Beyond the personal seat license: the Endowment Seating Program

The personal seat license concept, where sports teams sell the right to buy a ticket to a specific seat in their venue, has revolutionized stadium building, inspiring a even more visionary way to make money from nothing; the Endowment Seating Program (ESP). This new offering from the University of California allows patrons to buy a seat in the stadium, including admission, for the next 40- 50 years at once, while potentially receiving a huge tax write-off.

The idea, a version of the concept conceived by Lou Weisback of Morgan Stanley's Stadium Capital Financial Group, is expected to create an endowment fund for the school that will grow to $1 billion within 30 years. Jaret Frank, a consultant for the Association of Luxury Suite Directors, writes that "It changes an afternoon at a football game into an asset with significant tax benefits."

Highlights of the program
  • Unlike as PSL, the Endowment Seating Program includes the price of admission to an event. Think of PSLs as options; ESPs are stock.
  • "Donors" can choose to pay for the seats ($40,000 for the cheapest, $220,000 for the best) up front or over as much as 30 years.
  • ESP members will get dibs on seats, even those held by traditions by season ticket holders, after the stadium renovation is complete
  • A portion of the price may be deductible as a charitable contribution
  • ESPs can be transferred or resold at the owner's discretion
The program appears to be successful already, with all but 800 of the 3,000 seats already sold. The idea is also being used at the University of Kansas, and I expect it to soon become part of the standard fund-raising package at most universities.

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