Tuesday, November 17, 2009

How Much Is Enough?

I want to preface this entry by stating that I am a firm believer in the free-market system of capitalism. But sometimes capitalism can be a pain in the wallet.

Penn State football, for better or worse, is a business--a very big and lucrative businesss, one which not only pays for itself, but a host of minor businesses (like Field Hockey, Fencing and Volleyball.) Think McDonalds also underwriting hot dog vendors in New York City.

PSU has a product that is in high demand, and they control the cost of that product. They're not too concerned with the quality of said product, but since consumers are still filling the stadium up for Eastern Illinois and losses to OSU and Iowa, who cares?

As you may have heard already, the University is poised to unveil a new policy for the sale of tickets to Penn State football games. Do you have your checkbooks ready?

From Cory Giger in the Altoona Mirror:

It's about to get a lot more expensive for fans to ensure themselves of keeping premium seats at Penn State home football games.

* Season-ticket holders between the 40-yard lines will be charged $600 per seat, in addition to their required Nittany Lion Club donations (which are a minimum of $100 per seat).

* Fans from the goal lines to the 40-yard lines will be charged an additional $400 per seat.

* Fans around the end zones will be charged an additional $100 per seat.

Any fans who elect not to pay the additional charges might have their seats relocated. The Harrisburg newspaper reported that section ED - at the 30-yard line behind the PSU bench - would no longer be reserved for students and would take the relocated fans.

The actual details of this plan will supposedly be mailed to season ticket holders sometime after the regular season, and will not apply to 2010.

But it is not clear exactly how this will impact fans.

"There will be many season-ticket holders who aren't impacted at all by this," said Greg Myford, Penn State associate athletic director for business relations and communications.

Yeah . . . riiiight. How is that even possible?

What is not clear is whether this system will supplant the previous system of tiered levels of giving, or whether it will be used in place of that system. The above quote noted that these costs will be in addition to current levels, but even that doesn't clear the situation completely.

Consider the fan who currently has six tickets in the endzone. Under the current system, that fan would need to donate a minimum of $800 to "qualify" for 6 tickets. According to this new system, that fan would need to donate $600--$100 for each seat per year. But does that fan still need to donate $800 as they did before? I can't imagine Penn State lowering the fee for those seats, so I assume this fan will neeed to pay $1,400 under the new system. If so, this will impact everyone. Even the student section is being restructured.

And what if that fan also previously had a numbered reserve spot, meaning a minimum donation of $2,200. Is this sap now expected to donate $2,800, or will the $100 per seat already be covered by the extra donation he/she makes for the parking privilege?

What I foresee happening is that the bulk of prime seats will shift to wealthy patrons and companies that can afford this $600 per seat luxury tax by PSU. For games like Eastern Illinois, I think you will start to see more empty seats midfield, just as we saw more empty student seats after the University tampered with how students sold and resold tickets. It has been my experience that wealthier fans are not die hard fans. Like Christians that may donate a lot to church but show up only on Easter and Christmas, they donate to Penn State and show up for Alabama and Ohio State.

One fan was recently interviewed in the Altoona Mirror for his tailgate:

John Horon still makes the drive from Philipsburg to State College for Penn State football games, arriving about three hours before kickoff and staying about three hours after the game ends.

But when the game starts, Horon stays put in his parking spot in the shadows of Beaver Stadium.

Fed up with Penn State's regulations, Horon stopped going inside about five years ago.

"You can't drink inside, and you can't come out at halftime," Horon said. "That's the biggest thing. Why should I go in there and pay for a ticket for half a game? I want to come out, use the tailgate. That's what we always used to do, then we'd come back in. Now you can't do that, so there's no sense."
I can't say I blame him. Over the years, PSU has made a series of well-meaning but perhaps misguided decisions that have adversely affected the tailgate atmosphere. It started with no kegs. In and of itself, that is reasonable. They don't want a lot of drunk unruly people wandering around causing trouble. And the reality is that most people wouldn't bring a keg to the game anyway, so you're not impacting the total number of fans much.

But then the issue of not allowing re-entry has always baffled me? What is so hard about a hand stamp and a ticket for reentry? Is it just not wanting to employ people to do that? Is it because they went out for a drink? Didn't you just allow them in the game at the beginning without a breathalyzer? I don't buy the security aspect. Simply don't allow bags and such and search like you would anyone entering the game, whether it is at the beginning or the midway point.

And then they prohibited tailgating while the game is being played. WTF? Who came up with that gem?

This year they added no bottles in the grass lots.

What started out as a noble intention of curbing excessive drinking by a relatively few fans has now trickled down to rules that adversely impact more than just a few fans.

Could it be the University is looking to make money without actually having to make fans happy? Or even deal with them?

With ever increasing access to televised games, a struggling economy, and now huge increases, I think there will be a shift of people out of the stadium--at least people that had regularly attended before when it was more affordable.

But PSU doesn't care about actual bodies, hence the inflated attendance figures based on tickets sold. Fewer fans means less mess and clean-up--more money saved.

Neil Rudel responded critically to this new policy.
And you thought the health-care costs in this country are out of control.

In the past 10 years, it has launched skyboxes and club seats at Beaver Stadium, at premium prices, but that apparently is not enough, and the university has now put Joe Lunchbucket in its cross hairs.

At what point does Penn State consider reducing a handful of sports to the club level?

The answer, obviously, is not yet.

Not if it can shake enough of you to double your football bill and, for example, change it from $2,160 for four seats on the 40 - at $55 per seat times eight home games plus the $400 for the "right" to watch these special teams - to $4,160.

Especially during these financially challenging times, Penn State should be partnering with the Nittany Nation and sharing the burden, not taxing it.

Compounding the matter is people paying an average of upwards of $125 per ticket will rightfully expect the team to score an offensive touchdown against Ohio State without needing replay, which in turn will heighten pressure on the players.

You don't charge this much and have fans say "aw, shucks," when Iowa blocks a punt.

I have already spoken to several long-time fans who have confided in me that this is the last straw if it is true and they will not be renewing their tickets. And while there may be rejoicing from those on the waiting list, keep this in mind: you will have to pay these same fees as well. I strongly suspect those on the waiting list are people who are not wealthy enough to donate enough money to get off the waiting list. I highly doubt this new structure will be budget-friendly for them.

As I said at the outset, I'm a fan of capitalism. If Penn State can pull this off, more power to them. But it sounds like a decidely un-Penn State concept when you consider that Paterno has been woefully underpaid by the University compared to his peers for years, and has actually donated back a lot of his success. Paterno rewards loyalty to a fault, whether it be his senior players or his staff. But for the average fan that has enjoyed seats for many years, through good times and bad, that will change now in the simple interest of money. Sometimes good business sense means making your customers happy rather than alienating them.

And do we fans have any recourse? I guess you can pony up the extra expense, cut back the number of tickets you buy, or get out altogether and invest in a good HD TV and cable/satellite system.

Or, we can speak out. I'm sure the University expects a response--from the article:
The university is aware this new plan will not go over well with many fans and is prepared for a public backlash.

"We'd be naive to think that any time that something is introduced that addresses money" that fans won't be upset, Myford said.

I think to a large extent, the average fan has been disenfranchised. Random complaints are ineffective, and it is next to impossible to coordinate a boycott that would be effective. After all, who is going to risk their Alabama tickets to make a statement.

But maybe there is another way. I'm not sure how much influence the Board of Trustees has in the athletic department, but I suggest that the Alumni--and football fans in particular--need to make themselves known. When elections for trustees come around, nominate me--Todd A. Sponsler--for trustee. I will make sure the voice of Nittany Nation is heard. I'll let them know what we think of their "change." If you are behind me, let me know. Spread the word. We can make ourselves heard!

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