Zona Zoo has gone from a grassroots student section to complex branches of branding. But with record-high spending on new departments, how big is too big?
Michael Huston founded the modern-day Zona Zoo Crew with an $8,000 budget, which forced him to pick only the necessities when spending student money.
His mission was simple: Students wanted a section at football and basketball games, so the former Zona Zoo director orchestrated an attractive product at the lowest price possible.
Now three years later, the student-funded official spirit section spends almost $9,000 on its crew stipends alone — part of a budget that exceeds $50,000 for the 2009-10 year.
Not so simple anymore. Rapid growth, popularity and revenue have inflated Zona Zoo from a small grassroots service into something more like a corporation.
The $85 or $125 students pay — depending on whether they choose to include men's basketball — for prime seating at sports events also funds new departments like community development, campus outreach and even Zona Zoo's own television production.
The final tab on those three alone: $16,610 this year.
Zona Zoo budgets acquired by the Arizona Daily Wildcat through a public records request show large increases in internal and non-sports-related spending after the 2006-07 school year.
This year, out of the $52,370 grand budget, $33,860 will be spent on resources without in-game connections.
The increase in spending comes after Zona Zoo raised the price of its passes by $20 from last year — not because it's selling significantly more passes. Executive Director Raul Ponce estimates Zona Zoo sold 11,500 passes so far this year, up from 11,400 last year.
A total of 12,162 passes were sold in 2007-08.
""I took very seriously that that money belonged to students,"" Huston said. ""It didn't magically fall into our lap. It was money that my classmates spent out of their pockets. It was my job to make sure I delivered them a good product.""
After a four-week delay in obtaining more detailed spending reports, ex-Zona Zoo director David Roost released the 2007-08 to 2008-09 budgets that documented the newly created branches and their costs.
""Our internal records are for our internal use. I really don't know why the students would care how we spend our money,"" Roost said in a text message.
Zona Zoo money is, in fact, the students'.
""At the end of the day, it's the students' money,"" Huston said. ""It's a big responsibility that I hope Zona Zoo directors take seriously. Any student that asks, ‘What's my money being spent on?' should get a good answer. That's what it means to be accountable to students where students are trusting you with their money.""
The beginning: A new revenue-sharing agreement
Before Roost took over in 2007, the Zona Zoo received a static amount of funding from the Associated Students of the University of Arizona — about $10,000 total. Roost's first responsibility as director began with negotiations with the UA athletic department to create a revenue-sharing agreement.
At the time, Huston was the outgoing Zona Zoo director and said a new deal — which would have given the Zona Zoo five percent of total pass revenue — had been agreed to in principal by the athletic department.
However, Huston wasn't invited to the follow-up finalization meeting attended by Roost and then-ASUA President Tommy Bruce. Roost and Bruce then agreed to a new deal that got the Zona Zoo $3 for every pass they sold.
After the 2007-08 athletic season, Roost and Bruce re-negotiated with the athletic department for the same five percent deal initially proposed by Huston.
The 2008-09 season brought in $50,243 — up from $43,226 previously earned under the old agreement.
""It's really given us the ability to grow and develop and go in directions that were never possible,"" Roost said.
Today's Big Spending: The following are the largest increases in spending from 2008-09 to 2009-10:
Stipends expand to each branch
Budget item it falls under: Internal costs, up from $6,678.10 to $10,500 in a one-year span.
This year, 42 students are part of the Zona Zoo Crew, and all branch directors receive stipends. These positions include:
- Executive Director Raul Ponce, who oversees general operations
- Associate Executive Director Hersh Goel.
- Programming Director Christina Searby, whose responsibilities include road trips, pep rallies and tailgating, with a budget of $19,010.
- Campus Outreach Director Alison Coleman, whose responsibilities include scholarships, alumni and a spirit council, with a budget of $4,150.
- Media and Communications Director Luke DeVogeleare, whose responsibilities include Zona Zoo TV and other communications, with a budget of $7,460.
- Community Development Director Dominick San Angelo, whose responsibilities include community service, Junior Cats program for at-risk Tucson youth and the Territorial Cup blood drive, with a budget of $5,000.
- Marketing Director Conner Comp, whose responsibilities include event advertisement, atmosphere and promotions, with a budget of $6,100.
- Branding coordinator, responsible for overseeing the merchandise line in the bookstore and maintaining the Zona Zoo brand in publications and online. A director has not been chosen yet.
""We've expanded so much in the last couple years,"" said Ponce. ""We've expanded all of our programming. It was a little rough at the beginning just getting used to everything we do. I think it's going well so far. We're continuing to grow and strengthen.""
Zona Zoo TV
Budget item: Media and communications, up from $1,693.44 to $7,460.
The Zona Zoo spent $7,460 on video and computer equipment this year to further fund a YouTube channel called ""Zona Zoo TV.""
The channel has received 5,147 total views at time of publication from 40 videos — about 127 views per upload.
The network began last school year with an initial start-up cost of $1,693.44.
""We're putting up more videos; those are also going pretty well,"" Ponce said.
Budget item: Community development, up from $272 to $5,000.
About 100 at-risk local children from the community will participate in the ""Junior Cats"" program in its second year of existence. The Zona Zoo pairs up middle school-aged students with college students to experience a university atmosphere.
Budget item: Marketing, up from $1,129.04 to $6,100.
Between design production, event advertisement and atmosphere promotions, the Zona Zoo plans to spend significantly more than in years past.
By the numbers:
Internal Zona Zoo-related spending:
* Zona Zoo was funded and operated by ASUA.