The University of Tennessee announced a 6.4 percent increase in the price of football season tickets Monday, an effort to generate an additional $1.95 million needed to offset rising athletic department expenses.
Prices will increase $19 to a total of $315, a rise of $2.71 per ticket for each of UT's seven home games in 2008. Fans with chairback seats will pay an additional $3 per ticket.
According to Mike Hamilton, men's athletic director, taxes account for about $40 of the $315 total for each season ticket.
"It's not easy to make the decision to change ticket prices and make the fans pay more, particularly in a time where there's a supposed recession going on in the country," Hamilton said. "At the same time, our fans have a certain level of expectation - I'm not talking about just football; I'm talking about all sports - that we're going to perform at a certain level, and that comes with a cost we have to self-generate."
Rising costs for student-athlete scholarships, travel and operating expenses led to the price increase, said Hamilton, who has decreased the men's $22.88 million operating budget by $1.18 million since becoming athletic director in 2003.
Another factor is an anticipated rise in nonoperational expenses, namely coaching salaries. Both the men's basketball and football coaching staffs will receive salary increases this year.
The extra $1.95 million generated by the ticket increase will help fund all 20 men's and women's sports on campus and allow UT to remain one of fewer than 10 athletic programs nationally that does not receive state or university funds.
According to athletic department figures, Tennessee football ticket prices are tied with Arkansas as the fifth-most expensive in the SEC.
Alabama has the most expensive season tickets at $355, followed by Auburn at $350. However those prices do not include any required donations for the right to purchase tickets.
"Our net price per seat, per ticket holder is further down (than fifth) in the league," Hamilton said.
For example, Florida will charge only $224 this season, but it requires a minimum donation of $2,500 to purchase a pair of tickets.
Tennessee, meanwhile, requires a minimum $500 annual donation for a pair of seats, and only about 29,500 of the 102,037 seats in Neyland Stadium are tied to an athletic gift.
Twenty-two percent of season tickets are grandfathered and do not require an annual donation. Another 15 percent of seats are available through the Tennessee Alumni Association, which allows donors to purchase season tickets in exchange for a minimum gift to the university or a specific academic program.
According to Hamilton, Tennessee is the only SEC school that gives its alumni association tickets for academic fundraising purposes.
Those factors made raising ticket prices the most equitable way to generate the needed revenue, Hamilton said.
"We only have 29 percent of our tickets that are tied to athletic donations in the stadium, which is a pretty low number compared to our peers," Hamilton said.
By raising minimum donations, "you're only addressing 29 percent of the people. This way, the revenue production is spread over a lot more people," he said.
This year, South Carolina and Kentucky both increased the minimum donation required to purchase football tickets.
In January, LSU announced an increase of $5 per ticket and a $150 increase in the minimum donation needed to purchase tickets. By 2010, the required donation to purchase season tickets at LSU will have will have risen from $500 to $950.
Initially, Hamilton thought Tennessee would need to increase ticket prices by much more than $19.
"We're happy we landed where we did," Hamilton said. "Through a lot of meetings and a lot of discussions, we ended up at the $19. You never like increasing ticket prices, but if there is such a thing, I think it was a fair ticket price increase."
Additionally, UT will charge faculty and staff 80 percent of the normal ticket price, as opposed to 50 percent in previous years, in order to meet IRS benefit guidelines.
UT last increased the price of football season tickets in 2006. Prior to that, the last increase came in 2001.
Drew Edwards covers University of Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274.