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:
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
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.