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UD Denies Charges Of Gridiron Gouging
Prime seats will require extra donation
In 2011, University of Delaware football season-ticket buyers will have to pay extra for the best seats in the house.
Prime locations at 22,000-seat Delaware Stadium will require a donation to the Blue Hen Club, UD’s athletic fund, in addition to the purchase price.
A similar program was enacted last season in which season parking required a donation along with the annual cost.
“All they care about is money, and I’m not the only person who feels that way,” said Connie Cecil, former president of the Blue Hen Touchdown Club booster group. She used the word “blackmail” to characterize Delaware’s moves. “They’ve taken all the fun out of it.”
“I didn’t even go to some of the away games last year,” said Cecil, who, with husband Dan, has been a season-ticket holder for 22 years. “I have a big TV. I can watch them at home and save a lot of money.”
While the university is trying to raise money to build and improve athletic facilities, the majority of the money raised by parking and seat premiums does not go toward that end, UD officials said.
“It’s for the student-athletes,” said Scarlett Schmidt, UD director of athletics development. “Our scholarship costs alone are $7.2 million, which is about a third of our operating budget. If we can raise more money through the Blue Hen Club, we lower that scholarship amount and use more of the money for running the programs – travel, equipment, things like that.”
Past donations and a history of ticket-buying will also figure in the priority points system UD will employ when buyers purchase tickets and select seats beginning in 2011.
Season-ticket holders are beginning to be prepared for that eventuality as UD starts to accept 2010 football renewals this week.
Directing preferred seating and parking locations to higher-end donors is common throughout the two levels of NCAA Division I football. Typically, it has been met with resistance by some Delaware fans, among the most loyal in the second level, Division I-AA.
Last fall, Delaware’s average home attendance of 20,750 ranked fourth nationally among 118 I-AA football-playing schools.
Knowing there is frustration and some misunderstanding about the new ticketing/parking policies, athletic director Bernard Muir will hold town hall-style meetings on the subject tonight at 6 and April 21 at 7 p.m. at the Carpenter Center’s Carpenter Club.
“I think they’ve got enough money,” said long-time UD football fan Ron Niblett of Newark. “If they don’t, then how come the university could buy the Chrysler facility?”
Last fall, Delaware purchased the former automobile assembly plant, located on 272 acres across South College Avenue from the athletic complex, for $24.25 million. A technical, research and health sciences campus is planned. The university is raising money to pay for developing the site.
According to UD officials, eight of the Blue Hens’ Colonial Athletic Association football counterparts have both donor-based seating and parking programs: James Madison, Richmond, Massachusetts, Maine, William & Mary, Rhode Island, Old Dominion (which had its first football season in 2009 and begins CAA play in 2011) and Georgia State (which fields its first football team this fall and begins league play in 2012).
Delaware sells roughly 11,000 season tickets a year for football. Typically, about 40 percent of season-ticket buyers have donated to the university, a number UD officials want to raise significantly.
Fans who have been attached to certain seats just want to know if they’ll be able to retain them next year and, if so, how much it will cost.
“After the parking donations started last year, everybody wanted to know, ‘What about my seats? What about my seats?’ ” said Stacey Bunting-Thompson, UD associate director of athletics/external relations.
“In 2010, nothing with your seats. But there are several new things.”
Delaware has sent out season-ticket order packets detailing 2010 changes and posted the information on its Web site.
The changes include two parking lots – one had been a daily-pay area and the other a group section – that will now have only season-ticket spaces. They require a minimum $100 donation in addition to the $165 cost, as did most season parking spaces last year.
One is near the intersection of Del. 896 and Del. 4, in the southwest portion of the athletic complex. The other is a small area behind the third-base dugout and grandstand at Bob Hannah Stadium.
Also, whereas last year season parking passes required a minimum additional donation of $100 or $1,000, UD has now added a mid-range $500 level. It’s in addition to a $165 annual fee.
“A lot of our fans told us it was such an extreme – you’ve got to be a $100 donor or a $1,000 donor,” said Bunting-Thompson. “What about those in the middle? Well, we now have two lots that are available to people in the $500 level.”
Fans who purchase at that gift level will displace others who had parked in what had been $100-donation parking sections, at great financial benefit to UD. The lots will now be called “Blue Legends” and “Gold Legends” and be located on the grass west of Delaware Stadium, just behind the VIP spaces, which carry a $1,000 donation on top of the $350 cost.
“The parking contribution, that wasn’t a big issue for me,” said Russ Crook of Shrewsbury, N.J., who has purchased season tickets since his 1972 UD graduation and is a VIP parking-space holder. “I don’t think the reseating next year is going to affect me too much. If it does, I won’t be moved too far. But I think in almost any seat in that stadium, I’d be happy.
“My complaint is Delaware hasn’t been as successful as it should be competitively in football the last couple years [going 4-8 and 6-5] and I don’t really think the university is committed to sports.”
As for seating, season tickets are credited only to the person who makes the purchase. It’s been common to have one person buy the tickets and then divide them up among family members or friends, often for many years.
As a result, UD is offering a one-time opportunity with 2010 orders, through something it calls a Transfer Application, for people to have those tickets put in their own names so they receive the credit that could help them with seat preferences next year.
Hockessin resident Rick Bane, who has attended games at Delaware Stadium since it opened, once purchased tickets for several families that sit together high up in Section K on the visitor’s side. They were all in his name and his friends would reimburse him.
Knowing the upcoming policy would only give him credit for those tickets, Bane had several of his friends in the group purchase their own tickets in recent years.
“We were a step ahead in realizing that’s the way it would be,” said Bane, who advises others to do the same. “We’d be in a panic if we couldn’t sit together.”
Bane and his friends will have to wait to find out if they can. UD has not yet determined the donation amount that will be required yet for prime seats in 2011, nor how many seats and in what sections will have the additional fee.
Longtime holders of certain seats will have the opportunity to retain those spots – if they’re willing to pay.
Bane said he understands Delaware’s need to place a premium on prime seats, and a trip to a Delaware-William & Mary game in Williamsburg, Va., about 10 years ago is the reason.
“I was tired of getting crappy seats, so I went to the ticket window and said, ‘I’d like really good seats,’ ” he said. “The woman was very nice and she said, ‘You can have these for a $1,000 donation.’ So they’ve had that situation for a long time … I don’t really want to pay more money, but I realized this was just a matter of time.”
While he and his friends agree that UD’s moves are “understandable and probably overdue,” Bane added, “how the administration handles the program is extremely important.”
Cecil isn’t so understanding.
“If we’re reseated,” she said, “we’re gone.”
By Kevin Tresolini, The News Journal