One of reasons I didn’t do a lot of blogging late in the off-season was I was pretty ticked about how things went down in regards to donating to the athletic program. Before I get into my story, I want to be clear that I believe what happened was more my fault than the University’s and I wouldn’t want anyone to not donate to our Bears because of this post, assuming it’s otherwise the right thing to do.
Think of this more as a cautionary tale to make sure you’re donating for the right reasons.
It all started in December when all of us season ticket holders got e-mails about donating before the end of the year to increase our priority points. Being a guy with ridiculously low points (12 at the time) despite having being a season ticket holder for every year but one (which really hurt my points) since 1999, I decided to look into it.
See, up until now, I’ve always sat in the non-donor reserved section. But the possibility of sitting in the increased leg-room bench-back section was pretty enticing. I’ve traditionally bought 6 seats, running $300 a seat for most seasons or $1800 a year. With the latest baby being a girl and a wife who doesn’t like the games as much as I do, the thought was we’d get 4 seats in the bench-back section. $1200 for the seats ($300 x 4) and $800 for the required donation ($200 x 4) only ended up being $200 more than we used to pay. Then we could mix and match who went to which games: Sometimes me and the boys. Sometimes my wife and I and another couple (night games). Sometimes the whatever 4 from the family who could go when the kids have commitments.
And as with all purchasing decisions, there’s always the upgrade possibilities. Since at the $1200 ‘Big C’ donation level one gets a free parking pass that would otherwise cost me $150, and other benefits like earlier selection times for single-game tickets (and hopefully bowl tickets), it was worth the extra $250 in donation ($800 required, plus $150 for the parking is $250 less than the $1200 needed to be a ‘Big C’ donor) to get there.
I e-mailed the donation office to clarify a few things, notably that I’d get 5 extra points for an additional year of consecutive donating plus 12 points for the $1200. I also said I was interested in seats in a particular section and wanted to make sure I would be donating the right amount.
They were very nice and prompt in their reply, validated everything I asked, but gave one caveat that I ignored: “Of course this donation will not guarantee you seats in the section you’re interested in.”
“DUH!” I said. Priority points determine who picks when, right? But there’s no way all the seats would be gone I thought to myself. I could always pick seats on the opposite side of the 50 if it was overbooked where I wanted to sit.
Then came the selection period. Every day I logged in to see what was available as my day approached. And every day the number of available seats in “my” sections kept shrinking until a couple days before my selection, all that was left was seats in row 7 and below in all of the bench-back seats, on both sides of the 50, both at the $200 and the $400 donation levels.
Frankly, I was heart-broken.
There’s no way I’m going to sit that low. You just can’t see the game. Even if you’re on the 50 yard line, the lack of height takes away your depth perception in the endzones. At the 10 yard line where I’d be sitting, depth perception would be non-existent on the far side of the field. There’s just no way I’m sitting that low.
And to increase my frustration by an order of magnitude, there was this $1200 dollar donation looming over my head. It was now effectively wasted money.
Without going into too much details, it’s worth pointing out how much money $1200 is to my family. I’m a middle class guy, but with 4 kids and a stay-at-home wife (who’s awesome BTW), our budget is stretched pretty thin. We don’t own an HDTV. A 27″ tube TV from 1999 is all we’ve got. Our DirecTV subscription is a thing of the past and we’re not turning it back on for football season. We don’t have smartphone plans with the big carriers, it’s too expensive. We pay $55/month for both our cellphones and are considering cutting back further. Until the Jetta accident, we owned a ’97 Jetta and an ’02 Odyssey with no car payments. Frankly, I’d better get a raise someday soon as the insurance money for the Jetta isn’t going to pay the car payment for the new truck for very long. That or some other budgeted items are going to get the ax pretty soon, and as you can see, we’ve already cut pretty deep.
To be clear, I’m not complaining. I have a blessed and wonderful life and I wouldn’t change a thing. The tight money doesn’t inherently bother me a bit. I know that there are millions of Americans who live much more frugally and couldn’t afford even the cheapest Cal Bear tickets and the expense that goes with going to the game. People with no health insurance, no savings for retirement, things that I’m grateful to have. I’ve got no reason to REALLY complain, and I know how lucky I am in the big picture.
Nevertheless, my point is, $1200 is a BIG deal in my family. It’s a considerable percentage of our disposable income after the necessities are paid for. It’s an ‘up late for 3 or 4 nights in a row discussing it with my wife and running various budget scenarios to decide whether it is worth spending’ amount. It’s a VERY big deal.
“Well”, I told myself, “at least we’ll get some extra perks.” We got to pick our seats earlier than we otherwise would have. We’ll get a good parking spot, not one a mile away on the other side of campus. Things like good seats at the Ohio State game, seats that others may not be able to get.
Well, after talking to the rep from the donation office, it appears my additional priority points benefit should be measured in hours, not days, as to how moved me forward in the pecking order. After getting my Ohio State tickets early, it looks like everyone and their brother was able to get tickets to the game with numerous left over. And the final straw was when my parking pass arrived. I wasn’t in Underhill or somewhere similarly close. Nope, Lower Hearst. it’s only 30% closer than the lot I had last year!?!
Frankly, I got nothing of note for my $1200 (we’ll really for my $1050, as the parking pass would have been $150). Sure I get a promotional magazine in the mail now and again. I get lots of nice letters thanking us for our generosity. I guess my parking spot is a little closer. And I guess if the Bears miraculously make it to the Rose Bowl this year (more on that later), it will be worth every penny when trying to get tickets. But as far as concrete value, I didn’t get a whole lot and I’m not expecting much more in the future.
And at some level, I guess that’s OK. As you’ll see in a later post, I ended up going with some seats that as time has wore on I’ve been more and more happy with. It’s not called a DONATION for nothing. Thinking of it that way, how much should I be expecting in return?
The moral of the story is be very careful what you donate and what your expectations are for that donation. Make sure you can really afford it. Make sure you won’t be heart broken if you get very little in return. Don’t fall for the trap I fell for.
At his point, all I can do is hope the University makes remarkably good use of my donation. My son’s birthday is coming up soon and what he’s going to get from his parents kinda sucks. See, there’s this missing $1200 I could have made VERY good use of…