For the first time in Siegel Center history, the VCU Rams sold out their allotment of season tickets. Never before has interest in Ram basketball been so high, and never before has the university asked their fans to pay more for the chance to see them in person.
In July, season ticket holders were sent letters describing the school's new Seat Equity Plan which explains the school's new Ram Ranking for donors based on longevity but also on annual contributions to the Ram Athletic Fund (RAF). Now seat priority will be based on donations ranging from $100-$25,000.
We spoke with a dozen current season ticket holders all of whom were concerned that their longtime support of VCU basketball might not be enough to keep their current seats, if they were unable or unwilling to increase their donations to the RAF.
"People aren't thrilled" said VCU Athletic Director Ed McLaughlin. "But they certainly understand it is a business, and we have a lot of needs here."
This program wasp ut into place just before McLaughlin was named AD, but he quickly understood the needs of a growing program that has Top 20 ambitions without the Top 20 budget.
"In order to provide resources to our student athletes, it is about money" McLaughlin said. "It's not as if the money is coming to me or in someone's pocket. It's going right back to the student athletes."
And VCU isn't alone, even in their own conference. According to published reports, fans of Dayton Flyers basketball are asked to contribute anywhere from $100-$3,500 per year to keep their tickets. And similar donation requests exist for fans of the St. Louis Billikens.
Manny Juranis is a VCU grad who has had season tickets for four years, but who has been attending games since 1991. He already donates to the RAF and understands the university's need to generate revenue with their most popular sport.
"When we were at the Final Four and we saw the Kentucky fans right next to us, we wondered 'How much did they have to pay?'" Juranis said.
"Because I want my seats, because I want to sit with my friends, I would do it."
UVA and Virginia Tech fans are all too familiar with re-seating plans for their football teams. Each program has been through two re-seatings in the last 12 years. Tom Woodson of Hanover has been a season ticket holder since 1994. Before this year's re-seating at Lane Stadium, his seats were in the third row behind the visitor's bench. His new seats are now 66 rows back, because he didn't up his donation to Virginia Tech by $10,000.
"Obviously it worked because there must have been a significant amount of money raised" Woodson said. "or my seats wouldn't have gone so far back."
"But at the same time, it almost penalizes you for not having a tremendous amount of ability to up your donation."
McLaughling readily admits VCU's plan is about raising as much money as possible while the team is so popular. But he does worry about alienating some of the Rams' biggest and oldest fans.
"My hope is that when emotion subsides with some folks, they will say 'You know what? It is worth me coming in here'" McLauglin said. "It is going to the student athletes and I want that to happen."
"I do hope folks come back."