Push begins for more ticket revenue

I got a call from a local television reporter last week asking if I'd help out with a story he was doing on the push from LSU administration and the Tiger Athletic Foundation toward gaining control of a larger percentage of seats in Tiger Stadium. While I was flattered that my input was wanted, I know it will be the voice of the average LSU fan who will be heard the loudest in the coming months.

It won't be until February that athletics director Skip Bertman approaches the LSU Board of Supervisors with a specific plan for additional seat revenue. Any plan the board would approve would then go before the Louisiana Legislature, members of which LSU are already lobbying for their support.


In a presentation made last Thursday, Bertman, Chancellor Mark Emmert, LSU System president Williams Jenkins and TAF officials pitched eight Baton Rouge-area lawmakers on why more revenue needs to be generated from seating at Tiger Stadium.


By Louisiana law, the TAF can only control 12 percent of the seats in the portion of Tiger Stadium that existed before 2000. This excludes the 11,600 seats added in the east upper deck (including luxury suites), paid for through TAF donations.


The TAF's primary revenue generator is the surcharge they can place on those tickets under its control, and the group now wants the legislature to repeal the 12 percent limit so they can obtain more tickets from the athletic department. How many tickets or how much the TAF surcharge will be on each has not yet been determined.


The LSU contingency pointed out that no other state home to a Southeastern Conference school has such a ticket ceiling in place for its respective booster groups, and that LSU is near the bottom of the league in terms of its ticket revenue. With additional funds available, the athletic department will be able pursue its long-standing plans for renovations of the west side of Tiger Stadium, an overhaul of the Maravich Assembly Center, and the construction of a new baseball/softball complex and a football administration/training building at the McClendon Practice Facility.


"What came out of the meeting is, ‘OK, we understand your problem,'" State Rep. William Daniel, D-Baton Rouge, told The Advocate last week. "You've shown us the other schools and where you rank. It's the old familiar story.


"But where is the plan? They don't know. If you want us to vote on this, we need to know what the plan is when people call us about it."


Specifically, Daniel and his fellow lawmakers will be asked which seats will need to go to the TAF and what kind of surcharge will be placed on them. And the people who are likely to call them are those who have held their season tickets – good season tickets along the sidelines – for generations and haven't been asked to pay a surcharge.


So in addition to determining the particulars of a surcharge plan, LSU officials will also have to navigate the slick slopes of public opinion. Bertman has tried to explain that the price of a ticket is not a donation to LSU, but more like a bill for services rendered.


"You go to a restaurant, you pay. You go to a movie, you pay. You go to a football game, you pay," Bertman told The Advocate. "If you don't like the entertainment, we're out of luck because we need you to come. But we can't let you in for free."


TAF chief executive officer Ron Richard has said the goal of his group is not to gain control of all the seats in Tiger Stadium, but only an amount sufficient to generate the income necessary to pay off the debt incurred through the construction and maintenance projects the group will undertake.


Still, this probably won't soften the blow for those fans asked to either pay a surcharge that could be as high as $750 per ticket or move to another part of the stadium where there is no surcharge for seats. Those tickets, says Richard, will always be available.


Any change to the surcharge limit won't go into affect until 2004 at the earliest, and no change in ticket prices is planned for 2003 according to Bertman. In the meantime, LSU will have to convince the legislature that it is in the state's best interest to cede control of seats over to the TAF.

Our bet is that LSU will get the votes necessary in the legislature unless someone is able to present a workable alternative to provide the athletic department with the funds needed to keep pace in the competitive world of college athletics.


And then it could be a case of being careful what you ask for, for the LSU athletic department.


The Tiger fan base is very unique in that it is made up of many people who have never set foot in an LSU classroom and come from moderate means. The best-case scenario for LSU is that these fans, who may not be able to afford the surcharges at Tiger Stadium, are still willing to take cheaper seats. But chances are there will always be a demand for "entry level" tickets as long as the Tigers are taking care of business on the field.


The real issue for LSU is whether there will be the demand for a sufficient number of premium tickets. There was an overwhelming demand for suites back in 2000, but Louisiana's is still economy is well off the pace of states like Florida, Georgia and Tennessee where affluence is apparently at a level sufficient to support the growth of these athletic programs.


I don't blame LSU for following the path other universities have taken, as it has been very successful for those that have done so. But given the unique political, business and economic climate in Louisiana, it could well be a bumpy road to progress.

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