Posts Tagged ‘University of Wisconsin’

Alvarez should be commended for spring game plan

February 22, 2011 Comments off

Mark your calendars now. This year’s spring football game on April 23 is a can’t-miss event for any Wisconsin fan.

Already a popular event each year, the 2011 version of the spring game promises to be better than ever, especially considering the anticipated competition at quarterback. Credit the philanthropic thinking of UW athletic director Barry Alvarez and head football coach Bret Bielema for the improvement.

For the first time, the UW Athletic Department will charge admission to the event, something Alvarez and Bielema have discussed doing for years. The cost will be $5 per ticket, with all proceeds going to the University of Wisconsin School of Nursing.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for the School of Nursing,” said Katharyn May, dean of the School of Nursing. “Fundraising right now is a tough sell, and the nursing school has been working on raising sufficient funding to build a new home for more than a decade.

“The state of Wisconsin needs this nursing school to grow. We’re one of the best in the country, but we do not have any more room. We can’t put any more students in any more classes because we don’t have seats for them.”

Alvarez announced the ticketing plan Monday afternoon at Wisconsin’s weekly head coaches press conference. In doing so, he also shared a couple stories about how the idea came about.

During his time at Iowa under legendary head coach Hayden Fry, the Hawkeyes annual spring game featured free admission, much like its Wisconsin counterpart has for years. Despite no cost, attendance at the event remained low.

But Fry had an idea to get more fans to show up.

“I can remember Hayden saying, ‘You know, if it’s free, people think there’s no value in it. If you just charge $2, we’ll increase the crowd,’” Alvarez said. “Sure enough, that’s what happened.”

Last spring, Iowa drew 23,502 fans for its annual scrimmage, compared to the crowd of 23,567 that watched the Cardinal squad defeat the White, 25-3, at Camp Randall Stadium on the same sunny afternoon. But those numbers still put Wisconsin well behind the leaders nationally, which include a couple Big Ten rivals.

At Nebraska, the 2010 Red-White game was watched by 77,936 fans. In Columbus, despite poor weather, the Buckeyes drew a crowd of 65,223 at Ohio Stadium.

Football is by far the most popular sport in the United States, and the growing attendance for spring football games — which mean precious little in the grand scheme of things — is the perfect example of such popularity. With tickets being in such high demand, it should come as no surprise that so many schools now charge for these annual intrasquad contests.

What is remarkable, however, is the decision of the UW Athletic Department to charge admission without keeping any of the proceeds for itself.

“This is about us being a part of the campus and us supporting campus,” Alvarez said. “We try to be good partners. We get great cooperation on campus, and this is one way for us to give back and say ‘Thank you,’ and also support the campus.”

Now you may be wondering how Alvarez and Bielema decided the game would benefit the School of Nursing, considering how many other programs on campus could be equally deserving. As it turns out, it was a matter of excellent timing.

On the very same day that the two had decided to charge admission and contribute the proceeds to one of the departments at the University of Wisconsin, the School of Nursing held an event with Alvarez in attendance.

In talking with May and a number of others in the nursing program, Alvarez learned of their excitement regarding a capital project that would provide a new home for the School of Nursing and allow it to increase enrollment by 30 percent.

“One of them said to me, ‘So what are you going to do for us, coach?’” Alvarez recalled. “And I said, ‘You know what, I’ve got something for you.’ And so we shared with them what our plan was, (and) they became very excited about it. I think it will be a win-win situation for them and also for us.”

Coming off their most successful season in more than a decade, which saw the Badgers go to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 2000, it would be safe to assume the annual spring game would see a jump in attendance. Even with a cost of $5 for admission, Wisconsin could expect its biggest crowd yet for the Cardinal-White scrimmage.

That being the case, it also would have been easy for Alvarez to charge the money and take the proceeds for the Athletic Department, which could use some added revenue to keep up with the other major Division I programs in the nation.

Instead, Alvarez and Bielema saw the opportunity to do something bigger than themselves with the spring game. In allowing the School of Nursing to run the event and collect the proceeds, the football program will have a direct hand in furthering the education of some of the university’s best and brightest students, including a number of its athletes.

Despite being in the midst of the greatest nursing shortage in recent history, the School of Nursing has been forced to turn away three students for every one admitted, making it the most competitive program on campus. With the added fundraising now available through the spring football game, enrollment could increase within two years.

If everything goes according to plan, with high attendance at the spring football game and additional funding from the state of Wisconsin, the School of Nursing hopes to break ground this fall, with the new building to open by Fall 2013.

Just how close are they to the necessary funding?

“Within striking distance,” May said. “My job is (to get) $17.3 million, and we are at 13.3 right now. … Nurses do not grow up to become wealthy people by and large, so we are relying on powerful people like Coach Alvarez to help us get the word out.”

Well, now that the word is out, it’s up to Wisconsin fans to come through and uphold their end of the bargain.

Can you spare $5 to support the School of Nursing while spending a beautiful spring afternoon watching a football game with thousands of your closest friends?

If you can, I’ll see you there.

When $17 million just isn’t enough

February 27, 2010 Comments off

What would you do with $18.3 million?

That sum is the amount of money expected from football ticket sales by the University of Wisconsin Athletic Board in its 2010-11 budget approved last Friday. It also accounts for more than 22 percent of the $83.088 million budget request approved by the board.

Along with the budget, the board approved a $3 per ticket increase for general public and student season football tickets, increasing the prices to $42 and $22 per game, respectively.

Working with the board’s figure of $18.3 million, the ticket increase would bring in $1.3 million for the season. If that were the case, a 7.14 percent price increase would generate a similar percentage of the expected football ticket revenue for the department.

But is an additional $21 out of every season ticket holder’s pocket necessary for just a 7.1 percent increase when state unemployment rates reached 8.7 percent in December 2009?

The answer, in short, is yes.

A $3 per ticket hike represents a 7.14 percent increase, which is greater than the average ticket price increase (5.3 percent) in 2010 for the Milwaukee Brewers but less than the increase (up to 15 percent) announced by the Green Bay Packers last month.

Likewise, the University of Wisconsin remains sixth in the Big Ten in terms of ticket prices and the $42 price tag is less than the conference average of $44 per ticket.

Ticket prices for the university’s other two revenue-generating sports — men’s basketball and men’s hockey — remain unchanged, as they have since 2006 and 2005, respectively.

The board’s decisions were expected and the ticket increase for football was the first by the UW in any major sport since increasing football ticket prices in 2007.

Based on rising costs for team travel, scholarships, and equipment (among other things) it’s clear a $3 increase was necessary for the financial sustainability of the Athletic Department. Since the last ticket price hike in 2007, tuition alone at the university has gone up $1,125.36 (15.6 percent) from $7,188.40 to $8,313.76.

Considering tuition makes up a significant portion of the full and partial scholarships awarded to approximately 350 athletes annually, the rising costs of tuition have certainly had a significant impact on the Athletic Department. According to the department’s 2008-09 annual report, UW scholarship costs are expected to reach $10 million per year by 2011.

Of its $83 million budget, only 30 percent is “guaranteed” money according to what John Jentz, the associate athletic director for business operations told the finance, facilities and operations committee last week.

The other 70 percent comes from fans, including (but not limited to) ticket revenues.

Though the UW has 23 Division I sports, the Athletic Department relies on football to generate more than two-thirds of its ticket revenue. Through that revenue, and a five percent budget cut for 22 of 23 sports next year, the Athletic Department expects a surplus of just over $100,000.

Since the sizes of Camp Randall Stadium and the Kohl Center cannot easily be increased, the only logical way to increase revenue is through raising ticket prices.

Furthermore, based on the average time between raising ticket prices, the board easily could have increased prices by $3 in men’s basketball as well, generating another $900,000 in revenue based on the team’s average attendance over 18 home games last season.

Doing so would give the Athletic Department a generous surplus of more than $1 million, as opposed to a slim positive margin of a little more than $100,000. Such a surplus could even negate the need to make five percent budget cuts for the second of three consecutive years.

But by choosing to forego raising basketball (and hockey) ticket prices for another year, as well as cutting the budget by five percent for all but one sport, the board showed concern for the current economic climate while also addressing its own financial needs.

There was simply no other way for the department to remain financially self-sufficient and support 23 Division I sports without making more significant budget cuts.

For that, the UW Athletic Board should be commended for the $3 ticket increase.