Paying for campus pride

Students want nationally recognized homecoming performers, but they’re paying in student service fees and ticket prices.

Fans watch B.o.B perform during the homecoming concert Oct. 12 at TCF Bank Stadium.

Image by Bridget Bennett

Fans watch B.o.B perform during the homecoming concert Oct. 12 at TCF Bank Stadium.

by Cali Owings

On the eve of the inaugural homecoming football game at TCF Bank Stadium in 2009, the University of Minnesota community gathered for a pep rally. A local percussion tap dance act was paid $2,600 to perform.

Fast-forward to 2012: the University shelled out $85,000 to book Grammy-nominated rapper B.o.B. and Timeflies for what has become an annual large-scale homecoming concert.

University homecoming costs have skyrocketed to more than a quarter of a million dollars this year, according to an analysis of University data. The $283,000 price tag is almost triple what the University paid for homecoming programming in 2008 before football returned to campus.

Officials say the costs are worth it, partly because of the return on investment they predict when current students become alumni donors.

Bringing this year’s concert acts to campus pushed performer expenses to $85,000 — the highest since Student Unions and Activities implemented the concert in 2010.

Although total expenses have decreased from last year’s $340,000 total, performer costs have increased for the third year in a row. SUA allocated about 30 percent of its homecoming budget to performer costs for the 2012 concert.

Students foot some of the bill through ticket sales and student service sfees. But SUA officials say the events are necessary to build community on campus and meet student demands for national names.

The B.o.B. and Timeflies concert sold out two days before the show this year. About three-quarters of the almost 8,500 people in attendance were University students.

Ticket revenue could make this budding homecoming tradition self-sustaining in the future.

“The goal for the homecoming concert … would be for that show to basically break even so that it can sustain itself,” said Erik Dussault, assistant director of SUA. “We’re pretty close to that this year.”

Any expenses not made up in revenue are paid out from the SUA operating budget, half of which comes from student services fees.

Students pay about $368 a semester this year in student services fees, one-fifth of which goes toward the SUA operating budget.

For homecoming 2012, organizers spent about $75,000 in student services fees.

Matt Barg, a marketing sophomore, attended the homecoming concert but doesn’t think all students should have to pay for homecoming activities — only those who are involved.

He said students would be partying regardless of whether it was homecoming weekend.

“It doesn’t feel any different than any other week,” Barg said.

But Maggie Cahill, an animal science sophomore, disagreed. She said the expense of homecoming is worth it, not just for the performers but to have “the experience of being here at the University and being with friends.”

Reinventing homecoming

Bringing football back to campus upped the ante for homecoming activities.

“There was a real strong effort to kind of reinvent homecoming and make it something that the entire state would be proud of,” said Jerry Rinehart, vice provost for student affairs.

The year before TCF Bank Stadium opened, Hot Hot Heat played for $29,300 in Coffman Union a few weeks after the homecoming football game. SUA’s homecoming fund paid for the concert, but it didn’t correspond with official homecoming week.

After the first $181,000 homecoming was celebrated in the stadium, SUA officials attempted to model its homecoming off  universities known for “having very successful, very high-impact events,” Rinehart said.

Homecoming 2009 organizers paid about $2,600 for entertainers because they didn’t book a main performer for the pep fest. The next year, SUA spent more than $50,000 on rapper Kid Cudi because surveyed students requested a nationally recognized artist for homecoming, said Molly Gale, a program director for SUA.

Since then, performer costs have increased by 67 percent to $85,000 in fall 2012.

The University could move in another direction if the concert doesn’t match up with what students want anymore, Gale said.

While the University has expanded its homecoming program, the University of Wisconsin-Madison has actually scaled back its homecoming, Amy Manecke, director of student outreach for the Wisconsin Alumni Association told the Minnesota Daily this past spring.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison no longer has a homecoming court and doesn’t plan events that cost money for students to attend. Instead, Manecke said they’ve organized more opportunities for students to give back to the community.

Rinehart said it’s important that the homecoming program reflect student interest — even though the activities draw alumni and community members — because students fund much of the program.

Campus homecoming activities like the concert are also important to the University’s athletics department, according to spokesman Garry Bowman. Events can help boost enthusiasm among alumni and students before the game.

“An enthusiastic, energized student population just makes the entire weekend of activities so much more positive and vibrant, including the Gophers’ annual homecoming football game,” Bowman said in an email.

Balancing expectations and price

Within 48 hours, the University sold out of almost 5,000 Kid Cudi tickets in the homecoming concert’s first year.

They might’ve gone faster if the server hadn’t crashed, Gale said.

The show was supposed to be held in one of the parking lots near the stadium, but it was moved to Williams Arena to accommodate a bigger audience.

In recent years, SUA has focused on booking more nationally recognized artists.

At homecoming and Spring Jam concerts, volunteers survey students about which artists they’d like to see on campus next.

From there, SUA has to determine if an artist is in the University’s price range and if he or she is available during homecoming, said Karly Wallack, one of about 15 students directly involved in homecoming planning. Jack White, Passion Pit and Wiz Khalifa are among the artists organizers considered bringing to campus this fall.

Dussault said students often recommend artists out of their price range, like rapper Drake, whose 2011 album “Take Care” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. Still, he said, these picks can help SUA determine what genre students are interested in.

Freshman Jamie Crum said he expects a national artist like B.o.B. to play at the homecoming of a Big Ten university and that the $15 ticket is a pretty good deal.

“I think mainstream artists are good artists to have,” he said. “Everybody hears them on the radio.”

Timeflies is a good addition, he said, because they’re an up-and-coming group. Crum added that he’d like to see an artist like Drake or Kanye West at the University in the future.

If ticket revenue can offset the costs of higher performer fees, SUA can afford to bring in even bigger names, Dussault said.

“The goal with that concert is to get the most popular performer that students want to see without having to charge too much for it,” he said. “And right now, I think we’ve struck a very good balance.”

An investment

Campus activities like homecoming are seen as an investment to many University officials because they foster pride — and a financial return to the University in the long-term.

Rinehart said the pride associated with the homecoming tradition will create greater ties to campus for current students, encouraging them to donate to the University in the future.

“My hunch is all this’ll come back double, triple [what we paid out] in terms of giving and goodwill to the University,” he said.

While the University of Minnesota Foundation — the University’s fundraising arm — hasn’t done any research to prove this claim, Jennifer Eggers, the director of annual giving for the Foundation, said there’s “definitely a correlation” between involvement on campus during school and alumni donations and involvement.

For fiscal year 2012, 59 percent of gifts to the University came from alumni, according to the foundation’s annual giving report.

Eggers said the relationship is intuitive.

“It all boils down to, how good did [alumni] feel about their experience?” she said. “If they reflect back on that college experience and they feel good about it, they are more apt to give back later in life.”

At other Big Ten schools with more active campus lives, like Madison and Penn State, Eggers said alumni giving rates are a little higher, especially for younger alumni.

“A university does need to invest in its campus life and make sure there’s a variety,” she said. “It just really helps to build that sense of community among students that turn into alumni.”

Compared to the Big Ten

Homecoming traditions at the University are based off of events at universities known for hosting engaging, large-scale events.

This inspiration wasn’t found within the Big Ten.

Instead, SUA has based its homecoming concerts off the University of Florida’s Gator Growl, which is much bigger than the University’s homecoming.

An 80-year tradition at the University of Florida, the Gator Growl is “widely regarded as the largest student-run pep rally in the world,” according to the Gator Growl website.

This November, country hit-maker Josh Turner will play during the student-run pep rally in Florida’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and comedian Tracy Morgan, of “30 Rock,” will also perform. Like the University’s homecoming concert, the Gator Growl only costs $15 for students, while alumni and members of the general public pay more.

Few other Big Ten schools choose to celebrate homecoming with a concert.

Students at Penn State paid just $4.99 per ticket to see alternative rock band Taking Back Sunday, best known for its 2002 album “Tell All Your Friends.” Nebraska’s low-budget concert featuring up-and-coming country trio Gloriana cost only $24,700.

Matt and Kim and Grand Funk Railroad played the University of Iowa’s homecoming in September and the entire event cost $80,000 — less than what the University paid for artists alone in 2012.

Kaitlyn Drake, with the student organization behind Iowa’s concerts, said its homecoming concert tradition started in 2003. Every year, organizers try to book two artists — a contemporary one to appeal to students and a “nostalgic act” aimed for the alumni who are on campus for homecoming.

While the majority of the budget goes to performer fees, staging for the outdoor concert is the second-biggest cost, Drake said.

While expensive and beyond what others in the Big Ten are doing, homecoming concerts are popular and student-driven, Rinehart said.

“As an institution, we certainly have an interest in putting on a good program whatever size it is,” he said.

“But the content and the magnitude will largely be driven by student appetite.”