Football season is here and the University of Oregon Ducks are poised to contend again for the Pac-12 and national championships. Many Oregonians are passionate about their team and Autzen stadium has a lengthy consecutive game sellout streak going. Over 44,000 fans showed up to watch the spring exhibition game.
But not all of the fans are happy in Duck Land. Season-ticket renewals are down. Oregon's first two home games were the smallest crowds in the last decade and only technically sellouts. Yet the team plays an exciting style of football, has looked good so far, and the game-of-the-year against USC is looming on November 3rd. Why the disconnect?
Probably because the U of O Athletic Department is killing the goose that laid its golden egg. Ticket prices have gone up in each of the last five years, including by 13 percent this year. The Eugene/Springfield population is less than 250,000 and the stadium holds around 50,000. We're reaching a tipping point in which the cost of attending one or more home football games is beyond the budgets of many.
The letters to the editor in our local newspaper, The Register-Guard, have lately been filled with fans lamenting the fact that they've decided to not renew their season tickets due to high prices. The paper's columnist, Bob Welch, wrote a column today with his thoughts on why Duck fans are reaching their tipping point and the arrogance of the Athletic Department.
I'm not a season ticket holder and just watch the games on television. However, I recently had my own experience with how the Athletic Department is arrogantly disconnected from the university and the community. I'm the Steering Committee chair for the Friendship Foundation for International Students (FFIS), a 60+ year-old non-profit that connects University of Oregon international students with local community members. This week our members are hosting over 110 newly arriving international students until the dorms open on Thursday. We have a student from Kathmandu, Nepal in his bedroom upstairs right now while I'm writing this post.
Next Sunday FFIS is hosting (and paying for) a welcome picnic for 350+ international students at Lone Pine Farms. The Eugene Mayor and University President show up at the picnic to say a few words of welcome. The Oregon Duck makes an appearance to have his picture taken with the students. This year, the Duck won't be coming to the picnic.
The U of O Athletic Department recently changed its policy regarding community and university requests for the Duck and Oregon cheerleaders to appear at events. Schools, non-profits and university groups are only charged $200 per hour for the Duck to appear and only $150 an hour for 1-3 cheerleaders to appear. That's the discounted rate. The general public is charged $300 per hour for the Duck's appearance and $200 per hour for 1-3 cheerleaders to appear.
So, FFIS families welcome 110+ high-tuition-paying U of O international students into their homes. FFIS hosts a large picnic for 350+ U of O international students, which represents a huge percentage of its budget. Local businesses donate raffle items and food. FFIS holds garage sales and other fundraisers to earn money to pay for the picnic. The University President and Eugene Mayor show up for free. But the U of O Athletic Department expects us to pay $200 of our hard earned money so that the Duck can show up? I think that I've reached my tipping point.
Is the U of O Athletic Department the only school that seems to put money ahead of the university and local community?