SBJ/December 4 - 10, 2006/SBJ In Depth

Additions boost perks for major donors

A year after the NCAA placed Alabama on a five-year probation and a two-year bowl ban, athletic director Mal Moore asked alumni to open their wallets for a $150 million facilities campaign. Critics questioned his wisdom, but today alumni offer nothing but praise.

Find highlights from that other big game on Nov. 18, Ohio State and Michigan.

“He’s a visionary,” said Richard E. Simmons Jr., 78, from Birmingham. “We’re going to have the biggest crowd ever to see a football game in the state of Alabama and he had the foresight to make it happen.”

The $50 million renovation to the north end zone that Moore directed through the facility campaign has allowed the university to take care of more donors than ever before. Through it, the university added 38 skyboxes and a club area called “The Zone” that provides a sports-bar-styled dining area just inside of floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking 1,600 club seats.

Alumni rushed to secure a club-level seat after the facility campaign was announced. Upon hearing the new club-level seats had been filled, Simmons, a season-ticket holder at the university since the 1960s, wrote to Tommy Ford, who oversees ticketing priority at the university. He begged him for a seat, saying he’d been faithful for 45 years.

Now, he spends $3,000 for a pair of club seats for him and his wife and an additional $900 on two other seats in the stadium.

In the 38 new skyboxes above “The Zone,” donors are able to select food from a menu designed specifically for them. Lawyers from the Tuscaloosa firm Phelps, Jenkins, Gibson and Fowler, which contributed $300,000 to the university’s facility campaign, snacked on beef tenderloin, feta and spinach spanakopita and egg rolls. “It’s been a luxurious way to watch the game,” said Courtney Crowder, a partner at the firm. “It’s like being in your living room.”

Sponsors have been equally pleased. Julie Strauss, marketing director with Golden Flake, an Alabama potato chip manufacturer, gets 50 tickets to the game and brings half of those people into “The Zone” to eat before kickoff. Showing them the new stadium areas, she said, has become a highlight of each visit.

“When Coach Moore redid the entrance,” Strauss said, “he gave us a place where we could bring customers and be proud.”

Before most games, the university shares that experience with major donors by taking them on tours of the new facilities, which also includes football offices, weight rooms and an athletic tutoring area.

The rest of the weekend, donors are taken care of the same way they always have, said Jon Gilbert, associate athletic director of major gifts. The night before the Auburn game, that meant major donors, members of CBS’s TV crew and representatives from bowl games such as the Capital One and Music City bowls were treated to dinner at an area country club where Joe Namath, a 1965 alumnus of the school, joined them.

The next day, major donors were taken to the university’s President’s Mansion, where they were hosted along with dignitaries and special VIPs, such as U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby.

At the stadium, members of Tide Pride, the university’s athletic donor association, were treated to a pregame Thanksgiving meal.

Not just another game in Tuscaloosa
Games 1 through 7 Iron Bowl
Average hotel rate $117 $124
Cost of “Field Suite” seat $300 $600
Game programs printed ($5 each) 10,000 18,000
Media credentials issued 350-400 600
Corporate booths in the Quad 12 22
No. of football recruits hosted by University of Alabama 70-75 92
No. of game-day special menu orders 30 60-plus
Portable toilets 70 96

Pumping up licensing revenue

The Crimson Tide and Tigers ranked No. 9 and No. 13, respectively, in total licensing revenue generated last year (July 1, 2005, through June 30, 2006), according to Collegiate Licensing Co., but when the two schools face off, they receive more than just the expected bump in sales that most other comparable matchups get.

CLC’s Iron Bowl licensing program requires licensees to pay an additional fee to sell any items containing that trademarked phrase. The schools split evenly the 15 percent royalty fees generated by the program, according to Joe Hutchinson, senior director of product category management and education for CLC.

Licensees also have the option of paying for the mark with only one school logo, and that school receives 8 percent of the revenue, the same percent both schools receive for standard merchandise sales.

Workers were kept busy filling orders
for patrons in the stadium’s suites.

Reservations required
Eight days a year, Bryant-Denny Stadium is the busiest eating establishment in the state of Alabama, feeding more than 3,000 patrons in its suites.

Jill Bender, skybox director of The Colonnade Group, the Birmingham-based event management company charged with the yearlong operation of the stadium’s premium seating, navigates a game-day staff of approximately 70 students through a 10-hour, high-pressure day that would make most five-star concierges wilt.

The biggest challenges for this game: Four staff no-shows (not totally surprising, considering the staff is composed of students, and this is Auburn weekend); kitchen is a little behind (also to be expected, as orders for this game are 40 percent higher than an average game); and a constant barrage of interlopers trying to scam their way into premium-seating areas without proper credentials.

Here are some suite highlights from the Auburn game:

The menu featured roasted corn and black bean salsa, Black Angus beef tenderloin and spinach and feta spanakopita. Preorders included 900 pounds of tenderloin.

More than 60 additional food orders were made on game day, twice as many as an average game.

Kitchen ovens were turned on approximately 13 hours before kickoff, and shut down after the third quarter.

Skybox lessees can invite anywhere from six to 16 general-admission fans, depending on the size of the suite, to come to the skybox for the final 10 minutes of the game. About 850 such passes were distributed.

Weekly highlights
After each game, Crimson Tide Sports Marketing produces a DVD that includes the actual game coverage (sans commercials), locker-room interviews and the Sunday morning coach’s show. Fans paid $380 this season to receive the weekly disc, called the “Video Season Ticket.” CTSM also will produce a season summary special, for a total of 13 DVDs.

Costly loss
Eight days after Alabama’s loss to Auburn — its fifth straight to the Tigers — coach Mike Shula was fired. Shula had signed a six-year contract extension in May worth approximately $1.55 million per year through 2012.

— Compiled by David Broughton

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