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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, January 22, 2002

UH wants boosters to have greater impact in fund-raising

• UH athletics aspires to be major player this year (part one)

Second of two parts

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Staff Writer

The University of Hawai'i has started a major overhaul of its booster clubs, a move designed to change how the best seats are allotted and significantly raise the athletic department budget, according to people familiar with the plan.

UH hopes to raise as much as $250,000 in additional revenue this year beginning with football and Wahine volleyball tickets, and $2 million to $5 million over the next five years,

The reorganization is the first step in a series of initiatives to be implemented by the athletic department under a contract with business consultant Drake Beil, president of Solutions Inc.

Beil, brother of sportscaster Larry Beil, helped UH and the Hawai'i Food Industry Association revitalize their annual Rainbow Fever scholarship drive and is also working with the school to streamline the athletic department.

Beil and UH officials met with 60 so-called "stake-holders" — boosters, donors, sponsors, coaches, athletes and alumni — in a two-day retreat last month to develop a strategic plan for what Beil termed, "a new, exciting vision for UH athletics."

It comes on the heels of President Evan Dobelle's mandate that the Rainbows be "a pre-eminent institution, which has an opportunity to win a national championship in every sport and win the Sears Cup."

Sears Cup standings rank athletic programs on performance in 20 across-the-board sports. UH, with its $15.2 million budget, ranked 96th in the 2000-01 standings. All the Top 20 schools had budgets in excess of $20 million.

Booster-generated funds, which account for 20 to 30 percent of the athletic department budget at some schools, are seen as an underutilized resource at UH, which receives a combined $1.9 million from the various groups, only about 12 percent of the current $16 million budget.

Seating policy must change

Athletic director Hugh Yoshida says he wants to "raise the bar to a $20 million (budget)" to make the state's only Division IA program more competitive.

Ahahui Koa Anuenue, the Society of the Rainbow Warrior, was started in 1967 by then-Gov. John Burns to support a then-college division athletic program with Division I aspirations. But as the athletic program evolved, most sports have created their own booster groups and, with independence, ticket policies became fragmented.

Currently, less than 4,000 of the 50,000 seats at Aloha Stadium and less than 1,500 of the 10,300 at Stan Sheriff Center have been sold through Ahahui Koa Anuenue. That means a fan in one seat might be paying the $600 donation in order to purchase tickets while the person who occupied the next seat might be paying only the season ticket cost plus a $12 to $20 donation.

The policy has dismayed some long-time donors and shortchanged fund-raising, UH officials said.

"If we're going to be a truly Division IA (program) and compete with the best, we have to change our method of operation," said James Burns, president of Ahahui Koa Anuenue and son of the late governor.

One for all

Under the new structure, the 15 other booster clubs will come under the umbrella of a master organization, which would likely retain the Ahahui Koa Anuenue name, and be overseen by a 15-member executive board composed of boosters, school officials, representatives of students and coaches. James Burns and Al Costa, two officers with Ahahui Koa Anuenue, are among the at least eight members already nominated to the new board.

The board will be responsible for recommending ticket and donation policies.

In reorganizing its booster structure, UH has researched and borrowed from the models of Fresno State and Oregon, which have been among the most successful in raising money. Both use so-called point systems in which seniority and level of participation and donation help determine who gets the most desirable seats.

One proposal under study would allocate the best seats to fans under such a point system. For example, points would be accumulated by the number of season tickets purchased, the number of years held and the amount of other donations made.

UH officials said fans already holding season tickets would be given the first right of refusal. Seats that were not retained would then go to the highest point holders.

Loyalty rewarded

UH is also studying the possibility of establishing economy-priced family zones and an expanded student section at all its venues.

"We're sensitive to maintaining loyalty to the fans who have been loyal to us while raising the quality of UH athletics," said Jim Donovan, UH associate athletic director.

Pat Ogle, executive director of the Bulldog Foundation, said his group has pledges for $7.2 million for the current fiscal year, accounting for more than a third of Fresno State's operating budget.

Gary Barta is an officer of the National Association of Athletic Development Directors and senior associate athletic director at the University of Washington, which raises about $15 million annually through its boosters. "We would not be competitive without the private funds we receive," Barta said.

Rodney Okai, of Pearl City, who has had tickets to UH sports for 20 years, said: "My friends and I are loyal fans and we're willing to pay what they ask as long as they don't give it (the events) away, free, on TV. Why should we pay higher prices if the people who don't come get it free? They should black out the games unless they are sold out."

Maryellen Ing, of Hawai'i Kai, another longtime UH fan, said: "We're big backers and we will continue to support (UH) all we can. I guess it would depend upon how much of a donation is involved."