WAFF Investigates: Public officials and football tickets - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

WAFF Investigates: Public officials and football tickets

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HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) -

Longtime University of Alabama football fan Fred Palmer of Tuscaloosa makes no complaints about the price he pays for tickets to Crimson Tide games, even though it's $2,200 a year per seat, plus the price printed on each ticket. He does object to a very special deal offered to, and accepted by, some Alabama public officials.

"A public official can walk up and get tickets just by paying just the price printed on the ticket," Palmer said. "That's not fair. The university is not treating the fans properly."

Most fans not currently working at or attending UA must buy their tickets through the university's booster organization Tide Pride, which charges annual membership fees to fund an assortment of programs. That's where Palmer's $2,200 goes. Fans can also brave the scalpers' wilderness of StubHub or Ebay and pay substantially marked up prices, especially for high profile games. But every year, the university invites public servants to buy Tide football tickets, and pay only the price printed on the tickets. 

Dozens of them, including Governor Robert Bentley, Representative Mac McCutcheon, Congressman Spencer Bachus, Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield and Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey, have taken the university up on the offer. A similar ticket sales program is offered through Auburn University.

That represents a substantial savings. On StubHub and Ebay, tickets to the Nov. 9 home game against Louisiana State run from $160 for seats in the NN-13 nosebleed section, to more than $1,000 a piece for closer seats on the 50 yard line.

Palmer pointed out the face price on his tickets to the game is $75, on top of the cost of his Tide Pride membership. And while not all Tide Pride memberships cost as much as Palmer's, most run in the hundreds to thousands of dollars. There's also a waiting list merely to join.

For away games, when the total number of tickets available is limited, even some fans paying into Tide Pride are unable to get tickets at all. Members are assigned the option to buy tickets on a "point" system. Points are accrued based on how long members have been in Tide Pride, their involvement in special promotions and on how much they've contributed into tide pride. A $100 donation gets a member one point.

As a stark example of how that works, Palmer pointed to last year's BCS championship game.

"There were 182 BCS tickets sold to public officials. The cutoff point was 502 points," he explained. "People below 502 points didn't get an option. If it takes 502 points to get those tickets and you get one point for every $100, 502 times $100, what would that be? $50,000? So you would have paid in $50,000 to get the 502 points and yet public officials got (tickets) without paying one red cent."

The University of Alabama declined requests for interviews. University Representative Bill McDaniel said in an email, "In compliance with the state Ethics Law, the University of Alabama provides the opportunity for public officials to purchase tickets at face value."

"I think the decision of who they sell tickets to, I think that's the decision of the universities," said state Representative Mike Ball, who routinely receives UA's invitation to buy tickets and passes it to a friend who's a bigger football fan. Ball supported the 2010 change to the state ethics law which now prohibits officials from being given things of value, like sporting event tickets, for free.

Palmer claimed ambiguity in the law creates the opportunity for abuse. The ethics law defines the value of a sporting event ticket as the price printed on it. But it also defines value as the price that would be paid if the same item were bought by a private citizen and Palmer said Tide tickets can't be bought by private citizens for the face price.

"I really don't see any gray area," said Ball. "It says that a legislator, public officials, not just a legislator but a public official, at the list price. And so that's what folks do. I don't think getting football tickets changes anybody's vote on anything."

"Under the ethics law, they're not doing anything against the law," pressed Palmer. "They're doing something morally wrong, by treating public officials better than they're treating loyal fans who pay in thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars to the University of Alabama."

Ball said he'd certainly consider new changes to the law.

"If it creates an appearance of impropriety, I'll always have an open mind about changing things," he said.

"All the university has to do is stop the program," palmer said. "Very simple. Stop sending out the forms. And if they're called by a legislator or public official wanting a ticket to a game, say ‘you have to join Tide Pride,' just like they tell me."

Copyright 2013 WAFF. All rights reserved.

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