Minium: When You Select Your Football Season Ticket Seats This Spring, They Could be Yours for a Lifetime

October 29, 2018
By ODU Athletics
ODU Athletics

By Harry Minium

If you’re an Old Dominion football season ticket holder, you’ll have the chance this spring to guarantee choice seats for the rest of your life.

Because Foreman Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium will undergo a $65 million renovation and expansion during the offseason, ODU has long planned to reallocate every seat in the stadium. The re-seating process – technically most fans will sit in new seats because most of the stadium is being demolished and replaced – will be much the same as it was when it was last done nearly two years ago.

However, because of changes the Old Dominion Athletic Foundation was forced to make in response to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, this spring will be the last time ODU re-seats the stadium.

Fans will be given a chance to select seats based on their ranking in a priority points system that combines many factors, including how long you’ve owned season tickets, how much money you donate and whether you also have tickets to other ODU sports teams. ODAF Donations made toward the 2019 season will count toward your ranking and will help to improve your seat selection time.

Ticket prices will only increase  $1 per season ticket to $235 for premium chair back seating and $200 for regular bench back seating.

All of the new 15,000 seats at Ballard Stadium will either be chairback seats or have back support. 

But ODAF was forced by the new tax law to make other changes to its ticketing polices. Without those changes, donations made to ODU that were once deemed tax deductible would no longer be deductible.

No longer will the number of tickets that a donor can purchase be linked to the amount of donations made by that donor. Instead, ODU will now require a seat membership payment for most seats in premium locations, ranging from $50 to $300 per seat.

The seat membership, called seat licenses by other colleges and many professional sports teams, will be collected yearly and are not tax deductible.

Creating the seat membership will allow ODAF members’ annual donations to remain tax deductible.

“We are responding to the legislation,” said Drew Turner, an associate athletic director for development. “If we did not separate payments made for the rights to purchase tickets from other gifts, it would make all donations non-deductible. And the only way we can operate is by requiring a seat membership payment for the ticket. That’s why we have to institute the seat membership program.”

Jena Virga, a senior associate athletic director for development, said the officials worked hard to be fair to fans while also responding to tax cut law.

“With every decision we made, we had our donors and fans in the forefront of our minds,” she said. “We know there is a lot of change happening. It’s going to take a lot of communication to make this work.

Jena Virga said ODAF will answer questions from every season ticket holder if need be. 

“People will want to take their time when making their seat selection decisions. It’s going to be different than it was in the past in that their selection could be for their lifetime.”

Turner said ODAF officials hope that many of the school’s biggest donors will continue to purchase the same number of seats. However, officials anticipate they may not purchase all of them in prime locations because better seats will require a larger seat membership.

As a result, officials expect about 2,000 prime seats to open up to smaller donors.

“ODU has about 3,000 season ticket accounts and the bottom line is for many of our season ticket holders, they’ve never had a shot at the best seats,” Turner said. “We think that will change under this system.”

Turner said the new seat membership model was introduced for feedback to a focus group of donors at various giving levels, from those who give a few hundred dollars to those who give tens of thousands. 

Once the system was fully explained, he said everyone in the room understood the changes and thought they were fair.

ODAF officials also consulted with nearly a dozen other Football Bowl Subdivision schools who are also making changes in their ticketing policies.

“There’s going to be change, and change always makes people nervous,” Turner said. “There will be a lot of questions. Everyone in the focus group was trying to figure out how this affects them.”

Although donations beyond the seat membership will not be required to retain your seats, your annual donation levels will help determine other major perks, such as access to tailgate football parking, football and basketball VIP areas, passes to the Lexus Field Pass Terrace in football, the Big Blue room during basketball season and access to exclusive team events. ODU will retain its current priority points system to determine access to those benefits. The more you donate, the higher your points rating.

For larger donors, perks include the right to see closed practices, travel with the team and other benefits.

Donations beyond seat memberships are being called  “Because of You” donations, meaning that only because of private support can ODU athletics be successful. ODAF funds nearly half of the $10 million in scholarships provided to ODU athletes.

 “Some people only care about their seats,” said Jason Chandler, ODU’s associate athletic director for strategic communications and revenue generation.

“But a lot of our fans care very much about where they are able to tailgate for football games and access to hospitality areas. They also care about ODU athletics. They know that their donations do so much to help our athletic program and our more than 450 student-athletes.”

Virga said preserving the tax deductibility of donations was necessary.

“Our donors are contributing to a philanthropic cause,” she said. “It’s not about just getting a ticket to a game. It’s about helping us provide the best resources we can to student athletes and allow them to compete at the highest national level possible.”

Shortly after ODU’s home finale on Nov. 17 against VMI, the stadium’s clam shell east and west sides will be demolished and replaced with two levels of seats on both sides. The west side will be topped with a new press box.

Each seat will provide back support, including one third that are chair back seats. The stadium will finally have modern concessions and restroom facilities. There will also be modern light and sound systems.

There will be about 15,000 sideline seats in the new stadium and a portion will require neither a donation to ODAF nor a seat membership payment. A seating plan for the stadium won’t be finalized until January.

Athletic director Wood Selig said ODU will offer "one of the most intimate and comfortable facilities in FBS.”

"But the bottom line is that you’ll be able to continue to enjoy ODU football for $200,” Turner said. “It was important to our administration that we continue to offer affordable access to all ODU fans.

“It’s going to be a better fan experience. You’re going have back support on your seat and a better sight line. You’re going to get more leg room and we have kept it very affordable while delivering a brand-new, $65 million renovated stadium.”

Athletic director Wood Selig praised Turner and Virga for their work, and said the stadium will dramatically improve the fan experience.

“Every sideline seat will be a chair back or bench back,” he said. “Each one. And each sideline seat will be ten feet closer to the field and elevated six feet starting on row one so spectators will literally be on top of the action.

“It will create a pit of sorts for the field below and should be a great home field advantage for our Monarchs. With only 40 total rows, every seat will be a great seat. It will be one of the most intimate and comfortable facilities in FBS.”

Turner said fans can expect to receive their season ticket renewal forms in March and that May 1 is the deadline to reserve season tickets and make annual ODAF “Because of You” donations. The re-seating process will take place in June.

 “Because this is the last time we are re-seating, people really need to take a good look at what they’re doing this year,” Chandler said.

“We have attrition every year, so seats will become available. But if you really want the seats of your choice, if you don’t do it this year, it could be tough to do it in the future.”

Virga said she’s expecting a lot of phone calls.

“It’s going to be challenging to reach all of our donors,” she said. “But we’re here to do that, for the next eight months or however long it takes.

“I want them to know that we’re here to talk to every single donor if we need to.”

 For more information on the ODAF’s new membership structure and the seat membership program, visit the ODAF Website or call 757-683-6963.

* As a result of the tax bill, please note that no ODAF priority points will be issued for seat membership payments. The ODAF and Old Dominion University are not tax professionals and this information is not tax advice. Please consult your tax adviser regarding the tax deductibility of gifts made to the Old Dominion Athletic Foundation.

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