These are tough economic times. The nation’s unemployment level is at 8.1 percent, four million Americans have lost their jobs this past year.
That’s a bitter reality which has been lost on some folks who make a living in college and professional sports.
I hope that’s not the case with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Athletic Department which bumped football ticket prices 3.4 percent for next season.
First, let me say “good job” to the Detroit Pistons NBA basketball team who made an announcement this week.
“The Detroit Pistons are lowering season ticket prices next season to help fans struggling with the slumping economy.
Palace Sports and Entertainment president Tom Wilson says in a statement the team feels it needs to do its part “to respond to the stresses that have been placed on everyone in this region.”
Season-ticket holders who renew and pay in-full by May 1 will save at least 10 percent over what they paid in 2008-09.
Of course Michigan’s unemployment rate is among the highest in the nation. It was 11-point-six percent in January. Even so, a gesture by a professional sports team where players and coaches make salaries averaging millions of dollars a year, is a show of solidarity for most of us who are far less fortunate economically.
BTW: The Piston’s aren’t the only team willing to make this gesture. According to CNBC:
- Michigan Wolverines: Football season tickets will be lowered, the average price going from $57 to $50 per seat.
- Clemson Football: Season ticket prices to remain the same for fourth straight year. The season ticket price will once again be $299 in 2009.
- University of Wisconsin: No ticket price increases in any sport in 2009-10 season.
- Anaheim Ducks: Freezing 2008-09 ticket prices for next season and freezing food, beverage and parking prices.
- Philadelphia Flyers & Philadelphia 76ers: Freezing ticket prices for next season.
- Cleveland Cavaliers: Freezing current ticket prices for next season for season ticket holders.
- Utah Jazz: Freezing ticket prices from the 2008-09 season for next year on 97.5 percent of the seats. The high end premium seats will go up.
- Florida Gators: Football season tickets will remain the same for the third straight year.
Here in Nebraska:
Bo Pelini, head football coach at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is in the news because he is renegotiating his year-old contract and may seek an increase in compensation.
Pelini is also advocating salary hikes for his assistant coaching staff who currently earn between $120,000-$225,000 a year.
Given the poor economy most Nebraskans are dealing with, talk of a pay raise for Pelini and his assistant coaching staff, I believe, is in poor taste.
Granted, Pelini’s salary ranks 11th of the dozen coaches in the Big-12 Conference. His team won nine games this past season.
There’s no question; Pelini has been a very good coach so far. Most Nebraskans appreciate his being here to guide our football team. This is reflected in the fact that Pelini is Nebraska’s highest paid state employee.
Here’s how Pelini’s contract currently breaks down. It runs through 2012:
Base Salary: $1,100,000
Win Big 12 North: $150,000
Win Big 12 Championship: $250,000
Make the BCS Title Game: $150,000
Win BCS Title Game: $250,000
Win the National Championship: $800,000
“I think you have to take a look at what the general market is,” University of Nebraska-Lincoln Athletic Director Tom Osborne said about renegotiating Pelini’s contract this month. “You certainly want to be competitive. That’s probably the overriding issue,” said Osborne. “I thought he did a good job this year and inherited a lot of things that needed worked on and fixed.”
I wouldn’t disagree with Mr. Osborne. I’d also add that Pelini’s coaching success is good for Nebraska’s economy.
But that’s not really what this conversation’s about.
I suggest Mr. Pelini and Tom Osborne think of the entire state of Nebraska as one big team that’s been beaten up pretty badly. We may not be as battered and bruised as some states, but many Husker football fans are feeling the economic pain across Nebraska too.
Tens of thousands of Nebraskans have lost jobs, had salaries cut or frozen, or had their benefits reduced this past year.
- Even within Lincoln’s generally strong economy, unemployment jumped 30 percent to a 4.8 percent level between December 2008 and January 2009.
- The Lincoln Journal Star noted that homegrown companies such as Duncan Aviation, said was cutting 170 jobs in Lincoln last week.
- Fewer Lincoln homes were sold last year than any year since 2000. Median home prices dipped slightly and the city issued the fewest new home building permits since 1985.
- Lincoln city sales tax revenue has been flat for the first six months of the fiscal year. The city could take in less sales tax revenue this year than it did last year.
At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln:
- Hundreds of University of Nebraska jobs could be at stake under a state budget proposal now under consideration by the Legislature.
- NU President J.B. Milliken said the 1.5 percent annual increase proposed for the University of Nebraska would leave the system $45 million short of the money it needs for essential functions.
- Based on average salary amounts, and considering that 80 percent of the NU budget goes to personnel, that would translate to a reduction of between 300 and 600 jobs, Milliken said.
Lead by example
I believe our head football coach and athletic director should lead by example.
- Bo Pelini should hold off on a pay raise until Nebraska’s economy recovers.
- The UNL Athletic Department should also freeze ticket prices until the economy gets healthy again.
Most Nebraskans don’t have performance incentives built their salaries. Coach Pelini does. It’s an academic based bonus incentive. Coincidentally, I know of no UNL professors who get one.
If the UNL football team reaches a certain graduation rate Pelini will get $125,000. For certain Academic Performance Ratings he will get between $25,000 and $125,000.
That alone should be adequate motivation for Pelini to succeed in these tough economic times. Pelini’s contract makes no mention of the sideline income he and many other college coaches might collect from television and radio appearances, sneaker contracts, and other endorsement deals.
Let me digress: In a recent Boston Globe article
“Many schools rely on income from their men’s basketball and football teams to support the rest of their athletic programs. But the salaries many coaches receive has prompted critics to call on leaders of colleges and universities to curb the spending. They challenged the notion that big-ticket coaching salaries are driven by the free market.
“The evidence of the last two years in the national and international economy shows what happens when there are no controls on the market,” said Michael Malec, an associate professor of sociology at BC who teaches about sport in society. “I see coaching salaries as part of an unregulated market, and the people who could control them are the ones who could be saying, ‘This kind of money is crazy.’ “
Malec linked the high salaries to an “athletic arms race” – first cited by sociologist Harry Edwards at the University of California at Berkeley – in which many colleges vie at great expense for supremacy in recruiting and competition.”
Or here’s another way to look at the picture:
So Mr. Pelini and Mr. Osborne:
- As a symbolic gesture of understanding for the punishment many loyal University of Nebraska sports fans are taking in this lousy economy.
- As a show of unity with your fans and supporters.
- As an act of solidarity with your fellow employees at the University of Nebraska.
- As a lesson in good sportsmanship.
Let’s call a timeout on salary increases and athletic ticket price hikes until the real Nebraska team, one-point-seven million proud Nebraskans, can make an economic comeback.
Wouldn’t that be a victory for us all?