By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider
Hopefully, your 2014-15 Baylor Bear Foundation Membership Guide has already arrived in the mailbox.
If you noticed on one of the first pages, No. 1 on the list of goals for the BBF for this year is to hit the 5,000 level for memberships. Considering we were at 4,639 through last year, that seemed a very reachable goal.
Maybe we should have set that bar a little higher.
As of Tuesday, the up-to-date membership roll lists a school-record 5,020 members.
"The Bear Foundation eclipsing 5,000 members is a significant milestone indicative of the excitement surrounding Baylor Athletics," said Baylor Director of Athletics Ian McCaw. "The BBF is enjoying great momentum and there is an opportunity for student-athlete scholarships to be fully funded by the Foundation for the first time ever."
Even three or four years ago, fully funding scholarships seemed like a far-fetched dream. At that point, the BBF was funding maybe 60 percent of the scholarships. And with annual tuition increases, "the target continues to move," said Doug McNamee, Associate Athletic Director for Development - Annual Giving.
The total bill for all athletic scholarships sits at $15 million. Considering that last year's BBF donation was $12.4 million and this year's goal is to top $14 million, that dream is getting closer and closer to reality.
"It's important to say that the Bear Foundation memberships are going toward paying for scholarships for our student-athletes," McNamee said. "This is not a way to gouge people to get more money for some lavish expenses that are not necessary. The cost of the student-athlete scholarships is a bill that the university expects Athletics to pay. And the Bear Foundation's job is to directly offset that. . . . It probably won't happen this year. But with a good year next year, we're in a spot where we could probably hit fully funding all of our scholarship athletes' scholarships."
Of course, with the recent ruling allowing the Power 5 conferences - including the Big 12 - to pay for the "total cost of attendance," the target will move again.
"Even when we do hit the tuition, we're still going to have to go above and beyond to pay for expenses," McNamee said.
For the moment, though, let's revel in hitting the first of those four goals for the 2014-15 academic year . . . in the first week of fall classes.
"It's huge," McNamee said. "And it's a credit to everyone that's been working hard for it over a long period of time. It's a long 15-plus years. For the volunteers, for the board members, to the leadership of the staff that's been here, this is a big milestone."
While other schools have lowered their levels, just to create a substantial spike in membership, Baylor's minimum level of $200 for a membership has not changed in years.
"There's nothing wrong with it, but they've created ways to lower the entry point to get in," McNamee said. "Some schools have a $25 seat option. You may have 5,000 members of the foundation at $50. That's a way to drastically increase it. We haven't done that yet. It's not to say that we won't do it, but we haven't done it. It's been this way for as long as I can remember."
Other than teams winning, you can point to one thing for the Bear Foundation's tremendous growth in the last two years: McLane Stadium.
"It was the stadium and people's desire to get premium seats at the Ferrell Center. That's what got us to 5,000 (members)," McNamee said. "We've seen a dramatic increase in memberships in the last two years, and it obviously corresponds with people wanting to get seats in McLane Stadium."
What will continue to fuel the membership increase is a continued demand on ticket supply, he said. The 28,000 football season tickets are sold out this year, and there's a waiting list for 2,000 for 2015.
"People already realize how prized a season ticket at McLane Stadium is," McNamee said. "They are already positioning themselves to say, `What do I need to do best to get myself in line for next year? I already missed out on this year. I don't want to deal with the hassle and craziness of trying to get what single-game tickets we have. What do I need to do to get season tickets next year?'
"We're seeing people join today who have no tickets, who are not coming to a game this year. They're joining the Foundation just to put themselves in line. . . . The demand being so high gives us the leverage point to say, `If you want season tickets, you've got to join the Bear Foundation.' And quite frankly, we saw a lot of people join the Foundation just before the single-game ticket sales, just because they knew there was a pre-sale for Bear Foundation members. People were so desperate to get tickets, they would join the Foundation for $200 so that they could buy four tickets for Homecoming."
No. 3 on that list of Bear Foundation goals for this year is rolling out DonorNet, a new donor-friendly online system that will allow donors to make payments, check their balance and see where they rank in the Foundation points system.
"All the things that we, unfortunately, haven't been able to provide in the past," McNamee said. "They'll be able to log on to their customer-specific account and see where they stand. It's way over due and something our donors deserve. . . . We need to make it as easy as it can be, and that's what we're working toward."
The plan is to have it up and running by early 2015, "so that as people get ready to pay their Foundation dues for 2015-16, it's all going to be automated where they can do it online and see where they stand," McNamee said.
Although it's listed as the No. 4 goal, "getting everybody into that stadium is our first and foremost objective we have to deal with," McNamee said of the Aug. 31 opener in McLane Stadium against the SMU Mustangs.
"Every first game is big. This one is on a whole different level," he said. "The reality is that we're probably never going to be opening a brand new stadium again. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us, but it also brings about challenges that we've never seen before. . . . You can have a great plan, you can have everything accounted for. But until you get 45,000 people in the stadium, there's going to be something you probably didn't realize that's going to need attention.
"We're going to have a great experience on Sunday, I'm sure of that. But then we're going to need to fix some stuff, for sure, by the next Saturday (Sept. 6 vs. Northwestern State). We just need people to communicate with us, be patient and know that we're working on it."