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University of Oregon to replace mandatory fee for sports tickets with optional discount program

The University of Oregon Tuesday announced it is adopting a new program that will allow students to opt in to purchase discounted season tickets to football and most men’s and women’s basketball games.

Previously, students were charged a fee for access to game tickets, regardless of whether they chose to attend — but UO’s student government terminated that roughly $1.7 million agreement with the UO Athletics Department earlier this year.

The athletics department had initially proposed a new mandatory fee for incoming students to pay for access to games, to cover the cost of the dropped agreement with the student government, but UO President Schill said Tuesday that he had declined to recommend that fee to the Board of Trustees.

That proposed fee would have only applied to incoming students — due to UO’s Oregon Guarantee program which locks in mandatory fees and tuition for each new class of undergraduate students for a period of five years. The athletics department fee did not provide a way for returning students to access game tickets, and that’s one reason Schill decided against it.

Instead, Schill announced Tuesday, the university will provide $1.2 million in university licensing revenue to the athletics department to subsidize the sale of 5,000 student ticket passes for $100 each.

The department will also continue selling single tickets to games, subject to availability, the university said.

“There appears to be consensus about the value of athletics and the importance of access to sporting events, at least among the students I heard from,” Schill wrote Tuesday. “The main difference was over who should pay for that access — students or the Athletics Department.”

Prior to this year, the Associated Students of UO — the student government — had an agreement with the UO Athletics Department dating back to 1987, according to the university. In that agreement, students were charged a fee every regular term for unlimited access to most sporting events, and to access a lottery system for limited tickets to football and men’s basketball games.

ASUO voted to end that agreement, instead reallocating that money to student needs programs such as free menstrual product availability and textbook subsidies.

In a message to members of the UO Senate — a governance body made up of students, faculty and other campus community members — Schill wrote that he was concerned that now not all students will have access to game tickets under the new plan.

“I am concerned about the effect of this change on the ability of our students, particularly our lowest income students, to attend sporting events,” Schill wrote to the University Senate.

He also said that he has suggested that the ASUO consider “the impacts of its decision to stop funding no-cost tickets once we get a bit of experience with this new model.”

ASUO President Isaiah Boyd stands by the student government’s decision to reallocate the funds from those student ticket fees to student needs programs.

“I won’t say that our process was perfect this year in terms of how we’ve reached our goals, however, at the end of the day we were elected by the student body to work in their best interest,” Boyd said. “That means prioritizing our spending so that our students from lower income families, marginalized identified groups, BIPOC identifying, undocumented, or first-generation all have a network of support made accessible to them.”

Boyd also noted that ASUO’s agreement with the athletic department did not provide “no-cost tickets.”

“That agreement was $1.7 million directly taken from all students to provide tickets to those that wanted to attend athletic events,” Boyd said. “From my perspective as a student here at the UO, there isn’t anything on this campus that is ‘free.’ I see my student dollars and tuition floating around the campus with every new project, program or salary bonus.”

Overall, Boyd said he was pleased to see that the university administration has worked to find an alternative source of revenue to provide a ticket program to students.

Initially, some students and advocates suggested the athletics department should be paying for the student tickets, rather than putting the burden on all students — including those who do not even attend games in the first place. According to the university, historically 45% of UO students do not attend a single intercollegiate sporting event in a given year.

In the announcement Tuesday, President Schill noted that due to the pandemic, the UO Athletics Department is in a deficit of “tens of millions of dollars this fiscal year,” which has resulted in salary cuts for department employees. Because of those circumstances, Schill said he did not find it “possible or appropriate” for the athletics department to front the cost of student tickets.

The university said additional details about the sale of the student sports passes are still being worked out.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Meerah Powell