Commentary: Seat Equity Plan Another Part Of 'The Game'


by - Correspondent -
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When Billy D'Andrea came on my talk show Thursday to try and help ease fears over the seating issue which will hit Clemson football in 2008, he got the expected response.

Some folks thought he was dancing around issues and just needed to come out and say the new seat equity plan is about money, plain and simple. Others seemed to understand D'Andrea's explanation that an athletic department at a major university in 2007 must be run like a business.

What worked 25 or 30 years ago won't work now.

To be sure, when the full plan is unveiled early next week there is going to be something of a backlash by a portion of the Clemson fan base. What will be most interesting will be how many of them actually take the time to fully read the brochure that will be mailed out to IPTAY members, or how many will go to the school's website (www.clemsontigers.com) and check out the full presentation.

Because if they do, they might get a better understanding of why the change is not only necessary, but very likely long past due.

Is it a full upheaval of a reseating plan? No. The fact is that every ticket holder with a prime ticket will be given a chance to keep those seats. They'll be given first shot, as a matter of fact.

But you can understand the concern of an athletic department trying to raise money to finish a West End Zone project. If there are donors giving $10,000 or more sitting in the upper deck, while others who are paying anywhere from nothing to $140 per year get seats in the lower section, business isn't being done properly.

And that is the point most people who will be upset by this new system won't be able to comprehend.

It is a business. Big business. Millions and millions of dollars each year worth of business.

Yet the school, which could have shifted around all available seating and then required fans to buy a PSL (Personal Seat License) to boot, stands to only increase its stadium revenue by $1-3 million per year with the current plan.

Compare that to a Kansas basketball program - basketball, mind you - which a few years back completely reseated Allen Fieldhouse, made the best seats available only for top dollar, and generated $31 million in revenues within a two-year period.

So why upset the apple cart if the windfall isn't going to be waist deep?

Well, for starters, it's simply the right thing to do. Any person who runs his or her business the correct way will look at the new seat equity plan and wonder what took the Clemson administration so long to pull the trigger.

After that, it's about long-term giving inside IPTAY. Fans who can afford to give at the $10,000 level by and large can afford to donate money to other aspects of the athletic department (again, see the West Zone project).

But if the person giving the biggest bucks continues to get stuck with the lousiest seats, how likely is he or she to increase their giving?

Not very.

Fans around the Clemson program don't like to hear what other schools are doing, perhaps because Tommy Bowden has been so quick to mention how other coaches he happens to admire handle certain things when questions or criticisms arise.

But in this instance fans - just as Clemson's administration did - have to look at other BCS schools and see how they do business. And when the returns came back, Clemson was the only school in the top 20 in attendance which hadn't already made such a move with seating.

And if I've said it once I've said it a thousand times. If Clemson wants to compete at the highest level - play "the game," as I call it - then it must generate the revenues necessary to keep up with everyone else.

So even if Billy D. is a little hesitant to say it, I'll say it here. It is about money.

College sports today, big time college sports anyway, is all about money. As I've said before, if you don't think so then check out where the ESPN trucks are set up on Sept. 3. They won't be over watching the engineering department doing math.

They'll be at Death Valley, televising Clemson and Florida State in prime time. Raking in huge advertising revenues, then turning around at season's end and writing a sizeable check to the ACC for being allowed to do business.

So, I can hear Joe Fan saying, if I'm going to be expected to shell out more money, shouldn't I expect more from the product on the field?

Absolutely. Billy D. said so himself on Thursday.

Entering the ninth season of Bowden's tenure, it's absolutely fair to question whether you're getting enough bang for your buck.

But with season ticket sales at an all-time high (which,by the way, even shocked a number of athletic department officials after last season's horrible finish), somebody seems to think the program is headed in the right direction.

Either that, or they want to be around to see heads roll.

Whatever the case, next season and perhaps the year after the new seating plan will likely be blamed for what is sure to be a slight dip in ticket sales. But in the long run, if the product remains competitive enough to whet the appetite of Joe Fan, he'll keep finding a way to dig into his pockets to keep his season tickets.

For those who don't, schools like Furman, PC and Newberry could use some extra support.

And that wouldn't be a bad thing, either.

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