The value of season tickets to college football and basketball games is only part of the expense for many fans. Those tickets will cost more in 2018 aside from any price increases.
A provision of the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that took effect in January eliminated the 80-percent deduction for donations to university athletic departments that are tied to ticket purchases.
About half of the University of Utah’s football and basketball season tickets require such gifts, with a higher percentage in football. Fans were asked in 2017 to donate from $250 to $515 to the Crimson Club for the opportunity to buy seats between the 20-yard lines at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
In the past, $400 of a $500 donation tied to seating could be deducted. Ticket-renewal campaigns under way this month will help schools gauge how much of a deterrent the law may become.
“We have not made any drastic changes to our methods of operations,” said Steve Smith, the Utes athletic department’s chief financial officer. But “we are cautiously preparing for how the new tax law may affect our budgets.”
Major athletic programs also are faced with paying 21 percent excise taxes for every dollar over $1 million paid to their highest-salaried employees, in most cases football and men’s basketball coaches, under the new law. In Utah’s case, the income of football’s Kyle Whittingham ($3.7 million) and basketball’s Larry Krystkowiak ($3.4 million) would make a total of $5.1 million subject to the excise tax, costing the school slightly more than $1 million.
There is some suggestion within the industry, though, that a loophole may keep public universities exempt from the excise tax. That’s being studied. BYU’s coaching salaries are undisclosed. Based on comparisons to other athletic departments, the private school likely would have to pay the tax on the contracts of football’s Kalani Sitake and men’s basketball’s Dave Rose.
Utah State’s coaching pay is below the $1 million level, so the excise tax would not affect USU athletics, even if it is enforced for public schools.
As for ticket purchases tied to donations, the Aggies sell 20 suites and 740 club seats at Maverik Stadium. “It is a challenge,” USU athletic director John Hartwell said. “We’ve got to monitor it and see what the net effect is going to be. With the vast majority of our donors, there’s been very little response saying they would [adjust].”
In response to the pending law, about one-fourth of USU’s donors made their 2018 payments in December, Hartwell said, qualifying for the deduction. Utes boosters, who contribute nearly $9 million annually, paid about $500,000 in December, Smith said.
Utes fan Peter Harrison said he now will make his donation through his limited liability corporation. Most fans informally surveyed said the loss of the deduction will not immediately affect their ticket purchases but could have an impact in the coming years.
“I’m not going to change anything,” USU booster Dee Jones said. But due to the loss of the tax deduction, he added, “I don’t see any reason to increase my donation in the future, and that’s where I think universities, particularly athletic departments, are going to have to get creative.”
The premium seats in BYU’s LaVell Edwards Stadium and the Marriott Center are tied to a priority points system on levels of giving through the Cougar Club rather than specific donation figures. BYU, like other schools, is observing how the new law will affect support, but “we believe our fan base is incredibly loyal,” associate athletic director Duff Tittle said. – by Kurt Kragthorpe, The Salt Lake Tribune