Thursday, January 1, 2009

Purple People Seaters helps 306 in San Diego

You've probably heard of TCU Athletics's Project Purple effort, which once again was a huge success at the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego last month. Horned Frog fans donated a record 4,000 tickets to Southern California children and military families, who cheered TCU in their stead.

But you may not be familiar with Purple People Seaters, started two years ago by enterprising young alum Robert Costas '04, who took a group of 306 from San Diego Youth and Community Services, San Diego Firefighters and local U.S. Navy personnel to the game.

It started two Christmases ago when Costas was looking for a way to give back.

Working as a paralegal and struggling through law school, he didn't have much money to give, but he felt he could use his organizational skills to help.

"I could give my energy and my time," as he puts it.

Unfamiliar with Project Purple, Costas essentially had the same concept: give TCU fans and alums the chance to purchase and donate game tickets to the needy. Costas' organization is not affiliated with TCU, the athletics program or Project Purple, but he profusely promotes the other charity.

"Supplement is a good word," says Costas, who works for a land servicing oil and gas company in downtown Fort Worth. "I think I have a different audience, a younger audience than Project Purple does. A lot of my donors are recent grads or students and are not established financially."

Costas says many young alums that he's spoken with are unfamiliar with Project Purple or feel it is marketed to older alumni. Unlike Project Purple, Purple People Seaters has its own web site and contributions to it are tax deductable. He attracts a lot of donors through word-of-mouth and viral marketing.

"We take a more hands on approach," Costas says. "The primary goal is to expose kids to college, especially TCU, and the main way of doing this is by sending them to games and showing them around campus. We don't want it to be just a game to them. We want them to have a college experience, and hopefully spark an interest in going to college someday."

And that means hanging out. Costas sets up tailgate opportunities for recipients and sits with the group at each game. "Part of the idea is to get to know them, make them feel like real people," he says.

During the summer and early fall, Costas lines up organizations that might benefit. Earlier this season, he entertained about 240 new Frog fans from groups such as Hope Farm, Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth, even some Hurricane Katrina and Rita evacuees, who, ironically, watched the Hurricane Ike-affected Stanford game.

"They never batted an eye and had a great time," Costas says.

The group runs a golf tournament and several game watching parties during the year to raise money. Rahr Brewery and Mama's Pizza provide the venue and food, and Costas does the rest. Donations are accepted yearround.

This year's 306 for the Poinsettia Bowl was an improvement on the 285 for the Texas Bowl in Houston in 2007. Costas expects steady growth. Last month, a donor supplied purple and white T-shirts for his group, which sat in an upper level corner section munching on hotdogs and coke. "The firefighters were great about interacting with the kids from San Diego Youth and Community Services and even managed to snag them some of the unused thundersticks that TCU had set out."

Costas even had them singing the TCU fight song and making the Frog sign.

"It exceeded my expectations," he said. "I never set a goal for the number of people we take. But I underestimated how much support the TCU community would have. I just feel privileged to be a conduit."

- Rick

No comments: