Thursday, June 30, 2005

Seat choice given to fans

Season-ticket holders with most points get first choice at men's basketball games


Kansas University's athletic department is getting out of the seat-assigning business.

Beginning in September, basketball season-ticket holders will get to pick their seats.

"Those with the most points will get first choice," said Jim Marchiony, KU associate athletic director. "We'd much rather have fans decide where they want to sit than for us to be making those decisions for them."

Last year, KU adopted a point-based system that awarded points for past and ongoing support of the athletic department and the university at large.

Fans with the most points get the best seats. The athletic department assumed the best seats were front row and center-court.

But many high-point fans, Marchiony said, now say they prefer chair-back seating over being close to the floor.

It's possible, Marchiony said, that some fans in the chair-back sections would prefer being closer to the floor.

"We'll let them decide," he said.

Earlier this year, football fans were given the option of picking their seats.

"It went very well," Marchiony said, noting the same system for keeping track of who picks which seats will be used for basketball.

Points and preferences

Late last week, the department mailed past season-ticket holders a chart showing how many points were needed to sit in each section of Allen Fieldhouse.

Fans hoping to land seats in one of the four center-court sections in Allen Fieldhouse -- the two bench-seating sections on the court and the two chair-back sections above them -- are likely to need 2,028 points.

For seats in the east- and west-of-center sections, they'll need:

  • 1,202 points for courtside behind or across from the team benches.
  • 1,128 points for the chair-backs.
  • 916 points for bench seats.

Fans have the option of raising their point totals by contributing to the athletic department's Williams Fund.

For every $100 donation, they get one regular point and one bonus point.

Regular points roll over from year to year; bonus points are good for only one year.

For this year's calculations, donations are due Aug. 1. Seat selection will begin in September.

The department switched to a point-based system after a 2003 audit found that 990 season-ticket holders had never contributed to the Williams Fund, and that 1,987 were inconsistent donors.

Prior to last year, ticket sales and seating decisions had been based on longevity and timely payment.

The switch, Marchiony said, raised about $2 million in additional giving.

A fundraising campaign that let fans double their points raised between $7 million and $8 million, he said.

The point-based system does not apply to KU faculty, staff and retirees. Their seating is based on seniority.

Whether donations to the Williams Fund will continue to increase remains to be seen.

"I can't predict the future," Marchiony said, "but I think people can see that things are happening -- that the Hall of Athletics is under construction, that renovations at Allen Fieldhouse are under way. Eighteen months ago, this was all just talk."

Reaction still mixed

Though the point system angered many fans who had grown accustomed to the disconnect between prime seats and Williams Fund contributions, Marchiony said it had also given many other fans first-time access to season tickets.

"Everybody who donated $100 to the Williams Fund and who wanted a ticket, got a ticket," Marchiony said. "And, before, we had a lot of people who'd been generous donors and who, frankly, had seats that weren't that good. They were happy to see their generosity rewarded."

Still, fan reaction remains mixed.

"I know some people intend to cut loose of their tickets this year because they were disappointed in their seats last year," said Steve Dillard, a Wichita fan who's had season tickets for about 15 years.

"There's been some alienation," he said. "I don't feel that way, but others do.".

Tim Fritzel, president of a Lawrence-based construction company, said he's come to accept the changes.

"I think if you stand back and look at it, it's a pretty fair system," Fritzel said. "I feel bad when I hear that a former player can't get a decent seat, but then every time I see a former player it seems like they're in good seats."

Bill Tuttle, a KU professor in phased retirement who served six years on the KU Athletic Corp.'s board of directors, scoffed at the notion of fans paying thousands for dollars for tickets.

"This is yet another example of how the tail wags the dog in higher education these days," Tuttle said. "Somehow, the money is there for basketball. But for so many other things that are critical to the mission of the university, the money isn't there."

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