GRAY: Not the year to raise ticket prices

With most south Louisiana universities slashing academic programs, laying off professors and even debating closure, LSU has stepped up plans to raise football ticket prices and keep on schedule with groundbreaking on a new baseball stadium.

Comments by Chancellor Sean O'Keefe that "for every one who gives up a choice seat there will be 12 more who want to buy it," have gone over like the proverbial lead balloon with longtime season ticket holders who are still trying to return to their homes and save their businesses. 


Suddenly, the halls of the legislature have been filled with debate and calls for some belt tightening in the LSU Athletic Department and some lessons in public relations for Chancellor O'Keefe.  His comments were unappreciated by legislators fighting to keep other state universities alive while LSU's athletic budget continues to climb.  Privately, even some major LSU donors are for the first time beginning to question whether athletic spending has gotten out of control. 


Without Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the good times would have no doubt continued to roll.  But watching so many deal with such abject loss, it's not just Joe six-pack who is questioning the priorities of LSU over a couple of beers.   He's been joined by the Ruth's Chris Steakhouse crowd as well.  And that's the first sign that trouble for this administration could be on the horizon. 


By the time you read this, LSU will have raised the Tradition Fund surcharge to $100 - $500 per ticket – up from $85 to $400 last season; and the price of one football game ticket from $36 to $45.  What fans seem to have trouble accepting is that while LSU was forced to move its home game with Arizona State last season, we will have eight home games this year.   The schedule usually includes six or seven home games – only once before, in 1949, have the Tigers had eight home games.  This should cover the loss of the 2005 game.


Fans always grumble about ticket price increases, but most also understand the need to improve facilities and compete at the highest level.  This announcement was just ill-timed and poorly communicated. 


The Athletic administration's logic that the cost of travel, tuition, salaries, utilities and other costs continue to rise whether or not the state suffers hurricanes has also fallen on deaf ears at the State Capitol.  As did O'Keefe's argument that "this is not a request for more funds from the state." 


Students are still learning in classrooms with leaking roofs, the LSU Medical School is threatening to close its doors, LSU Dental School students are working in makeshift labs....and the Athletic Department stands up to proudly announce it will build a new $2 million Gift Center.  Huh? 


It's easy to lose sight of the outside world when you live and work on the LSU Campus.  It's a great campus with so many amenities, entertainment and social activities that you can almost forget about what happens when you drive past the gates and enter the real world.  Coaches and athletes are often traveling when they're not studying or practicing and become insulated from the news.  They tend to cocoon in their own worlds and forget about the big picture.  But the people who are paying for the tickets are living it every day.    


As a reminder to Chancellor O'Keefe, over 1,071 Louisianans lost their lives in the 2005 hurricanes.  More than 3,000 are still missing.  217,000 Louisiana homes were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina alone.  650,000 were forced to leave their homes.  Over 350,000 Louisiana citizens were displaced to 44 states.  875 schools were damaged and 40 were completely destroyed.  81,000 businesses were severely impacted. 


Wake up, LSU.  This was not the year to raise football ticket prices. 


Rannah Gray can be reached at

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