Jackson says.
Jackson says he believes that Auburn has been "extremely efficient" in running a successful athletic program with a significantly smaller budget than some other SEC universities. "We feel like we are doing more with less right now," he says. "We have been able to compete at the highest levels, but we have to look at the future and know if we have a $20 million financial resource separating us from four of the schools we want to compete with at the top every year, if we don't narrow that gap we are going to fall behind in facilities or whatever it may be. With Jay's (athletic director Jay Jacobs) very simple goal for us to be the preeminent athletic department, we can't fall behind. We have to gain ground."
In an effort to cut the revenue gap with Florida, LSU, Tennessee and Georgia, the SEC programs that Jackson says are the most competitive with Auburn in challenging for championships, AU began studying the ticket priority system last spring for ways to generate additional revenue. He says "countless different donors" have been contacted by Auburn University officials asking for their suggestions on a new priority plan that is being unveiled in a letter sent to Tigers Unlimited members this week.
Jackson says after getting lots of input from season ticket holders that Tigers Unlimited "feels very comfortable" with its new three-tiered priority plan. "We have talked to our people and they want what is best for Auburn," he says.
The seats that are not set aside for students (15,000) and visitors (10,500 maximum due to contracts with Georgia and Alabama) have been divided into three tiers with the exception of seating blocks set aside for groups such as faculty, staff and visiting recruits.
For the 2005 season, renovations at Jordan-Hare Stadium include new fences around the playing field and a new hedge.
The gray tier seats (in the end zones, upper decks and the low rows on the west side and some low rows on the east side) will cost less than the blue tier seats and orange tier seats. "The change now is the gray tier instead of being $150 (Tigers Unlimited donation) per seat will be $200 per seat so everybody has some increase," Jackson says.
"Now the blue, which we consider our next level priority, will be $300 per seat and the orange will be $400 per seat," Jackson adds.
The blue tier seats are mainly on the west side of the stadium, although there are several sections in the east stands as well as the lower rows of both the east and west upper decks. The orange seats are in prime locations near the 50-yard line in sections 28-30 in the east stands and sections 4-8 in the west stands.
"Before you had three levels--don't ask me why," Jackson says. "There wasn't a four or an eight or a three, but there was a two, a six and a 10. If you wanted to buy four tickets you would have to be at least a (level) six. If you wanted to buy five tickets you had to be a (level) 10. Now we are going to make it simple. You are going to pay per seat. If you want five seats, and you have the priority and they are available at the $300 level, that is $1,500 priority. That is one thing that will be more simple and clear, too. There will no longer be a two, a six and a 10, but we will still have a limit of 10 (season tickets) per individual because we want to try to serve as many different people as we can."
Donors at the full scholarship level will continue to pay $8,000 for four seats and half scholarship donors will continue to pay $4,000 for two seats to be a part of the program that started in 1977. The 25 original scholarship donors raised $36,000 that year and in 2004 the total was more than $6 million from 1,110 donors.
Fans donating at this level gain additional perks such as seats in a special scholarship section (when available), reserved parking for home games, complimentary game programs and concessions, an invitation to the annual Scholarship Donors' Appreciation Day plus the option to purchase road game and bowl tickets. There is a waiting list to get into the orange scholarship chairback seats so approximately 800 fans with scholarship donor level priority seats must sit in other parts of the stadium.
At the top of the Tigers Unlimited priority pyramid are the suiteholders. Those donors pay $28,800 for a nine-person skybox on the east side of Jordan-Hare Stadium. The cost rises to $38,400 for a 12-seat suite and to $57,600 for an 18-seat suite. The 24-seat suites go for $76,800 and a 30-seater is $102,000. There is a total of 79 suites at the stadium and waiting list for donors who want to lease the suites.
Donors at suiteholder level receive catered meals during games. They also have closed circuit TV, private restrooms, maid service, air conditioning and heating plus reserved parking. If Auburn officials expand Jordan-Hare Stadium, a high priority will be adding more suites and more special scholarship section seats.
"The suiteholders and scholarship donors in the past have, as a part of their package, been able to purchase the priority seats in the stands at no additional cost," says Jackson, who notes that is changing. Those donors will have to pay a premium to Tigers Unlimited for the right to buy additional seats.
Jackson says, "For instance a scholarship is $2,000 per seat, but if they buy additional seats in the stands, they will have to pay the priority, but they will only pay 50 percent so if a scholarship donor or a suiteholder has been buying 10 seats in section seven (orange tier) before they didn't have to pay any priority for those. Now, they would pay $200 dollars per seat (plus the cost of the tickets)."
Jackson says the AU athletic department studied 25 other athletic departments' revenues to see where AU was coming up short compared to others, including its league rivals. He says the answer was money generated through the sales of season tickets. He notes that it is too early to know how much additional revenue the new priority plan will generate, but the expectation is that it will be a significant amount.
"We don't know exactly that amount because there are a number of factors that will affect that such as who moves to here or who moves to there," he says. "What we do know is that we feel like it is going to be enough revenue to help us narrow the gap between these other schools and us.
"What we have done is we are asking our people to step up to help us close that gap, but we are still saying we are still going to do more for less," Jackson says. "We are going to be efficient. We are going to provide you a product. We are also working very hard with our other contracts from apparel to you name it, any contract we have, to get as much as we possibly can in those areas because that takes that much more of the load off of our loyal supporters. I can tell you we don't know the exact amount. I do know there will be four other schools for sure, and probably five, whose priority donations will still be more than what ours will be."
Jackson points out that the early notice about the 2006 season ticket plan is being done this week to give fans extra time to prepare for the changes. "We will start accepting donations in December through March of next year," he notes.
Jackson says LSU and Georgia recently made similar changes and the associate athletic director says he believes Auburn is the last in the SEC to switch to a tiered pricing system per seat at football games. "We were the first one to have a priority program years ago (1951)," he says. "When we started the priority program, we only had sideline seats. When we added all of these seats, we haven't adjusted the program until now for the difference in the quality of the seats."
Jackson notes that Tigers Unlimited anticipates that the increased prices won't be well received by some fans. "Any time there is change there are some people who don't like change and we know that. But, the thing that we know about Auburn people is that they do want the best. The good thing about our people is they are loyal and when we have asked them to step up they have.
"The thing that we are going to do, from the athletic department side, is we are going to run this department as efficiently as it can possibly be done," he adds. "We are not going to ask them for more money than we need to provide them the best product that we possibly can, but for us to provide them, that loyal person with what they want--and they want us to be competitive and to be the best--we are having to ask for a little bit more."
Part of the new look for the stadium this season includes renovations in the north and south end zones. This is one of the expanded women's restrooms during construction this summer in the south end zone. Upgrades to the east and west concourses will be done prior to the 2006 season.
The associate athletic director says he believes Auburn fans will like the aspect of the new plan that he says makes it easier to understand the priority system. He notes in the past it was unclear to some fans how it worked. "At least now if you are in the end zone you know number one that you don't need to think about getting moved to one of these (blue tier or orange tier) seats if I am not paying that donation. And you are not going to have the opportunity to pay that donation unless there are two things that happen. One, you will have to let us know that you want to be in the $300 seats or the $400 seats and the second thing that has to happen is that seats have to open up. There has to be attrition because with this system we are not changing anything as far as rewarding loyalty. That person who has been sitting in section six for 30 years and is paying $400 and we have got somebody who is giving a million dollars and has seats elsewhere, we still cannot kick that person out of their seats. That is not changing at all. The only thing that is changing is we are asking this person, because of the value of what they have, to give a little bit more than a person who is in the end zone."
For somebody to move up in priority level, seats in the higher priced sections have to open up, Jackson notes. "If we have got 100 people that want $300 seats and there are 20 seats that open, if their total priority is high enough we let them know that now you can get into this section and we let them pay the $300. I think it will be a clearer thing for our fans who might get frustrated because everybody out there can't understand this whole ticket priority system. I wish they all could. I wish I could spend 30 minutes with everybody because it is their ticket priority system that is treating them all fairly. I think this will help them see it and understand it a little better."
Because the seats in the scholarship donor section have been filled for years, there is a possibility that some of those donors will have a chance to upgrade their seating if some season tickets are not renewed due to the higher prices. However, Jackson says he doesn't expect many fans, especially those in the best seats, to give up their season tickets because of the changes.
"The facts are an orange seat now is going to cost you roughly $700 for the season--$400 for the priority and roughly $300 for the season ticket," he says. "Well, I know just seeing on E-Bay for one game, a Georgia game, an Alabama game or whatever, people were buying that seat for almost that amount for just one game. So, from a value standpoint, the value is still there.
"I don't think the attrition rate is going to be that high here, but you actually have scholarship donors right now, who are paying $2,000 a seat, who are sitting as far down as the goal line and some in the upper decks. If some seats do open up from attrition there is potential for the scholarship donor that buys seats in the stands to get improved seating, too.
Jackson says that he and the Tigers Unlimited staff will be available to take phone calls from season ticket holders who have questions about the changes. He says fans can call 1-800-AUB-1957, extension 2. "One of Jay's top priorities is that we are going to be better in customer service than anybody," Jackson says. "Part of it is that we will be here Saturday and I will be here part of the day Sunday, and I am going to try and communicate with as many people as I can personally on Sunday."