For about the last 18 months, USC athletic department officials have personally engaged the most financially generous of their fan base, hoping to make the Coliseum Renovation Project palatable for each individual case.
Starting Friday, USC will move beyond its 6,000 or so Trojan Athletic Fund members and begin a five-months-long outreach process to contact general season-ticket holders — those 9,000 or so fans who have previously not paid the minimum $200 annual fee required to join the fund.
The stated goal for these conversations? To educate fans who are possibly fearful of what is to come when the renovation is completed in 2019 on the potential positives of the changes to the Coliseum and the game day experience they’ve always known.
The most fear probably will come from the most essential point — due to the renovations decreasing seating capacity by 16,000, the entire stadium will be reseated for 2019, leaving many to wonder if they will be left behind. And, for some, that will be a valid worry.
General season-ticket holders will receive a mailing in the coming days that breaks down the seating map by financial commitment. The best seats in the 100 level of the south side and 100 and 200 levels of the north side require an annual donation of $3,000-$50,000 to the TAF and a Coliseum Restoration Gift of $500-$6,000. The second category of seats about even with the end zones in the 100 and 200 levels require a $200-$1,000 donation and a $100 gift.
The third category of seats is where things could get interesting in the upcoming conversations. The 100 level of the west end zone — previously not attached to TAF membership — will be Trojan Athletic Fund West starting in 2019. It will require the $200 minimum donation to join.
“This is a stress point,” USC chief operating officer Steve Lopes said Thursday. “If you were sitting in those sections now, in 2018, we’re going to have a conversation with you and the conversation is going to be, would you like to join the Trojan Club at $200 a year?”
Season-ticket holders who choose not to donate will be limited to two 100 level sections in the southeast corner, 200 level sections in the corners and west end zone and 300 level sections around the bowl.
Lopes emphasized several times an equation that could make joining the TAF easier to stomach financially: Because season tickets are $500 for TAF members (down from $525 for non-members), a purchase of four season tickets as a member would save $100. In that context, joining TAF would cost an account holder only an extra $100.
Another proposed benefit of joining the TAF is access to the Coliseum Club 33, a gathering area located behind the peristyle in the east end zone that offers beer and food to donors plus a less-crowded entry into the Coliseum.
USC’s ticket sales team intends to connect with all 9,000 or so of the general season-ticket holders, starting with those with the most seniority. They will assign a personal representative from the staff to each account holder to try to personalize the process.
General season-ticket holders who elect to join the Trojan Athletic Fund will get to choose their seats between August and October. Those who choose to stay general will choose seats during November and December.
Renovation goes over budget
Lopes said that USC’s budget for the renovation — originally stated as $270 million — is now around $300 million.
Lopes said USC has received $262 million in cash and pledges from TAF members. Plus, USC is owed $69 million over 16 years by United Airlines in the Coliseum naming rights deal.
But why the $30-million jump in budget?
“It’s a whole litany of things,” Lopes said. “Honestly one of the biggest impacts has been the Rams. When they had the playoff run that went into January last year, that impacted about three weeks of construction time. We’re running double shifts now, 20 hours a day. The only time they’re not working on this project is 2 in the morning to 6 in the morning. It’s labor costs and construction costs. Things like that.”
Old Coliseum seats available
USC officials said that any 2018 season-ticket holder will be eligible to receive two complimentary old Coliseum seats once they are permanently removed after this season.
“It’s something we felt we wanted to do for our 2018 season-ticket holders for sticking with us,” said Craig Kelley, USC’s associate athletic director for marketing.
No Heisman jerseys in 2018
USC will be trying something new for students and TAF Scholarship Club donors in 2018 — standing decks in the northeast and southeast corner, respectively, that will offer a new vantage point with access to food and beverages.