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A couple of variables lead to a rise in Utah football season ticket costs

Fans watch the University of Utah football team play on Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014, in Salt Lake City.
Fans watch the University of Utah football team play on Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014, in Salt Lake City.
Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah athletic director Chris Hill doesn’t just talk about how open his department is when it comes to a consolidated budget, a mission statement and goals.

For transparency, he’s had it all printed on cards — for the faculty or whoever wants them.

Hill grabbed one off his desk while discussing recent increases in some football season ticket prices and other matters.

The mission statement reads: “The athletics department seeks to provide the means for all student-athletes to reach their full potential academically and athletically, while also becoming positive contributors to society. Our core values are honesty, excellence, relationships, and service.”

Below that five goals are listed. They include providing the ultimate student-athlete experience; providing value to the university, community and state; displaying loyalty, honesty, fiscal soundness and good sportsmanship; building championship athletic performances; and striving to provide the best fan experience in the Pac-12.

On the back of the business card is a copy of the Utah athletic department’s consolidated budget for fiscal year 2015. It totals $61,771,234 — ranking 10th or 11th in the Pac-12, according to Hill.

As costs rise, Hill and other athletic directors in the conference are frustrated by the notion that their departments are rolling in money. Pac-12 Networks revenues are well below optimistic projections, and new expenses such as “full cost of attendance” associated with athletic scholarships in the conference have altered the bottom line.

The gap for the scholarship enhancements (giving student-athletes additional funds and benefits), Hill explained, is close to $1 million per year — approximately $3,500 per student-athlete at Utah.

“Our world has changed so much over the past four or five years in terms of our need to be competitive and building our resources,” Hill said.

As such, adjustments are being made. Utah football season-ticket holders are already finding that out. Mandatory Crimson Club donation fees have increased for 5,415 seats (ranging from $50-$250 per year) and are being added ($100) to 3,013 premium bleacher seats for the first time.

Hill said the “main, main purpose” of the hikes was to help close the $1 million gap for full cost of attendance allowances in scholarships for the entire athletic department (not just football).

“We’re not trying to raise $1 million on the back of only our contributors, we’re doing everything we can with our marketing, ticket sales for other sports, etc.,” Hill explained.

Hill said that Crimson Club donation fees for premium seats at the stadium usually increased every three to five years. This, however, is just the second rise since 2005.

The big change this year is the addition of the premium bleachers on the end zone sidelines. Season tickets in those sections now require an annual $100 Crimson Club donation.

Understandably, it’s caused a little bit of an uproar.

“It is a different world but by no means are we insensitive,” said Hill, who acknowledged that in retrospect he could have done a better job explaining it to fans in those sections beforehand. “It was a judgment call. I think in any judgment call you can’t do enough prepping for the people that may be impacting the most.”

Hill is sympathetic that higher costs affect people and said that U. officials are trying to accommodate those affected by the new fee as best they can.

The overall cost for Utah season tickets already increased because of the number of home games in 2015, up to seven from six in 2014.

In addition, every ticket for each game now includes a $2 facility enhancement fee. The initial funds are for proposed projects including a new video board and restroom improvements.

Hill said the hope is to not take from operating expenses. A facility fee for basketball and gymnastics at the Huntsman Center, where fan experience enhancements have recently been added, will likely result in a fee of around $1 per ticket beginning next season.

Associate athletic director Ann Argust said all ticket-related revenue is going to support the objectives of trying to make Utah successful in the Pac-12. That includes things such as salary increases for coaches.

In football, the Utes have a 98 percent renewal in season-ticket purchases.

Argust is hopeful the community is supportive of what’s going on and wants everyone to feel like money is being spent in a purposeful way to make the Utes successful in the Pac-12. She added that student-athletes are being provided with more and that demands on the program continue to escalate.

“We’re committed to making a great athletic department,” Argust said. “We’re very committed to doing the right thing for our student athletes and we would really love for them to be on board with us with that.”

Added Hill: “The important thing is that we just do right by the student-athletes. We pull together. It’s a community team.”


Twitter: @DirkFacer