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Volume 21 No. 47
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Kentucky has national title; now it’s looking for an architect

Don Muret
One week after Kentucky captured its eighth NCAA men’s basketball title, the focus in Lexington shifts back to renovating Rupp Arena, the Wildcats’ home court.

Local officials expect to issue a proposal to hire a sports architect for the project by the end of the year, said Brent Rice, chairman of the Rupp Arena Arts and Entertainment District Task Force. The task force made its recommendation in January to upgrade the downtown arena and Lexington Center, the city’s convention center next door, based on the results of a feasibility study completed in November.

A rendering shows a refurbished Rupp with new premium seats.
Photo by: NBBJ / MIR
NBBJ, the designer for Pauley Pavilion’s $136 million makeover, participated in the feasibility study by comparing the cost of renovating 23,000-seat Rupp Arena with building a new facility. The firm said it will cost $110 million to $130 million to bring the 35-year-old venue up to par with newer arenas such as KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky., one of six college and pro arenas examined in the study.

As part of the renovation, NBBJ proposed building a premium level between the lower and upper bowls with 26 suites, four party suites in the corners, and two clubs reserved for the school president and athletic director. In addition, there is space in the back of the lower bowl to add two rows, an increase of about 1,000 seats.

Those upgrades would offset the loss of 2,000 seats in the upper deck, where NBBJ calls for rebuilding the concourse with new chairback seats. The new, larger seats would replace bench seats, said Robert Mankin, a partner with NBBJ.
The renovation could add 1,000 more standing-room spaces upstairs to supplement the eRUPPtion Zone, an SRO area behind one basket. Rupp Arena typically plays host to sellout crowds for Kentucky basketball, and the school wants capacity to remain the same, Mankin said.

“The challenge is to redesign the upper bowl and go from a 24-inch [deep, bench seat] to a 33-inch tip-up chair, but through some creative work, we were able to maintain the seat count,” he said. “We would have to push the outer walls further out to the south and west, but no new roof would be needed.”

The locations of the suites and clubs will be re-examined as the project moves forward, said Tim Lambert, an NBBJ senior associate. The facility has no suites, and premium seats are limited to some courtside and midcourt locations.
Those involved with the project are waiting for the Kentucky Legislature to approve public funding sometime this summer, Rice said. The private sector is expected to contribute as well, he said.

THREE’S A CROWD: The entrepreneur who launched a sports daily deals site in June has expanded his business model after some major league teams refused to partner with him to market unsold ticket inventory.

Justin Cener, founder of Crowd Seats, a website that sells sports tickets at a deep discount, recently announced new half-off ticket deals in Boston, Chicago and California’s Bay Area, joining original markets in New York and Los Angeles, where Cener lives. In all three markets, Crowd Seats has bought tickets from established brokers to sell at a deep reduction in price. The firm keeps 25 percent of the revenue with the brokers collecting 75 percent, Cener said.
Under its original model, Crowd Seats signed deals with teams, and the daily deals site kept 40 percent of revenue. But other clubs have not answered his calls, Cener said, forcing him to buy tickets on his own off the secondary market.

In Chicago, for example, Crowd Seats bought 264 upper-deck tickets from brokers for the April 16 Wizards-Bulls game at United Center. Those tickets are offered at $48, a 50 percent savings compared to their $96 face value. The brokers have all agreed on that price, Cener said.

The Bulls say they have never heard of Crowd Seats and do not have a relationship with Cener. “We are not selling tickets at a discount,” said Steve Schanwald, the team’s executive vice president of business operations.

To date, Crowd Seats has run more than 25 ticket deals in New York and Los Angeles, Cener said.

Crowd Seats has deals with six teams, which Cener refused to identify, and will continue to seek new business on that end as well as buying tickets from brokers to resell. “I want to work with teams because it would be much more valuable for both of us,” he said. “Some teams are not getting a piece of this revenue.”

Don Muret can be reached at dmuret@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @breakground.