No such thing as a free ticket

Megan Valencia and Kylie Callan

After parking their cars in the packed Churchill parking lot, Palo Alto parents, students and community members walk towards the stadium gates. The lights shine brightly on Hod Ray field as Paly players and fans anticipate the start of the Friday night football game. Some Paly spectators can simply show their Sports Boosters passes and enter the stadium. The rest of the fans must wait in long lines to purchase a ticket.
The start of the fall athletic season has prompted The Viking to explore where Palo Alto High School Sports Boosters money goes and what Paly athletes and fans think of the prices of admission to certain athletic events. In recent years, state budget cuts have compelled the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) to restrict athletic funding to the salaries of coaches. Paly’s Sports Boosters program raises all other funds that are needed to run sports teams.

The money that fans pay to attend football, basketball, volleyball and wrestling events helps compensate for the lack of district funding. In an email to The Viking, Paly Sports Boosters Co-Presidents Melissa Anderson and Christy Weinstein stated that the prices of admission to each sport are not determined by Paly.

“The decision to collect admission and the amount charged is determined by CCS [California Coastal Section] and is out of our hands,” Anderson and Weinstein wrote. “Ticket sales are usually controlled by Palo Alto High School staff and amounts collected are reported by Paly to CCS. In order to cover the expenses of hosting the events, the home school is allowed to keep the ‘gate’ [admission funds].”

The money raised from ticket sales is deposited into the athletics account to pay for all of Paly’s sports expenses. The money from athlete donations, Paly gear, the snack shack and the holiday tree lot also add to the general athletic funds.
These proceeds pay for team essentials, but each team must individually raise money to cover extra costs.

“With the funds we raise, Sports Boosters is able to provide the basics required to field a competitive team,” Anderson and Weinstein wrote. “Our funds go to pay for equipment, uniforms, officials, transportation, tournament fees, medical supplies, a portion of the trainers’ salaries and SCVAL [Santa Clara Valley Athletic League] and CIF [California Interscholastic Federation] league fees and dues. While we provide the necessities, the individual teams must do their own fundraising to pay for their ‘extras,’ such as end of the year parties, team sweatshirts and jackets, special events like out-of-town tournaments, as well as extra equipment that is team specific that Sports Boosters is not able to provide.”

While the visiting fans must pay full price, Paly students can get into home games by purchasing a Sports Boosters Pass at a reduced price. However, whether paying full price at the gate or reduced price for a pass, no admission is completely free.

“While it would be terrific to not have to pay admission to any of these events, the ones that do charge are usually attended by large numbers of people, and there are additional costs involved in running [these events],” Anderson and Weinstein wrote. “As noted, these events often require security personnel [such as police, parking lot attendants and] janitors to clean the gym or clean up the stadium.”

Boys’ water polo player Kevin Bowers (`16) supports the CCS admission policy and feels that it is beneficial to the entire athletic department.
“I think [paying is] reasonable,” Bowers said. “Football and basketball are our most popular sports and I feel like charging people for the less popular sports would just decrease attendance. I guess it comes down to wanting either more attendance or revenue.”

However, students such as football captain Oliver Svirsky (`16) bring up the issue of gender equality for admissions to athletic events.

“I think that it could be kind of degrading for the girl athletes at Paly, because we all work the same amount and put in just as much effort,” Svirsky said. “I think we need to charge the same for each and every event or not charge at all. The way it is now sends a negative message.”

Girls’ water polo player Tess Van Hulsen (`15) agreed with Svirsky’s statement and also proposed a possible compromise for the admission situation.

“I don’t think it’s fair to pay for [only the boys’ games in] sports that have both boys’ and girls’ teams,” Van Hulsen said. “I [also] don’t think students should have to pay for games other than football because [free games] encourage students to come out and cheer their peers on. As an athlete you [definitely] notice if you have a thriving student section.”

The unfairness Van Hulsen described may be an issue for the girls’ basketball team. Fans do not have to pay for girls’ games while they do have to pay for the boys’ games, unless it is a “Quad Night” where both teams are playing.
Boys’ basketball player Kevin Mullin (`15) emphasized the admission price impact on fan attendance.

“I think it’s kind of dumb that we have people willing to donate millions of dollars to build a new gym, yet we feel the need to charge people money to come to the games,” Mullin said. “Especially for basketball, where we already don’t get very many fans, it just seems like charging people deters potential fans even more.”

Athletic Director Jason Fung does not believe that the admission prices affect fan attendance.

“I don’t think [that the ticket prices are] a reason why [fans] don’t come, especially when they get a discounted price,” Fung said. “I think [attendance] falls a lot on the student body [and] on what they want to do from a support standpoint.”

Fung also stated that the Paly football games are more than just a student event. Many families with younger children in the community or friends from outside of Palo Alto attend the games.

“[Football games have] become more of a Friday night event for a lot of [people in] our town now,” Fung said. “It’s not just the high school kids that come, it’s a lot of the surrounding elementary school [kids] and their families [that] come and they don’t even have kids that play here. So

I think it’s that atmosphere, that ‘what do people want to go see’ [element]. If you have an elite team, people are going to come watch. That’s how you sell tickets.”

Sports Boosters Passes allow for free admission to home football games, among other athletic events. They are a cheaper alternative to standard tickets which also offer fans a convenient way to bypass lines at the admissions desk. They also have the option for entire families to purchase a pass that will get them all into athletic events, which parent Margaret Seligson takes advantage of.

“[Paying] to get into the games is not a factor [for my attendance] because it is not that much money,” Seligson said. “We buy a family pass for the whole year.”

Larkin McDermott (`16) also mentioned the benefits of a Sports Boosters Pass.

“The Sports Boosters Pass is a good option if your parents want to get it, but then you have to go to enough sports games to actually make use of it,” McDermott said.

Although paying for tickets might not seem optimal to Palo Alto students, parents and community members, the proceeds support athletics, which is one of the most central aspects of Paly. CCS’s policy helps keep high school sports programs throughout the section going, including Paly’s. Without ticket sales, schools would be financially responsible for all of the athletic costs.

If CCS were to change their policy, many Paly students would advocate for charging equally for admission to every event, no admission prices or free admission for students. If students decided to attend more athletic events and make other sports’ games as social as the ones people pay for, this might encourage CCS to extend the ticket policy to all sports. For now, whether people agree with the policy or not, it is here to stay at Paly and throughout the rest of CCS. <<<