GOP tax bill could impact ETSU season ticket donations

Zach Vance • Updated Dec 2, 2017 at 8:41 PM

While tax deductibility might be one reason college athletic fans purchase premium season tickets that require a donation, East Tennessee State University Athletic Director Scott Carter certainly doesn’t think it’s the only reason. 

Similar to college athletic programs across the country, ETSU currently requires a donation, ranging from $75 to $1,250, in lieu of purchasing men’s basketball and football season tickets. 

Those donors are currently eligible for an 80 percent tax deduction, but under the Republicans’ tax plan, that deduction could be repealed, effectively costing donors more to gain access to prime season tickets. 

While some larger universities will undoubtedly feel the impact, the repeal won’t cripple ETSU’s athletic budget. 

According to figures provided by ETSU Senior Associate Athletic Director Mac Hart, ETSU budgets around $707,000 a year in season-ticket donations, although Carter said this year’s season ticket sales surpassed that figure. Hart said $707,000 represents about 5 percent of the total budget. 

Meanwhile, LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva told Business Insider, “We take in $50 million to $65 million a year in donations related to tickets. If even 10 percent of people say, ‘We’re not going to do that anymore,’ that’s at least $5 million to us. We have no other place to make that money up.” 

Carter wasn’t quite as alarmed about the prospects of that provision making it into law. 

“I really like to think that when people give in that capacity — whether it be the purchase of a season ticket with a gift associated with it or just purely philanthropical — that they really don’t do it, in my opinion or my hope, for the tax deduction,” Carter said. 

“I think (the deduction) is a very nice thing, certainly. It’s a very nice benefit. But by and large, I think a lot of people give because they want to be helpful, and they want to be supportive. They want to be great donors and believe in the mission of educating young men and women. (They) take pride in the university. 

“They (donate) for all kinds of great reasons, maybe tax deductibility is one of them, but I certainly don’t think it’s the only one.” 

Based on ETSU’s ticket website, the top four tiers of season tickets for men’s basketball sold out this season and the top three tiers for football sold out in the fall. 

Although ETSU does sell season tickets for most of its other sports, men’s basketball and football are the only sports that actually require a donation for certain sections of season tickets. 

At the recently opened William B. Green Jr. Stadium, skyboxes require a $750 donation combined with the $250 cost of the actual tickets. Club-level season tickets cost the same, but only require a $500 donation, and mid-level season tickets cost $150 combined with a $250 donation. 

Additionally, all those premium football season tickets also require an unspecified “capital gift,” which is a contribution associated with seating priority in the section, according to the ETSU Athletics website.

At Freedom Hall Civic Center, the cost and donations are even more pricey. For premium floor seating, the $325 season ticket cost is coupled with a $1,250 endowment, while courtside seats also cost $325, but require just a $500 donation. 

Carter said ETSU Athletics also receives a significant portion of purely philanthropic donations, which won’t be affected by the new tax bill.

Those donations, which Carter said can sometimes be double the amount received from season-ticket donations, are all funneled into what ETSU Athletics now calls the Excellence Fund. 

Formerly the Pirate Club and the Buccaneer Athletic Scholarship Association, the Excellence Fund supports athletic scholarships, academic support, travel expenses, equipment purchases, medical treatments and a host of other athletic department needs. 

All donations made to the Excellence Fund qualify for priority points, which factor into seating priorities and allows the athletic department to rank donors pertaining to their generosity. 

“Every program has got their own unique and special way of doing things. We’re very, very blessed with a great level of philanthropy here,” Carter said. 




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