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Published: Sunday, 5/11/2008

Upscale Savage Hall Best seats require bigger donations

BY MAUREEN FULTON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Since last fall, University of Toledo athletic administrators Mike Karabin and Dave Nottke estimate they have made about 500 presentations to prospective season-ticket holders for men's basketball games at the new Savage Hall.

Whether they set up their PowerPoint presentation in larger meetings as they did before basketball games last winter, at breakfasts in small groups or when traveling to a local office for a one-on-one pitch, they've been going nonstop selling an improved - by $30 million - Savage experience starting this December.

"Our season-ticket holders are the most important aspects of this project, they're the ones that attend every game," said Karabin, UT's deputy athletic director. "We're making a huge effort to have several different group meetings, one-on-one meetings. We'll continue to do that 500 more times if we need to."

With draws including new seats and seating configuration, scoreboard and sound system, concessions, renovated restrooms and several luxury seating options, Karabin and Nottke, UT's assistant athletic director for development, are also asking for more money.

The season-ticket prices will be the same, at $14 per seat for the luxury and most lower bowl seats, $10 for lower-level corners and the lower-middle part of the upper level, and $7 for others. To secure a men's basketball season ticket in the lower bowl, a required gift to the Rocket Fund has increased. The annual donation requirement ranges from $75 for seats in the corners to $1,200 for a courtside seat, inches from the playing floor.

Fans who sit in the center sections must donate $350 annually per ticket to the Rocket fund in addition to the cost of the tickets. In previous years the donation amount for similar sections was $250.

To sit in the side sections it requires a $250 annual donation per seat in addition to the ticket price. That was previously a $75 donation seating area. The new corner seating in the lower bowl requires a $75 annual donation.

Donations are not required of women's basketball season-ticket holders.

The newer basketball arenas in the Mid-American Conference at Northern Illinois and Eastern Michigan don't have a required donation for season tickets. Ohio University, which led the MAC in attendance this year at 5,135 per game, requires a $50-$75 contribution per seat in addition to the ticket price for some seats. The Bobcats' arena, the Convocation Center, last underwent major renovations in 1997.

The Rocket Fund, the UT athletic department's official annual giving program, helps fund scholarships, academic assistance and equipment, among other things. No donation is required to purchase season tickets in the upper bowl.

"It's going to end up being the premium facility in our conference," Karabin said. "Before this project I'd have to rate ourselves pretty average or below average as far as fan amenities. We needed some major improvement in that. We're going to the other end of the scale now. We'll be very high-end."

Last year there were 3,087 men's basketball season ticket holders. UT wants to increase that number by 1,000 by the time the renovated Savage Hall re-opens its doors in December.

"We're well on our way to achieving that goal," Karabin said.

Nottke said the questions that are most frequently asked at the meetings are about the accessibility of the building and whether they can have the same seats as in previous years. The reconfiguration of the seating, in a bowl arrangement as opposed to the previous straight-ahead alignment, means the seats won't all be in the exact spot as before.

To determine seating, the athletic department will put priority on those who have a history of buying season tickets, a history of giving to the athletic department, and an optional gift to the Building Champions campaign, which is funding the renovations. Ticket applications are due at the end of May and initial seating assignments will be made in June and July.

"We're certainly sensitive to the requests," Nottke said. "A lot of the ticket holders have moved up to the club area. Others have asked for the same seats. It will be a big puzzle and pretty big project this summer."

A flier sent to prospective season-ticket holders notes that a gift above the Rocket Fund gift requirement is not required for premium seating but someone who donates to the Building Champions campaign "may receive higher priority on seat selection." Nottke and Karabin are asking fans to make a one to five-year commitment on their seats.

"We're taking into consideration people that have been longtime supporters," Karabin said. "They'll still be well taken care of even if they don't want to increase their giving level."

As far as the luxury seating options, the 12 suites are close to being filled, Karabin said. They are being leased on a five-year basis and will not be available for one-game rentals.

"We've been very fortunate in the Glass Bowl, we've been at capacity [in the suites] from the beginning," Karabin said. "We expect to be at the same level here."

Karabin said about half of the 14 loges are spoken for, as well as half of the courtside seats. The club seats are three-fourths filled, he said. Clubs seats can be individually purchased and require a $500 per seat donation.

Fan reaction to the changes has been fairly positive. Previous season-ticket holders who haven't renewed might be adopting a wait-and-see attitude, with tickets often available in recent years for every game because of dipping attendance.

The new seating configuration might make good tickets harder to come by, though. Last year, the average attendance was just over half of capacity at 4,605 per game in the 9,000-seat arena. But the new capacity will be around 7,300 for basketball games.

Ken Zajac has been going to UT basketball games since they were played in the Fieldhouse in the 1960s. As a university employee retiree he gets a discount on the tickets, but feels the donation prices are steep. He hasn't sent in his money yet but says he plans to.

"I don't like it, but if I want to get a good seat I have to do it," Zajac said. "I'm going to get them, but it's tough to give $700 plus the price of two tickets and not know where I'm going to sit."

Zajac, 75, understands why the university is asking for that price, though.

"If you want change, you've got to help," Zajac said. "It makes you feel good that you're part of it. You've backed them in the good times and the bad."

Others haven't needed much convincing, including Vance Flaggert, who has had season tickets for men's and women's basketball since 2001.

"I've got them, absolutely," Flaggert said. "I can't wait to get in that new arena."

Contact Maureen Fulton at:

mfulton@theblade.com

or 419-724-6160.



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