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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Hook 'Em Horns

UT Athletics Disloyal, Bad with Numbers.

Bill Plaschke is the best narrative sports writer in the country. His article today regarding Scott Wilson, a University of Texas fan who has attended every football game for over thirty years--and nearly every game for five other UT sports as well--is captivating. Yet Plaschke misses the point; the University of Texas is not heartless for ignoring fans such as his protagonist, giving the best seats to big donors rather than big fans, but rather that UT is stupid for doing so. Wilson donates $800 every year, along with purchasing enough merchandize to cover his entire home in burnt orange and season tickets to six sporting events. UT may be a quality university, but the accountants in the athletics department don't seem to be too bright; such consistent, and generous giving does make an impact to an $80 million athletics department. Assuming, for a each game (at 80 games, which certainly seems reasonable for 6 season tickets, as well as every away football and baseball game), Wilson purchases a $20 ticket ($1600), $5 parking ($160), and another $10/game for concessions ($800) as well as $1,000 per season in merchandise, added to his $800 annual donation, Wilson sends $4,000 per year to UT. Scott Wilson, thus, provides a consistent .005% of UT's athletics operating budget. That doesn't seem like a lot? If UT--a school which graduates approximately 20,000 undergraduates and graduates per year--cultivated only 20,000 Scott Wilsons, it could halt fundraising altogether and pay for its entire athletics department through the generosity of such fans. Over 30 years, UT would have to instill such loyalty in only 3% of all graduates per year.

Perhaps such fanaticism is brought on by psychological trauma (Wilson's overzealous passion for UT athletics kicked into high gear at the age of 27, after the death of both his father and brother due to heart attacks). Some find God, others find UT athletics (in Texas, most need both). Thus, recruiting 3% of your graduating class to hold UT sports as dear (and expecting them to "sacrificed several jobs and relationships to remain faithful to UT") is not realistic. Yet not rewarding such loyal fans who consistently contribute a noticable sum to UT sports is bad economics. Cigarette companies grasped the idea decades ago, rewarding loyal smokers with trinkets in return for sending in old cigarette boxtops. The fact UT cannot track its most loyal ticket purchasers through a similar system seems to be squandering an amazing opportunity to easily increase their bottom line while ensuring not to alienate their most loyal and consistent donors who--as an added bonus--require the least amount of resources, outreach and prodding to contribute to the university.