Donor Seating Q & A

With the recent requirement of a $1,200 donation from season ticket holders in sections S and T of the Orange Bowl, many questions have arisen from the fans. Patrick Nero, the Senior Associate Athletic Director, took some time to address these at length in the following interview.

Q. The University made a decision to require a minimum $1,200 donation of all season ticket holders in sections S and T of the Orange Bowl. Can you give us some background on why this decision was made.

A. In 1984 we went to priority seating in the Orange Bowl. At that time a policy was put into place that called for seating to be assigned based on donation level to the Hurricane Club. As part of the policy, the Athletic Department made a decision to grant a waiver to folks who were already purchasing season tickets. This decision was done to reward their loyalty through some lean football years and the intention was to continue to grant this waiver as long as the University financially could do so. Unfortunately, at this time we can no longer financially survive without the support of these people who were not donating, yet were buying the best seats in the Orange Bowl.

Q. To many of these people, the University's decision to now ask them to make a donation, is sign of disloyalty to the people who have been season ticket holders for a long time. How do you respond to this?

A. The evolution of our donor seating has truly been based on our loyalty to these individuals. Through some difficult years in the ‘70s they were very loyal to us. To reward them, we have not asked them to give to the Hurricane Club for the past 18 seasons. In those 18 years, they have been rewarded with the best college football program in the country - 5 National Championships, 9 appearances in National Championship games, a 58 game home winning streak and a home winning percentage of 88% in these 18 years. Now, the future of our program is at a critical stage. We are competing against Universities with many more resources. In order for us to remain competitive we now need the financial support of these long time ticket holders.

Q. It is obvious that financial challenges are behind this decision. Can you give us some background on what some of these challenges are?

A. When we went to donor seating in 1984, our athletic department budget was $10 million. In the upcoming fiscal year our budget will exceed $35 million. This budget is still relatively low when compared to the schools we compete with such as Florida, Florida State, Tennessee, Ohio State, etc. Money generated by the Hurricane Club goes directly to our student-athlete scholarship fund. Our scholarship costs have risen by 350% since 1984, currently it costs us over $32,000 a year to send each of our student-athletes to the University of Miami. This brings our total scholarship costs over $7 million, currently Hurricane Club donations cover only $ 3 million of this. The Hurricane Club was established to help us raise all of the dollars needed for scholarships and we now need to catch up with our costs. By comparison, the majority of schools we compete against are public universities with considerably lower tuition costs.

Q. The football team went to the Rose Bowl this year, and some folks believe that this was a financial windfall for the University, can you share with us the revenue distribution for the Rose Bowl?

A. As part of the Big East Conference, all bowl payouts go to the conference and then are split amongst all member schools based on a pre-determined formula. The formula pays out $4 million to the conference team that finished first in the league, no matter what bowl that school plays in or the result of that bowl game. We do not receive any extra money for winning the national championship. Out of the $4 million we receive we then must pay all of our bowl expenses, including team travel (we were required to be in Los Angeles from December 26 – January 4), band and cheerleader travel, events around the bowl, coaching bonuses built into contracts as well as national championship rings and our visit to the White House. We also were obligated by the Rose Bowl to buy $3.3 million in tickets which came out of the $4 million we received from the Big East Conference. Fortunately we were able to sell our allotment of tickets, but we do have to cover the cost of all internal tickets including 6 per each student-athlete and coach as well as tickets for the band, cheerleaders and other support staff. As you can see, this means we had actual expenses of $2.5 million. Annually we budget revenue of $750,000 from a bowl. This money is used to balance our athletic department operations budget. So in the end our Rose Bowl surplus was $750,000. This was used to offset money that we had planned to take out of our savings.

Q. The timing of this policy, was it due to the fact that the team won the National Championship and you decided that you would implement it while the team was hot?

A. Though it comes in a year following a National Championship, we have had many other successful years when we did not have the necessity to implement the policy. This year our fiscal situation gave us no other choice. In the late 1980's and early 1990's we were participating in major bowls as an independent, this allowed us to keep the entire bowl payout for ourselves. In those cases, we put excess money away in savings. This savings lasted us for the past ten years and covered the years we had budget shortfalls. We have now depleted this savings and we are in a situation where we need to ask people to help us continue to run a first-class athletic program. Looking back at the timing of informing the folks in section S and T of our new donor seating policy, we should have provided more information on our financial situation and should have done it with much more lead time. The policy was approved at a very late date, however, we have know for a while that our financial situation was becoming much more difficult of a challenge. I hope that this issue will allow us to better communicate with our fan base the need for support to continue to compete at the level we all want to.

Q. Some people have asked why you didn't just raise the ticket prices, why ask for donations.

A. Our policy is designed to encourage people to donate to the Hurricane Club, which serves as our student-athlete scholarship fund. Football ticket priority is just one part of the benefits to the Hurricane Club. At this particular level (Coaches Club - $1,200) the football benefits include priority for parking at the Orange Bowl, priority for away and home game tickets including Florida, Tennessee and Florida State as well as priority for any bowl game we participate in. Similar benefits also carry over to the sports of men's and women's basketball as well as baseball. Gifts to the Hurricane Club are tax deductible.

Q. How common is this donor seating among other Division One schools?

A. I am not sure that there are any schools left that compete at our level that do not have donor seating policies similar to ours. Most schools went to donor seating in the 1970's, we started our program in 1984 and this policy is an expansion of that initial program.

Q. How many people does this new policy impact?

A. Approximately 250 people, holding 750 seats. The Orange Bowl holds 80,000 people for Hurricane Football so this is impacting less than 1% of capacity.

Q. You mention that less than 1% of fans are effected, 250 people @ $1,200 is $300,000 in revenue. Some might say, that for all the negative publicity the University has received, is it worth it for "only" $300,000 in revenue.

A. That is a two part question; revenue and publicity, I will take the revenue questions first: $300,000 would cover close to 10 full scholarships for our student athletes and would represent a 10% increase in Hurricane Club donations for the year, so the impact is a substantial one. However, this policy change is just part of a revenue plan that will help us remain healthy and provide us with a chance to remain successful. The overall fund-raising campaign that we will announce in the future, will be based on raising dollars from people who support Hurricane Athletics. Donor seating in the Orange Bowl will just be a part of it. As for the negative publicity issue, I am not sure that the publicity has been all negative. The articles written in both the Miami Herald and the Sun-Sentinel discussed the department's financial needs. This issue is giving us an opportunity to educate our supporters on the challenges we are facing to remain competitive. It is an issue that people who truly care about our program need to know about. The University of Miami athletic community is very strong, this year we are approaching 4,000 donors to the Hurricane Club, our highest ever, we are building a Convocation Center on funds fully donated by supporters of our athletic program. The Hecht Center renovations were all privately funded and two of the lead gifts came from former Hurricane Football greats Bernie Kosar and Edgerrin James. When you make difficult decisions are you concerned that some people will not be supportive, absolutely. But the Hurricane Family has never been stronger than it is at this point in time. It is this faith in the people who truly care about our program that we make decisions that are going to secure our future as one of the leading athletic programs in the country.

Q. Are there plans or discussion to modify any other sections or are S and T the only sections that were given this benefit years ago.

A. As I mentioned earlier, we have to evaluate our financial situation on an on-going basis. As you move away from the 50 yard line sections of S and T on the south side, you have less people per section who would be have had seats before 1984 and the donation requirement is less the further away you get from these sections. At some point, yes it is likely that the donor seating policies will expand to other sections.

Q. If someone is unable to make this donation to the Hurricane Club, what are their options?

A. The movement will be very minimal. They can move to the north side of the stadium and sit on the 20 yard line. If they want to stay on the 50 yard line they can sit in the upper level on the north side with no donation required, or if they want to stay downstairs on the south side, they can move to the 5 yard line.

Q. Are you worried that Hurricane Football could get to the point where some long-time fans can no longer afford to attend games?

A. Keeping our games affordable has always been a priority and will continue to be. This is another reason why we decided not to just raise ticket prices across the board. You can buy a season ticket for $120 a year, which comes out to $20 per game, there is not a cheaper season ticket in the marketplace that I am aware of. On a single game basis we still have seats for less than $10 for certain games.

Q. Recently, the Athletic Department has invested in facilities for its student-athletes. Can you talk about how this impacts the department financially.

A. In the past ten years, we have undergone facility improvements in every one of our areas. Obviously, the new Convocation Center is the biggest project and there is no doubt that this will have a tremendously positive impact on both our men's and women's basketball teams. We have just completed a major addition and renovation to the Hecht Center. This renovation tripled the size of the weight room facilities for our student-athletes, it created locker rooms for all of our women's teams, and it created meeting and film rooms for our football program. We also recently built Cobb Track and Soccer Stadium and have begun what we hope to be a series of renovations to Mark Light Stadium. The reality is that we fell behind in our facilities and we had to invest money not only to bring them up to date, but to prepare them for the future. All of this has cost us in excess of $65 million. We have been fortunate that many of our supporters have stepped forward with donations for these projects but fund-raising is ongoing for all of these enhancements.

Q. The Department has also been impacted by Title IX. Can you discuss what actions have been taken to get you within compliance of federal regulations.

A. In the past few years we have added women's soccer and volleyball programs as well as fully funded our women's crew program. This has resulted in the addition of 34 additional scholarships. Unfortunately, we also have had to cut our men's golf, men's swimming and diving and our men's crew programs. Obviously, we would have preferred to just add more women's programs than have to cut men's programs, but financially this was just not feasible. By raising additional dollars through the Hurricane Club, we hope to be able to avoid any future cuts.

Q. It seems like the financial challenges of competing at the Division I level are only beginning. Can you provide us with some insight on what the University is doing to ensure that we can remain competitive.

A. The most important part of any plan is making sure that everyone has the same goal. We are fortunate that at the University of Miami we do share a common goal and that is to remain as one of the top athletic programs in the country. We have great leaders in President Shalala and Paul Dee, they have made planning for our future a priority. The President has appointed a committee of University Trustees to assist us in examining our expenses and revenues for the future, from this committee will come a plan that ensures our future success. A part of this plan will be a major fund-raising campaign that will ask our community to come together in support of continuing the great tradition of Hurricane Athletics.

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