FAYETTEVILLE -- University of Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek cited ticket demand and equity as the driving forces behind the change in seating priority at the Razorbacks' baseball ballpark, Baum-Walker Stadium, beginning next season.
Yurachek said 43% of season-ticket holders have not paid "market donation rates" for their seats at the stadium. Yurachek said market rates are determined by demand and an analysis of costs at other SEC ballparks.
"When the stadium opened up 25 years ago, there are some loyal fans who have been sitting in -- I would call them the best seats in Baum-Walker Stadium -- that have not been Razorback Foundation members ever," Yurachek said. "As there has been attrition there have been people who have come sat beside them who are Razorback Foundation [members] at some of our highest levels, because that's what is required to get into those seats now."
According to an email sent to season-ticket holders, all seats in Sections 107-109 behind home plate will require a minimum annual donation of $10,000 beginning in the 2022 season.
Seats in Sections 103-106 and 110-112 will require a minimum donation of $5,000, with the exception of seats in Section 105, where families of players and coaches receive complimentary tickets.
Other starting donation points for seats in the stadium are $100, $500, $1,000, $2,000 and $3,000. Previously some chair-back seats were available without a donation requirement.
No donations are required to purchase season tickets in the Hog Pen, a grass berm area beyond the left-field wall.
Donors who give between $10,000 and $19,999 to the Razorback Foundation Annual Fund are classified as Broyles-Matthews Gold, and donors who give between $5,000 and $9,999 are considered Broyles-Matthews Silver. A separate Broyles-Matthews Platinum classification is reserved for donors whose annual giving is in excess of $20,000.
According to the UA, there are roughly 1,200 donors in the three Broyles-Matthews levels, more than enough to account for the available 2,383 seats located in the sections near home plate. Broyles-Matthews donors will be able to purchase six season tickets, whereas lower donor groups will be capped at two or four. Yurachek said the ticket limits are designed to allow more individuals and families to purchase tickets.
Yurachek said he expects to lose some season-ticket holders over the change, but he said there are enough people on a waiting list to offset any losses. According to UA figures, there are more than 1,000 accounts on a waiting list to buy tickets at the park, which has a listed capacity of 11,129. There are roughly 2,800 active season-ticket accounts, according to the UA.
"We are past time where we needed to do this in Baum-Walker Stadium," Yurachek said. "Yes, there is some pain and there are some loyal season-ticket holders who have sat in the same seats at Baum-Walker Stadium for 25 years who feel like they're being pushed out. They're not being pushed out. They may be asked to change where their seat location is, but they're not being pushed out of Baum-Walker Stadium."
Yurachek stressed that all existing season-ticket holders would be eligible to buy tickets for the same amount in 2022 as they previously paid, with two exceptions: those in chair-back seats who did not have a donation tied to their tickets, and suite holders.
The Razorbacks have promised a cap on all non-suite season-ticket prices through at least the 2024 season. Season-ticket packages cost $250 per seat.
However, overall costs -- ticket prices plus donation fees -- could potentially increase significantly for families of three or more who wish to attend games together. In order to purchase three or four tickets, a donation of at least $1,000 is now required. A larger family would have to pay a donation of at least $5,000 to be able to purchase five or six tickets.
Many season-ticket holders took to social media and internet message boards to voice their displeasure with the policy Friday. Marty B Cornell said she began donating to the baseball program along with her late father in 1995.
"Since 1995, I have donated $9,350 to baseball, but that means nothing now," Cornell wrote on WholeHogSports.com. She granted permission to quote her post in this story. "I need to come up with $3,000 per year to keep my seat."
That, she said, would amount to a 250% increase in annual giving.
Cornell said college baseball has "long been a welcoming [and reasonably priced] venue for families." She said many of her friends have been able to take their entire family to Arkansas baseball games, but not to football games due to cost.
Stephen Caldwell said he has had tickets since Baum-Walker Stadium opened in 1996, when he purchased a family plan that included discounted tickets for his children. He said he has seen ticket prices increase incrementally since then, but the latest change will more than double the price of his seats.
"This is baseball, it's not Afghanistan, so ... I try to keep the right perspective," Caldwell said. "I also understand that college sports are big business and they do what they need to do, but from what I've seen a lot of people are being asked to double or more their donation to keep their seats, and a lot of these people are fans who don't have that kind of money. For me, I don't know whether we'll keep our seats or not.
"I know for a lot of people it's going to be hard, and it's a lot of people who are responsible for the atmosphere, the thing that makes Baum Stadium really what it is."