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Columbia Business Monthly

Tax Reform Claims Popular College Sports Deduction: Impact Unclear but many Enthusiasts Unfazed

Apr 06, 2018 03:22PM ● By Makayla Gay
By David Dykes

   Bill Horton of Isle of Palms is a University of South Carolina Gamecocks fan, and Dr. John Paylor of Greenville backs the Clemson University Tigers. The teams are archrivals on the field or court, and most fans share the feeling. 

But Horton and Paylor agree on one thing: Tax reform eliminating a deduction for college sports boosters won’t diminish their support for their respective teams.

The Internal Revenue Code had allowed an 80 percent deduction, as a charitable contribution, for donations paid for the right to purchase season tickets for athletic-event seating. Under tax reform signed into law by President Trump, the deduction was eliminated.

That left college administrators worried about losing football and basketball support, and many fans wondering what’s next. 

“It remains to be seen the overall implications from the loss of the tax-deductible status for donations to college sports programs,” USC Athletic Director Ray Tanner said in a statement. “We do know that there will be an impact with how some of our supporters filed their taxes. Our fans are very passionate about the Gamecocks, though, so I hope they will continue to buy tickets and give to our program. The impact of our donors’ involvement with our program reaches all aspects of the student-athlete’s time at South Carolina—academically, culturally, and athletically.”

Clemson Athletic Director Dan Radakovich couldn’t be reached for comment. But officials at IPTAY, the university’s athletic fundraising organization, told members in a January letter that “the changes to the tax code were rapid and it is anticipated that additional guidance and direction from the Internal Revenue Service will be forthcoming in the months ahead.”

Donations not conferring any right to purchase season tickets generally remain 100 percent deductible as a charitable contribution for 2017 “and in future years, notwithstanding the other changes in the tax code,” the officials said.

Davis Babb, IPTAY’s CEO, says the key will be gauging the impact on individual donors a couple of years from now.

“Obviously, we feel in this environment we’re very fortunate because we have (a) very strong athletic program, and right now we’re enjoying a time of great demand for the product,” he says. “And obviously we hope that’s going to continue for a long time.”

Clemson’s 57,000 football season tickets all are sold, and have been for several years. Each seat in Memorial Stadium has “seat equity” attached to it, meaning a season ticket holder has a required gift before he or she can purchase the actual ticket. “That’s a very important part of our annual fund,” Babb says.

In December, as USC officials were assessing the potential impact of the tax plan as proposed, they noted in an email to Gamecock Club members that their support helped the university’s more than 500 student-athletes “succeed in the classroom, competition, and community.”

Seat donations and premiums still will be required for all football season tickets and select basketball and baseball seating for the 2018-19 seasons, the officials said.

Steve Eigenbrot, USC’s senior associate athletics director for development and Gamecock Club, says the concern is such that more than 200 officials from other institutions participated in a conference call in February to discuss the tax bill’s impact on athletic event seating rights.

“We’re definitely concerned about it; however, at this point, our annual fund numbers seem to be about where they were last year,” he says.

Horton, 66, a retired BlueCross BlueShield executive, has eight season football tickets at USC, his alma mater. He pays $15,750 annually for the opportunity to buy the club-level seats he has had for many years. For that, he has received a tax deduction.

In addition to that qualifying contribution, he purchases the actual tickets.

He supports the tax-law change as good policy. “Obviously, I was a little disappointed to lose the 80 percent tax deduction on the seat-priority contributions,” he says. “But I personally do not anticipate the change causing me to reduce my support for the Gamecock Club and the Gamecocks.” 

Paylor, also 66, a Greenville orthopedic doctor, is an ardent Clemson supporter and IPTAY member whose family rarely misses a Tigers’ home football game. He has six season tickets. Most days, his 6-year-old grandson, J.D., wears a replica Clemson football jersey at home and at school.

Paylor says he locked into his ticket holdings through “a life scholarship,” essentially prepaying decades ago. His friends and fellow IPTAY members haven’t complained about the tax-law change.

“Most people I know didn’t seem to worry about it that much,” he says.