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ACC Schools Leaning Hard On Boosters

July 10, 2007

By David Glenn,

In the continuation of a growing trend throughout college athletics, many ACC universities are sending a very clear message to their supporters this year: Pay up or else.

Butch Davis' contract with North Carolina includes an average of more than $1 million per year from UNC's booster club.  (Courtesy of UNC Athletic Communications)
Many fans are doing exactly that, digging deeper into their pockets to support their favorite teams. Others are hopping mad at the thought of pouring more money into an already expensive relationship.

At Boston College, Clemson, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Virginia, thousands of football season ticket holders are being informed that they will have to increase their annual giving -- dramatically, in most cases -- to the schools' booster club organizations in order to have the option of purchasing the same seats in the future. Other ACC schools crossed the same bridge years ago.

"This is something everyone in major college athletics is dealing with, to one degree or another," said Boston College athletic director Gene DeFilippo. "If you look around the country, you'll see that those of us making changes [to season ticket policies] now are actually behind the times. I think you'll also see that, in many cases, our changes are less extreme than what you see elsewhere."

Many BC fans were angered soon after the 2006 football season, when they learned that they would have to pay a large ($500 to $1,000 per seat), mandatory "donation" just for the right to renew their season tickets.

Massachusetts state senator Michael Morrissey ultimately asked the state's attorney general's office to review BC's new ticket policy. James Athanus, a retired Boston lawyer and BC alum, said he was considering an action against his alma mater based on the state's consumer-protection laws.

DeFilippo said that only 16 percent of the school's season-ticket holders -- basically, 6,000 or so supporters with the best seats at BC's Alumni Stadium -- were affected by the new policy. According to school officials, those who choose not to make the new donations still are guaranteed an opportunity to purchase season tickets in other parts of the stadium.

Clemson officials appear destined for a similarly unpleasant controversy, and they know it. In advance of the details of their new policy, which is expected in August, they have consulted with sports business giant International Management Group in an effort to create a palatable sales pitch.

The Tigers' challenge is a familiar one. They want to reward any big-money boosters who still sit in the nose-bleed sections of Death Valley, but they don't want to alienate loyal supporters who fill prime seats while contributing at much lower dollar levels.

It's a particularly sensitive issue at Clemson, which built its tremendously successful booster club many years ago with a grassroots philosophy ("IPTAY," for "I Pay 10 A Year") that had a particular appeal to working class folks.

North Carolina also has met some resistance this summer with its revised football season ticket policy, but the Tar Heels drew much bigger headlines with the lucrative contracts they awarded to basketball coach Roy Williams and new football coach Butch Davis.

The overwhelming majority of the media coverage in North Carolina this spring focused on the large dollar amounts involved in the coaches' deals -- an average of about $2.6 million per year in an extension through 2014-15 for Williams and an average of about $1.86 per year through 2013 for Davis. No ACC school pays more combined on an annual basis for the leaders of its two highest profile programs.

"In our eyes, Roy Williams is the best coach in the country," said UNC athletic director Dick Baddour. "We believe it was the fair thing to do and the right thing to do to meet the market standard for him, and that's what we did."

What didn't draw nearly as much attention to UNC was the fact that the school leaned on its boosters more heavily than ever when it came time to answer a very important question: How were they going to pay these guys?

The amount of money in Williams' new, $20 million-plus deal that will be raised separately by UNC's booster club organization, known as the Educational Foundation or the Rams Club, is greater than the amount of money that will come from more traditional (base salary, radio/TV, shoe/apparel) means.

Davis' contract with UNC includes an average of about $1.2 million per year in supplemental income from the Rams Club, or about 64.5 percent of the total value of the deal. As with Williams, the Rams Club money is paid to the university, not directly to the coach, but UNC is obligated to pass along the large, specified amounts annually under the terms of the coaches' contracts.

It's just another example of more boosters paying a greater portion of their favorite school's financial obligations in the athletic arena. And it's a trend that doesn't figure to go away any time soon.

Issue 2.28: July 12, 2007