Donors give more than $1.2 million to UCLA athletics to help cover coronavirus-related costs

UCLA head coach Chip Kelly, center, walks with his players prior to an NCAA college football game against Arizona State, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso)
UCLA head coach Chip Kelly walks with his players prior to a game against Arizona State on Nov. 10, 2018. (Ralph Freso / Associated Press)

Mary Manuck grew up with UCLA as both her backyard and her playground.

Her parents lived in married student housing on campus when she was just a year old, making her a Bruin practically since birth. On her first date with her husband, a native New Yorker with no ties to the school, she was delighted to learn he rooted for UCLA over USC.

Over the years, the Manucks have endowed UCLA athletic and academic scholarships, given generously to a variety of sports and donated enough to the athletic department to earn them sideline passes at football games and have the hydrotherapy room inside the Wasserman Football Center named in their honor.

Even with no games on the schedule or any idea when they might be allowed back inside the Rose Bowl or Pauley Pavilion, the Manucks decided they had more to give.

The family donated the cost of their six football and four men’s basketball season tickets — valued at more than $8,000 — to a Bruin Support Program that has netted more than $1.2 million in only a few weeks to help cover costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“UCLA sports has given us so much over the years in enjoyment and everything else, just that whole experience,” Mary Manuck said, “that we just felt like we should return the favor, so to speak.”

The Manucks are among thousands of donors and season ticket-holders who have been asked to either reinvest the cost of their season tickets as part of a tax-deductible donation to the athletic department; defer their tickets to the 2021 football or 2021-22 men’s basketball seasons; or request a refund. So far, about 5% have donated their ticket payments, 5% have requested a refund and the remaining 90% have either deferred their tickets or have not made their selection, said Josh Rebholz, UCLA’s senior associate athletic director for external relations.

Those who defer to the 2021 football season will be getting an extra game for free — the Bruins will host seven games at the Rose Bowl that season, including one against Louisiana State, as opposed to the six they were scheduled to host in 2020. Should there be a 2021 winter football season, it would likely be held in an empty Rose Bowl, though Rebholz said the school would re-evaluate the situation with fans who defer should they be allowed back inside the stadium.

Longtime season ticket-holder Scott Trestsky, who has donated to the athletic department for the last two decades, said he would keep his two basketball tickets but was giving up his four football seats because of the team’s recent disappointing results that have included a 7-17 record in coach Chip Kelly’s first two seasons.

“I’m pretty confident there won’t be football this season anyway,” Tretsky said, “so my decision not to renew doesn’t mean much.”

Rebholz called the seven-figure sum that donors have contributed “an unbelievable response,” particularly during a pandemic that has led to widespread financial hardship. UCLA athletic donors had already given more than $326 million toward a variety of projects as part of the school’s Centennial Campaign.

“We’ve raised a lot of money over the last several years,” Rebholz said, “and so for fans to continue to step up for UCLA athletics is really cool to see.”

It’s also served as a warm welcome of sorts for new UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond, whose department faces an $18.9-million shortfall for the 2019 fiscal year that’s expected to multiply amid the lack of revenue generated with sports shut down.

“It just shows the faith and confidence that people have in UCLA athletics and that’s what you want to see,” Jarmond said. “When you go through challenging times, that’s when you have to lock arms and pull through this together and so it’s so encouraging and promising to me to see so many of our fans and supporters say, ‘You know what, we’re here with you.’ ”