When the Gophers ramped up their scholarship seating donation program three years ago, sharply increasing the price for season tickets to revenue sports, one caveat was that the built-in donation was 80 percent tax deductible, a perk the university has called “an outstanding benefit.”
That benefit would disappear under the tax reform bill unveiled Thursday by U.S. House Republications. A tax-deduction repeal is included in the 76-page GOP bill that also would reduce deductions for charitable giving and mortgage interest.
College athletic departments across Minnesota and throughout the country are watching that bill closely, knowing their season-ticket holders could be facing a new financial pinch.
“It would be premature for us to speculate on the impact of this bill, since it still needs to get through both chambers of the Legislature and may look very different following those discussions,” Jake Ricker, Gophers director of strategic communications, said via e-mail.
Scholarship seating donations are part of season-ticket packages for Gophers football, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s hockey and volleyball. The price of the tickets themselves is not tax deductible, but the required donation is. The U website says, “Up to 80 [percent] of the donation is tax deductible, an outstanding benefit compared to our professional counterparts.”
Scholarship seating donations are similar to personal seat licenses for professional teams, with the main difference being the tax deduction. Other schools across the country unveiled scholarship seating programs long before the Gophers started theirs in 2014.
“Schools that have lived by increasing ‘seat-back’ prices will see significant changes ahead,” Idaho Athletic Director Rob Spear told The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C.
Nate Peterson, 39, has had Gophers football season tickets for 17 years. His two seats are on the 10-yard line, seven rows up at TCF Bank Stadium. He pays $330 per ticket, and has an additional $300 scholarship seating donation attached.
He said he’ll continue buying those tickets, even if he loses the tax deduction.
“The reason I have season tickets, and the reason I donate money is because I want to support the state university,” Peterson said Friday.
Others have cited the scholarship seating price increases as a reason they’ve dropped season tickets. The Gophers’ average football attendance was 52,366 two years ago but fell to 43,814 last year and is 44,649 through five home dates this season.
“I don’t think it’s the prices, I think it’s the product,” Peterson said. “People will support it when the team starts to do better.”
The Gophers do not specify how much money they make each year off their scholarship seating program, as the amount is lumped into the category marked “contributions” in their annual budget.
At Minnesota-Duluth, season tickets include a built-in donation to the Bulldog Club Scholarship Fund. UMD hockey fans can buy memberships to a Champions Lodge for $500 per ticket, and 80 percent of that is tax deductible.
“UMD Athletics is aware of the potential legislation and are keeping an eye on it,” Bulldogs AD Josh Berlo said via e-mail. “We will continue to monitor the proposal and see how it may ultimately impact our ticket holders, university and student athletes.”
Minnesota State Mankato has a $560 season ticket plan, with access to the Blue Line [Booster] Club, and $220 of that is tax deductible — for now.