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UNM: Gaffe allowed some football season-ticket holders not to pay donations

Lobo quarterback Lamar Jordan center, runs for extra yardage up the middle against Abilene Christian University i 2017. UNM officials say up to 100 football season-ticket holders have gotten by without paying required donations for years. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Mark Ducaj said he felt blindsided when he checked on renewing his season tickets for University of New Mexico football games.

After 29 years of attending Lobo contests as a season-ticket holder, he saw online that he would have to pay a donation fee of $250 in order to renew his seat. In addition to being stunned, Ducaj wasn’t so sure he wanted to pay what amounts to about $75 per game to watch a team that has gone 3-9 the past two seasons.

“Seems like a high price for me considering the product,” said Ducaj, a UNM alumnus.

Ducaj is one of nearly 100 UNM football season-ticket buyers that had to pay a donation fee to the Lobo Scholarship Fund for the first time in order to renew their seating, UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez said.

The norm has been for season-ticket buyers to pay a donation fee for renewals. Yet, the lack of donations from this group of season-ticket holders had gone undetected since 2001, when UNM began attaching a donation fee to certain seats at the football stadium, said Jalen Dominguez, the interim executive director of the Lobo Club.

The donation fees range from $100-$250 per seat each year.

The error was discovered this year when UNM implemented its new ticketing system, Paciolan, Dominguez said.

“There are a few accounts that we have identified that have not made that gift in recent years,” Dominguez said in an email. “We are communicating with those individuals impacted and making sure they have all the options available to them to enjoy Lobo Football.”

Nuñez said UNM has already contacted the state auditor’s office and the attorney general about the situation and the Lobos are working with them to answer any questions and, hopefully, to make assurances the errors won’t happen again.

Nuñez said he did not want to speculate on how much money could have been made for the Lobo Scholarship Fund had the certain season-ticket buyers been rightfully charged for donations in the past. As an example, Ducaj was to pay a donation of $100 from 2001-06, then $250 each year since 2007, when UNM changed the pricing for certain seats, including where Ducaj sat. That totals up to $3,600 in uncollected donations for that seat since 2001.

The donor season tickets that went undetected without donation payments are for seats in sections D, E and F, which includes space at the 50-yard line on the home/west side.

“If we’re going into the perspective that we lost money, it’s the wrong approach from our perspective,” Nuñez said. “What we’re doing is we’re moving forward. And we’re trying to do it right. We’re trying to make sure everyone is consistent across the board with everything that we’re doing. To sit here and say how much money was lost or this or that, it really is not the concern at this point. It was an oversight for how it was done. There was no ill will or intent to make that occur.”

Nuñez said he certainly does not blame the season-ticket buyers who did not pay the donation fee for renewals throughout the years.

Donations from certain UNM football game seats (roughly 10-15 percent of the stadium) go directly to the Lobo Scholarship Fund that helps provide scholarships to all UNM student-athletes, Dominguez and Nuñez said.

The indoor end zone season-ticket seating requires a $1,000 donation, along with a $700 season-ticket price for 2019.

UNM is giving season-ticket buyers information for where the donations go, and also how the donors can benefit from their donations, such as free parking to Lobo football games, as well as UNM men’s and women’s basketball contests.

Even though the payment is a donation, it is required to purchase the select seating.

Nuñez expressed excitement when UNM switched to a new ticketing system in January. The idea of providing easier access for ticketing purchasing along with gaining analytical knowledge for sales appealed to the UNM athletic department.

The new ticketing system also apparently helped uncover mistakes that had been made. UNM said its software automatically flags the need for the donation to the certain season-ticket seating, whereas in the past, human error could have resulted in an oversight.

“We’ve been archaic,” said David Williams, who was hired as UNM deputy athletic director for external affairs in January. “We’ve been in the dark ages until now.”

Because UNM is in the early stages of the new ticketing system, the athletic department expected some hurdles and challenges. Williams said the biggest challenge so far is guiding ticket-buyers to use the online system because there is resistance.

“For those that don’t want the online process we’ll still have the old process available. But the action we would like is for the people to go online,” Williams said. “That’s the action that we are rewarding. We are trying to reward those that go online through different methods.”

As of Tuesday, approximately 2,000 UNM football season tickets have been renewed, Williams said. The UNM athletic department has not started new season-ticket sales or individual ticket sales. The number of season-ticket renewals does not include the corporate sponsors at this point, Williams said.

“Our football student athletes are doing everything they can to represent this institution the way we all we hope,” Nuñez said. “They go out there and they want to win. They always want to represent UNM the way we expect. But that also means we have to do our part as an institution, as a department, and build the trust back with those individuals and explain to them how we are embracing the community; how this is a lot different than what it used to be; how we want to approach our community involvement, our gameday activities and everything associated with (connecting with fans); And how important it is to really listen to our fan base and give them what they are looking for.”

Dominguez said conversations have been positive with Ducaj and the other people who have become aware they must pay a donation fee attached to their season-ticket renewal.

Ducaj renewed his season ticket and made the $250 donation attached for the seat. He initially balked at the idea, but he said he started to feel regret that he would miss his routine in the fall and supporting his alma mater.

“We’re talking about individuals who have supported our program for a very long time, and these individuals … are learning more ways they can directly impact the kids that they support,” Dominguez said. “We are dealing with very passionate and dedicated individuals who understand and care about our program.”

Williams said UNM’s new ticketing system is a piece of the overall effort the athletic department is making to improve attendance at sporting events, including football.

“We really believe that we are a part of the Albuquerque, New Mexico culture,” Williams said. “We want to represent those groups, and we want to do it in a first-class way. We want to provide great entertainment. The ticketing is a critical piece of the type environment we want to create for all our sports.

“Football is the first one using it.”