Kansas is following the lead of California in entering the business of "equity seat rights," the latest marketing innovation that requires fans to pay big bucks in order to secure the best seats in the house.
Jayhawk fans who pay as much as $105,000 over 10 years will earn the right to buy guaranteed top seats at Memorial Stadium for the next 30 years. In return, the seats will stay locked in at 2010 prices. Fans will also be able to take a tax write-off for donating to a university.
The Chicago-based Stadium Capital Financing Group is behind the plan, and chief executive officer Lou Weisbach says it's a win-win for all involved.
"Even in difficult financial times, the price of the best seats in professional stadiums and university programs go up," Weisbach said. "This is the ultimate solution for the shortfalls universities are facing in their athletics programs."
Kansas is targeting fans interested in securing seats in the new 3,000-seat Gridiron Club, an addition to 90-year-old Memorial Stadium that will open for business in the fall. The club will offer cushioned seats, catered food, private restrooms and preferred parking. The university is hoping to cover $34 million in stadium renovations, with long-range plans of raising $200 million.
One problem: Jayhawk fans have not been receptive to the plan. Only $5 million of the $34 million has been raised.
"It has been a challenge," associate athletics director Jim Marchiony said. "But that's OK. We knew it would be a challenge. We're going full steam ahead."
Officials at California are using equity seat rights to raise more than $250 million to seismically upgrade 87-year-old Memorial Stadium, a 72,516-seat venue that sits on the Hayward Fault. Cal is asking 3,000 fans to pay up to $225,000 over 30 years for the right to purchase season seats for 50 years. If they decline, they'll have to give up their prime seats.
Plans call for Memorial renovations to begin after the 2010 season, with the Golden Bears playing the 2011 season at either Candlestick Park or the Oakland Coliseum. The renovation should be complete by the start of the 2012 season.
Some are skeptical of Cal's plans. A recent editorial in the Daily Californian questioned how much of the money was actually going to Memorial's seismic retrofit.
There are other problems. Last week, Cal chancellor Robert Birgeneau asked a panel to come up with a plan to put "intercollegiate athletics programs back on the path to financial sustainability." The department, which for years has been bailed out by the university's general fund, has an annual budget of $65 million. Of its 27 teams, 24 lose money.
Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle writes that Birgeneau's announcement means only one thing: Cal is getting ready to take a meat cleaver to the athletic budget.
"When an athletics-leaning administration declares that it's time for athletics to face the music, you know the music is going to be loud, atonal and grating. Across-the-board trims won't be enough, and reorganizing the funding mechanisms of the department will take too long. If the problem is now, the solution is, unfortunately, administrative."