Regents May Revisit Stadium Seat Tax

At Wednesday's CU board of regents meeting, a handful of longtime CU football fans urged the regents to rescind the athletic department's recent seat tax plan for season ticket holders. The regents are divided on the issue and say they may revisit the seat tax situation in January.

People on both sides of the issue, including fans, regents and university administrators, argued the merits and pitfalls of the seat tax at Wednesday's meeting. The one thing that all parties agreed upon was that the athletic department did a poor job of telling both the board of regents and CU fan base about the new mandatory donations required of a growing number of season ticketholders.

Both entities were surprised by the seat tax, which was broached to ticketholders in October in the form of a letter.

One outspoken CU fan at the regents meeting was George Martin. He said he'd been attending Buffs football games since he was a student in Boulder in the 1950s, and that his four children were also CU grads. He and his family decided on principal not to renew their eight season tickets for next season, Martin said, tickets they've had for decades.

He wondered if the seat tax was covering for missing revenue from the empty seats in the two-year old club seats and luxury suites on the east side of the stadium.

Fellow longtime Buffs supporter and Louisville mayor Chuck Sisk joined Martin in urging the regents to overturn the mandatory donation policy.

Sisk said he had received 85 letters and emails from fans disgruntled about the seat tax. Sisk wondered what the longterm consequences of the seat tax would be, warning that it could erode fan interest and support. He said he knew of one fan that said he planned to write the university out of his estate's will.

"You're talking about a lot of people that support CU in a number of other ways (than just season football tickets)," Sisk warned.

He said the regents and administration should recommend the athletic department rethink the seat tax and study a different way to generate the extra funds the mandatory donations are targeted to raise.

Sisk called the seat tax "arbitrary and capricious."

A seat tax was first implemented at Folsom in 1979. Through the 2004 season, approximately 4,000 season-ticket holders paid from $100-$300 for the right to buy their tickets. Next fall, the number paying the seat tax will triple, and most will be required to make the extra donation on a per seat basis, rather than per four seats, which has been the rule.

The money is called a mandatory donation to the Colorado Athletic Fund (formerly called the Golden Buffalo Scholarship Fund), and is used to subsidize the rising cost of athletic scholarships. In October, the CAF sent a brochure and letter explaining the new mandatory donation to the season ticket holders.

The letter explained that those wanting to buy season tickets in 14 sections in Folsom Stadium will be required to pay from $50-$300 per seat for that right.

Denver Buff Club president Jerry Johnson also spoke on Wednesday, and had a more moderate message. He said he had emailed 68 fellow Buff Clubbers and fans and found that of the 54 respondents, only one had planned to drop his season ticket, and that only a "small number" were unhappy with the seat tax.

Johnson also suggested the implementation of a tiered pricing system at Folsom to allow for low price options.

After the members of the public finished their comments, regent Jim Martin was the first to address the issue from the assembled board.

Martin spoke passionately in favor of rescinding the seat tax immediately. He hinted that he would raise the issue in a vote Wednesday night, but it was not likely there were the six votes needed among the regents in favor of overturning the seat tax for a vote to pass at this point.

"I don't care what the economic impacts are, loyalty is the No. 1 thing important for the university right now," Martin said.

Chancellor Richard Byyny countered, by saying if the new seat tax were dropped, CU would have to find an extra $1.4 million in its 2005 athletics budget. Byyny questioned the need for loyalty from a fan who would decide not to renew season tickets if it meant moving from the 40 to the 20-yard line.

He also compared the seat tax to the common practice of rewarding donors to arts organizations with premium seating at theater and concerts.

Regent Jerry Rutledge said the mandatory donation system "is absolutely necessary. That's the way the market works."

Rutledge also said he had heard from several supporters who said "it's about time" the athletic department widened its mandatory donation requirement at Folsom.

Byyny said "This was not an arbitrary or capricious decision. It was based on an economic study." He urged the regents not to overturn the seat tax.

President Betsy Hoffman echoed Byyny's sentiment, adding that to rescind the seat tax would set a troublesome precedent of overturning policies whenever there is a sign of public dissension.

"If we wait until next year, we will have the same level of concern, we will hear from the same people," Hoffman said. She labeled the grumbling about the seat tax "a great deal of noise, but not a great deal of fire."

Regent Tom Lucero said that the board of regents may look more closely at the seat tax during its January meeting, and possibly explore a compromise of some sort.

All sides agreed that the way the athletic department told the public, and the regents, about the new seat tax left a lot to be desired.

Johnson said members of the Buff Club, an organization that includes several boosters very close to the athletic department, didn't see the new tax coming.

Regent Gail Schwartz asked why the athletic department didn't make overtures to the Buffs' strongest supporters before making a decision.

"We didn't approach this in the right way," she said.

Perhaps longtime fan George Martin summed it up best: "They needed to be honest and up front with what was needed and why it was needed and implement (the seat tax) over time," he said. "At this stage in the history of CU, there should be every effort to bring people into the university (not alienate them)."

AD Search Committee Update
CU Provost Phil DiStefano said Wednesday the state-mandated bid process for hiring a consultant to help find a new athletic director had closed Tuesday, and there were three possible consultants. Insiders say the most likely choice will be Chuck Neinas, who has extensive experience head hunting athletic directors and coaches, and who is based in Boulder.

DiStefano said he will know by the end of the week which consultant CU will use. In the meantime, he said a search committee comprised of a university official, athletics coach, student, regent, alumni association member and three members of the Academic Policy Board. He didn't name the search committee members specifically.


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