The athletics department will increase the amount of money it transfers to ZonaZoo from $85,000 to $125,000 due to the increased funding from the athletics fee scheduled to hit incoming students’ bursar’s accounts in the fall.
Despite the $100 athletics fee for incoming undergraduate students and an optional $50 fee for incoming graduate students, the prices for ZonaZoo and Student Wildcat Club membership will not change, according to Senior Associate Athletic Director Erika Barnes.
Current undergraduate and graduate students who choose not to pay the new fee will still have to purchase a ZonaZoo membership for access to sporting events.
Associated Students for the University of Arizona President Michael Finnegan said the athletics department expressed they did not believe they had the financial means to lower the cost of ZonaZoo memberships.
The money the athletics department transfers back to ZonaZoo does not include additional funding ZonaZoo receives from the department for expenses like the T-shirts for students, according to Barnes. She said T-shirts alone costs the athletics department roughly an additional $25,000 a year given to ZonaZoo.
Finnegan said it seems a majority of the revenue from the fee will fund capital improvements in the athletics department. Barnes expressed a similar sentiment and said the fee revenue will be, in part, funding the department’s facilities.
“Some institutions feel like it’s right to charge students money and build a hot tub in their locker rooms for their athletes, etc.,” Finnegan said. “That’s not going to fly here at the UA, and if there’s any sign of, that this fee’s gone–out of the water.”
Barnes said UA was previously one of two Pac-12 schools without a campus-wide athletics fee, with the University of Washington being the only one remaining.
“We have 20 sports, and we want to stay competitive from a program infrastructure and facilities standpoint for all 20 programs,” Barnes said.
Barnes said the department is already seeing the benefits of the fee in action; a private donor recently committed to give $5 million after hearing about the passing of the athletics fee. A donation such as this one will allow the department to jump-start seeing the benefits of the fee in action rather than having to wait until the fee revenue is fully integrated to see real change, according to Barnes.
She said athletics administration, university administration and student input will all contribute to decisions of how the fee revenue will be spent, but the department is still in the planning stage of how to incorporate all of these interests into the decision-making process.
Finnegan said he made it very clear to new Athletic Director Dave Heeke that students will be watching how their money is spent “very, very closely.”
Student leadership was very involved in the discussion about this fee, according to both Barnes and Finnegan. Finnegan said student government’s main goal in the discussion about the fee was reducing it to its lowest possible price and making it optional for graduate students.
“I was pretty clear on that this fee is to go toward the immediate necessary repairs that are vital to our athletics facilities,” Finnegan said. “I think it was a Band-Aid that we could get, and we needed to just solve the issue now. This issue has been going on for far too long.”
Barnes said the department hasn’t made any decisions on changing ZonaZoo’s coveted position at the 50-yard line at football games at this point. She said the department is always looking for new opportunities to improve attendance in the ZonaZoo and to have students remain at the games.
Finnegan said he doesn’t anticipate a change in student attendance at football or basketball games because of the fee.
Game Day Operations Director for the ZonaZoo Crew Berny Aguirre said the crew allocates its budget from the athletics department every year to different sectors: game day operations, community outreach, programming, marketing, media and communications and branding. The decisions on how to split up the budget into each of these sectors are completely at the discretion of Crew members, according to Aguirre.
“Our student-athletes really appreciate the support from the ZonaZoo,” Barnes said. “It’s great that the stands are full, but when it’s your peers—your other college friends—I know that’s really important for them and they really enjoy that.”
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