Seating Priority Points Systems (SPPS)
by Donna A. Lopiano, Ph.D., President, Sports Management Resources
Seating priority points systems (SPPS) are common mechanisms used across the country by athletics programs to determine ticket purchasing and seat location priorities for collegiate athletics events. These systems are designed in a manner that creates incentives for ticket buyers to increase donations to the athletics annual fund or major giving programs in order to get a better seat location. Seats are assigned based on total numbers of points earned and points earned are heavily weighted toward donations. For example, 1 point may be awarded for each $100 donated to the annual fund or 2 points awarded for each season ticket purchased.
The purposes of a SPPS are three-fold:
- establish a fair and transparent system underlying all decisions related to seat location;
- thank and give weight to those who make the greatest contributions to the success of the University and its athletics program; and
- encourage increased donations to the athletics annual fund that support student-athlete scholarships, salaries that will enable university to attract the finest coaches who are master teachers central to the success of the program and the maintenance of athletics facilities and programs that serve the entire university community.
These systems are in stark contrast to “seat licensing” systems which place a “tax” on top of the price of a season ticket based on the premium location of a seat. Seat licenses are most often used by professional sports franchises that have high market demand. Priority point systems are a better philosophical fit for universities in that they “honor and thank donors that do the most to advance the mission of the department” as opposed to imposing a more commercial, this is “price you pay to get a good seat”.
With a SPPS, there is constant pressure on the spectator to give more money to get more points. Seat licenses on the other hand, like taxes, increase every so often and, again like taxes, taxpayers aren’t usually happy about the increases. Because the SPPS never changes, the ticket buyer doesn’t get the impression of increased costs. Priority points are accumulated beginning with a time certain that usually corresponds to the year furthest back that the university and the athletics department are confident of the accuracy of giving and ticket purchase records and continues indefinitely into the future, until the account holder (or spouse) dies.
Another characteristic of seating priorities is that seats can change every year. Points are recalculated every year and seat locations are assigned accordingly. In reality however, after the first few years during which fans figure out the system and their ability to afford a certain point level, seating is relatively stable.
A SPPS is more transparent and fairer than “seat licensing systems”. In a seat license system, everyone in a certain section pays the same license fee, but there are issues of priority within the section. Many times these issues are settled by longevity (years holding the tickets), but this does little to provide incentives for increased giving. Most athletics directors agree that a SPPS is totally transparent and therefore perceived as fair because everyone knows the rules. Of course, the year in which the rules of the seat location game are changed is the most difficult year to deal with.
Critical Steps in Creating a Ticket Priority System
- Create a point system that expresses institutional values and creates incentives for the most valued behavior (i.e., growing annual gifts vs. selling the greatest number of season tickets)
- Address the need to balance the athletics department interest with the greater institutional interest. The larger the expectation of athletics producing increased revenues and carrying its own funding burden, the greater emphasis on points for athletics giving, and the fewer points for non-athletics giving.
- When developing the point system, recognize there will always be people that try to beat the system. Commit to figuring out what the loop holes are and how to eliminate them.
- Examine how the establishment of such a system to exploit an athletics asset, might have an unanticipated impact on non-athletics giving and how that can be minimized. All communications about implementing the system must contain a request that increased giving to athletics not come at the expense of giving to other university departments.
- Prior to instituting the system, take the previous year’s actual season ticket purchasers and apply the system to them to assess the real impact of the system on all stakeholders, adjusting the system on the basis of factual data rather than fears.
- Prior to instituting the system, create a master list of anticipated questions and answers in order to anticipate the problems that will have to be handled and help those who will have to answer those questions. Invariably, this exercise results in the establishment of good policy prior to the roll out of the new program and makes for a less stressful transition.
- Commit to meetings with the most important stakeholders and creating a great communications piece to introduce the system in the most personal way will result in gaining the greatest support for the system.
Remember that a SPPS is not a ticket sales tool. In reality it is a development or fundraising mechanism. Implementing a SPPS presents a valuable opportunity for the development staff to interact via a personal meeting with a season ticket holder, ostensibly to explain the new system, but in reality, a valuable one-on-one meeting to seek increased financial commitment to the institution and its athletics program.