On March 15th, IPTAY Clemson Senior Associate Athletic Director for External Affairs Bill D’Andrea had the unenviable task of announcing to Clemson Nation that ticket prices were going up. In addition to the slight ticket hike, all fans purchasing season tickets would be required to pay $24 per season ticket to go towards much needed revenue in the WestZone Project. In addition to the press release, D’Andrea went on a public relations tour of several radio shows saying how critical it is for this extra money to enter IPTAY’s coffers, as the organization is in dire need of cash to finish the WestZone project.
The original media release was filled with comparisons and market analysis by Clemson and IMG (a sports marketing firm). You name the spin, it was thrown out. It was as if IPTAY knew it was about to fight a battle that it could not win, and they marched out any and every troop they could to defend the fort. This time, D’Andrea was the wounded solider. In the past, it has been Dr. Phillips or President Barker. Even head football coach Tommy Bowden spent several years falling on the sword as he publicly pleaded for this project to gain momentum. I guess D’Andrea should feel honored.
The reaction was greeted with the typical wide range of emotions from a diverse fan base that is hard to please as a group. Some were happy, some were upset, some were mad, and some were ambivalent. And there may have been a sprinkling of those that thought it was a good idea.
In the aftermath of the announcement, much like similar pleas in the past for capital for the WestZone project and ticket price raises, it has become clear that the issue of raising money for Clemson lacks a system-wide intrinsic motivation from the fan base. The problem Clemson has is not about raising money; it is about changing a culture and mind set.
Let me be the first to cast a stone at my own glass house. While I have attended games at Clemson since 1977, my “post-college” Clemson life is only around 12 years old. During those first eight years, my wife and I paid a minimum IPTAY contribution and benefited in priority from my parents (who have been donors since the late 60’s). I have never purchased tickets through my own priority points, opting for the better deal of purchasing with my parents. There is nothing wrong with that per se because Clemson was getting money for the tickets, and where they were getting that money from really did not matter. And I feel fortunate to be from a Clemson family, buying tickets through my parents so my seats were better.
But you could safely say I was being selfish, grabbing my parking passes and seats with my parents and skirting by with a minimum contribution to IPTAY of my own. Had I taken the tickets and passes from my parents while increasing my donation on my own to IPTAY, all would have been fine morally, I suppose. But that is not what I did.
Three and a half years ago, I became even more selfish. I decided to further my education, enrolling in graduate school at Clemson. I proceeded to drop close to $25,000 to this wonderful institution as an investment in my future. Graduate school also coincided with my involvement with Clemson in a more direct way as I began writing on Clemson web sites and broadcasting radio shows on Clemson game days. Tickets, never an issue before with home games, were now no longer an issue for road games either. Priority for bowl tickets was no longer an issue. And my points in IPTAY became less relevant to me, from a selfish viewpoint. To this day I could not tell you how many priority points I have earned.
And I rationalized it all. I was shoveling $400 a month to the University and that is a hefty spike in the pocketbook for any mere mortal. I also rationalized it by using the gray line between journalist and fan to my advantage. A “journalist” can’t interview a player or a recruit or a coach and still be a paying member to the athletic booster club. The NCAA would be breathing down my neck and I would jeopardize the athletic programs that I love. That was my rationalization, and I was sticking to it.
The reason for this languishing self-reflection above is to speak from a perspective of true regret. I’ve been there, done that. And nothing I can say below (that may be hard to swallow when you read) can’t be said directly back at me. I’m not talking just at you; I’m talking to myself too.
Many of us are selfish about Clemson athletics. And that’s wrong.
The majority of this fan base needs a culture change from the ground up. We want to be a big time athletic program, and at times we are certainly that. Our fan base runs very wide and the family still dominates at Clemson instead of the corporate juggernaut.
But it is that family motto that in many ways is our downfall. Because the money we spend on Clemson is our money and not some corporate excess used for public relations, we immediately want something direct in return.
We pay our money (the largest group at $140 a year) and we expect/demand to be treated as if that were $140,000 a year.
Stuck in the upper deck at home games? Unacceptable.
Parking pass not in the lot that is convenient to your seat? Unacceptable.
Not allowed to purchase tickets to a bowl game that sold out in minutes? Unacceptable.
Stuck in the end zone of a bowl in Orlando where half the stadium was empty. Unacceptable.
Asked to pay extra for season tickets to help the WestZone project? Unacceptable.
Most Clemson fans want something direct and immediate in return for their investment. We want something tangible. We want to see a progressive improvement in all facets of our priority directly related to every single dollar we push into the system. For every dollar in, we think more and more should come back in return.
And it should not be about that if the culture were inline with the mission of IPTAY. We should be donating our money to Clemson and to IPTAY with little to no strings attached. We should want to donate because we want to help the athletic program that means so much to us. We should be happy to donate by only knowing that what money we put in is for the betterment of the athletic program and not what is better for us.
It’s a culture change that I think some are willing to take part in, but simply have not for whatever reason.
Part of the blame for our culture at Clemson lies at the feet of IPTAY itself, who for years coddled every persistent member as if they were the most important member Clemson had. This coddling created a set of uneven and unequal rules based on whom you knew and how persistent you were. You needed a problem resolved? Make a call or visit Clemson and your problem could be quietly solved. You need a favor to get moved to a better seat? Call the right person and your situation would improve.
It’s a nice business plan, but it has backfired terribly. It has created a culture of entitlement with the wheels making the most noise being the wheels that get oiled. It has created a culture of paying low and demanding high. And it has not created a culture of doing the right thing for the betterment of the athletic program.
While Clemson fans, ultimately, are to blame for the general apathy in increasing their donations, IPTAY leadership of the 1980’s cannot walk away from the table with hands clean either. There has been little incentive historically to increase the donation, instead allowing for a solid pattern of back door hidden tricks being the norm for settling concerns. IPTAY made the bed, and unless we change they are going to have to sleep in it. To IPTAY’s credit, they are trying to slowly change that system by setting up the priority point distribution. But this process has been slow and painful to implement, to put it mildly.
But placing blame on any person on either side at this point is irrelevant, although a general realization is that everyone should shoulder some blame is appropriate to note.
I stand before you willing to admit my greed and self-interest. It is easy to make excuses of how you can’t afford to do any more than what you are doing. It is easy to pay the minimum and then make a private plea to a buddy at Clemson who in turn helps you out. It is easy to say that you will never buy a ticket through Clemson to a bowl game again since you were stuck with junky seats one year. It is easy to say that you will get your tickets from somebody else and pay little or nothing to IPTAY. It is easy to say that unless we start winning championships in football your money will stay in your pocket for other various hobbies and interests. It is easy to say you just can’t afford to put at least a dollar a day towards Clemson because your financial situation is in flux.
It is easy to demand that we need a WestZone and then sit back and not give one red cent for the project.
And it is easy to want something tangible in return for your investment or the investment is not going to happen at all.
It’s much harder to do the right thing. It’s much more difficult to recognize your self-interests. It is much more difficult to soak up a game day of exciting football knowing that you cannot put a price on that moment. It is much more difficult to understand that there is a balance between annual giving and contribution longevity. It is much more difficult to write a check during a bad football season.
And it is much more difficult to realize and understand that IPTAY is not about you, but about our athletic programs and student athletes. I’ll say that again. IPTAY is not about you. And it is certainly not about me.
So I started with myself. I sent the check off last Saturday, increasing my membership donation level in the process. I even missed the deadline (March 15) for processing season tickets. No matter. What I gave was not a lot, but it was more than I gave before. It’s probably not even as much as I could give, but it is a start and it signifies my new belief that I will do better and I will do my best to increase my donations as the years go by.
And IPTAY can use my small donation and do as they see fit and I don’t care what that means for me as far as tickets or parking passes or bowl priority.
It’s not about me anymore. I am following those very few of you that have grasped this concept and are leading the way. You should be commended and you should know that some of us are heading your way. I think it is the right thing to do for our athletic department. It sounds cheesy, and I suppose in many ways it is. But I found long ago that complaining gets you nowhere, and nowhere is not where I want to go.
I’m left to simply enjoy my intrinsic satisfaction about my donation from this point forward. The intrinsic satisfaction of knowing you are making a difference, even if you are not told so directly or given something tangible that is better than what you had at your other level.
Whether they knew it or not, IPTAY has changed the culture in at least one person who writes this article that you are reading. And this one person has a unique forum to tell all that have the patience to read.
I will never, ever, pay enough money financially to cover what I get back intrinsically from Clemson athletics. There are no seats good enough, no parking pass close enough, and no bowl priority high enough to reap what I sow. I grasp now that IPTAY is not about me at all. And I’m okay with that.
My culture has changed.