Full-court press on Terps tickets

Basketball: Hundreds of Maryland season-ticket holders will have to increase donations if they want to keep their seats.

April 27, 2002|By Jon Morgan and Christian Ewell | Jon Morgan and Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

About 600 Terrapin basketball season ticket holders were told this week that they would probably have to donate more - in some cases hundreds of dollars more - to the University of Maryland's athletic program by Tuesday or risk not having a seat at the arena that will open in the fall.

"I love basketball. I'm from Indiana. But it strikes me as something is not quite right with this," Alan Armstrong of Columbia said.

Armstrong has purchased season tickets for nine years and donated at least $125 annually to the Terrapin Club booster group for many of those years. He was informed by phone Wednesday that he would need to give an additional $750 by Tuesday to be guaranteed a seat. That is on top of the cost of a season ticket, which will be at least $470.

"I was with them when they weren't so good. As a small-business man, I think you take care of the people who were with you through the lean years," Armstrong said. "I said it sounds like extortion to me. What about the people I'm going to jump ahead of? Will they call them and ask them to give more?"

The university identified 663 season-ticket holders whose support, as measured by a point system, appears to fall short of the minimum to get a seat at the Comcast Center. The $101 million facility being constructed on the College Park campus replaces Cole Field House. Seats are soon to be apportioned to supporters with the most points.

"We decided that we should call every [affected] season-ticket holder so they should not get surprised after the fact," said Josiah C. Hull Jr., interim senior associate director of intercollegiate athletics for external operations.

"We have been consistent in telling them how we would seat them," Hull said, noting the method has been published periodically since 1999.

Most of the fans at risk of being shut out of the arena have been part of the booster club for six or seven years and have given $124 a year, the minimum to retain membership, according to the university.

Demand is strong for the Terrapin Club, boosted by the school's athletic success: Its men's basketball team won the national championship this month, and its football squad played in the Orange Bowl in January.

As a result, membership in the Terrapin Club is at 7,000, up from 5,800 last summer.

The seat-assignment procedure, which the university calls a "people's plan," was created by a committee of 32 that included boosters, former student athletes, faculty and staff. Focus groups from across the state were also consulted.

But that hasn't eased the shock for some. Jeff Gardner, a systems engineer living in Silver Spring, was told Wednesday that he needs to give an additional $1,000 by Tuesday to be assured of seats.

"This was a surprise to me completely," said Gardner, a Terp Club member who has been buying tickets since 1995. He's trying to convince his brothers to share the cost of the donation and tickets.

"It's going to squeeze out some longtime fans, and you'll just have a bunch of rich people hobnobbing at Comcast," Gardner said.

Hull said that what the school is asking is minor compared with other Atlantic Coast Conference schools, such as Duke and North Carolina, which also tie season-ticket access to fund raising.

"At Duke, to get two tickets in the building, you have to give $5,000 per year," he said. "We have people who will have given ... $1,200 who will get tickets in our new arena. Ours is more of a people's plan than you would find at either of those places."

"Terpoints" are the cornerstone of Maryland's system. The points are calculated mainly by current donations, but also by years of giving, referrals to the Terrapin Club and season-ticket subscriptions over time.

Under federal tax law, 80 percent of a club donation is deductible. Money raised by the club is used to finance scholarships for athletes.

"It is the best objective measure that we have to determine who has supported us most over the years," Hull said.

The school estimates that a club member will need at least 198 Terpoints to get a seat in Comcast. That equates to a first-time ticket buyer making a $2,475 donation.

The 198-point estimate is based on projections of ticket demand and donations. The actual cut-off could be higher or lower. Fans who give this week and don't get tickets can request a refund of their most-recent donations. The 663 fans on the bubble can also add to their Terpoint totals by signing up new members or buying tickets to other sports.

Most season-ticket holders aren't in jeopardy of being bumped by new donors. Of the 1,200 newest members, only 30 donated enough to qualify for season tickets at Comcast, Hull said. More likely to bump their way into the arena are club members who didn't have tickets last year but have accumulated points.

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