Longtime season ticket holders limit seat options for recent graduates

Christine Ayala

On game day, the stands of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium are filled with cheering fans, many of whom left the UT campus years ago but keep coming back for Longhorn football. Attending games becomes a family pastime for some alumni who continue to renew their season tickets year after year, saving their seats for a lifetime. Combined with ticketing policies, this has made it unlikely for recent graduates to obtain the quality seats that alumni who purchased their tickets decades ago at lower prices can keep. 

Previously, alumni would purchase tickets to football games through Texas Exes, UT’s alumni association, and would have first priority to the best seats in the stadium. The Longhorn Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to fundraising for UT Athletics, took over ticket operations in the 80s and restructured ticketing policies to create a three-tier priority system, according to Mark Harrison, UT Athletics assistant athletics director for ticket operations. Foundation members who pay a $150 yearly membership fee and make additional donations acquire the best available seats. Texas Exes members have second priority, and individuals who purchase general admission tickets have the final priority.

Harrison said 70 percent of season ticket holders are Longhorn Foundation donors.

“There is not a set amount [of tickets] in each area. It’s just based on how much you paid, based on priority at the time you got the tickets,” Harrison said. “You could have two fans sitting next to each other and one could be paying quite a bit in donation for those seats, and someone else, if they’ve had them for a long time, may not be paying anything [in donations].”

Alumnus Warren Chancellor and his wife Suzy have been attending football games together since 1946 — as long as they have been married. The Chancellors, both 85-years-old, have witnessed the changes in ticketing policies. Even though they’ve held season tickets since 1955, they sat at the 20-yard line for years. It was not until seven years ago that the priority system allowed them to move to the 40-yard line on the stadium’s ninth floor.

“We married and our honeymoon was coming down [to Austin] and getting enrolled, finding a job, and we have been coming to the games since then, pretty much,” Suzy Chancellor said. “It’s very much a family tradition.”

The couple introduced their children and grandchildren — all Longhorn fans — to Texas sports over the years. 

While the Chancellors have only passed down their school spirit, some alumni transfer on their season tickets. Architecture professor Larry Speck grew up watching the Longhorns with his family. 

“I can remember going to football games when I was five-years-old,” Speck said. “I remember being [in] the stands and not being able to see anything, basically just people’s butts when they stood up.”

His family’s seats were secured for years through season tickets renewed every year under his father’s name. When Speck’s father died, his family was able to keep their seats after their season tickets were transferred to his mother’s name.

Speck’s parents were UT alumni who first bought season tickets in 1943 and attended home games in Austin for as long as they physically could. Speck said football became a very central part of the family, which usually had four to six season tickets. Because Speck’s parents bought their tickets before the current ticketing policies were implemented, the annual price they had to pay was lower than some of the fans around them.

Aside from the priority system, alumni have also faced rising ticket prices. Three decades ago, a general admission season ticket was available for $60. Now, the price ranges from $325 to $405.

“They were paying a whole lot less than the people in front of us who were just buying in as 30-somethings,” Speck said. “They were paying a lot more for those seats than my parents who were grandfathered in with a lower price.”

Following his mother’s death three years ago, Speck lost his parents’ seats. Speck said he and his sister could not justify paying the current season ticket price for the seats. Instead, he now purchases faculty tickets at a discounted rate.

“My sister and I looked into if we could get those tickets now that my parents are gone. The price is way more,” Speck said. “I think for more middle class people, it’s very hard for them to afford four tickets for them to bring their kids.”

The influx of fans and graduating students spurs the competition for good seats with new customers every year. Still, some ticket-seekers look for the game-day experience.

Beyond the challenge to obtain good seats, Texas Exes spokesman Tim Taliaferro said the hype around game day is about more than just the plays on the field and includes the atmosphere created on San Jacinto Street by fans who not only love football but also like to visit campus.

“There are people who start near the history museum and work their way toward the stadium, and the alumni center is right across the street. So, for a lot of people, we’re the last stop before going into the stadium,” Taliaferro said. “Since we’re open during the game, people who don’t have tickets will often stay and watch the game.”

Gage Paine, UT’s vice president for student affairs, has attended Longhorn games since 1986 when she was a graduate student. Paine said the demand for tickets has been a long-standing concern throughout her time on campus and when she returned to work in the Office of Student Affairs last year.

“We moved family weekend off of a football weekend years ago because we couldn’t get tickets for parents who would come to family weekend, and [they] couldn’t get seats with their kids,” Paine said. “That is one of our challenges here. People get mad that they can’t get tickets, and they feel like they should [be able to.]”

The weekend event was moved to a non-football weekend in October.

Without a change on the horizon to the priority system and an increasing demand for season seats, recent graduates will have to wait to obtain the seats that longtime alumni, like the Chancellors, will enjoy near the middle of the field for seasons to come.

“We thoroughly enjoy the game,” Warren Chancellor said. “We just enjoy the whole thing. We have a wonderful huge band and love to see them come into the stadium. We’re big sports fans — period — but [we’re] real big Longhorn fans.”

Correction: This article has been corrected seen its original posting. A source talking about the timing of Family Weekend was misquoted. Family Weekend takes place in October.