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May 24, 2004

More Money For Fewer Seats?

FROM THE P.T. BARNUM PLAYBOOK come the latest iterations of the theme “less is more,” this time applied to the off field (or court) product rather than the on field product.

In a mushrooming trend that started with basic luxury boxes of decades ago, college and professional facilities operators have been outdoing one another in imaginative explorations of how to increase revenues via creative seating arrangements, amenities and VIP treatment.

Among the examples:

• The big daddy of them all: Ohio State University paid for almost 80% of their $194 million stadium expansion with 81 new suites and 2500 new club seats.

• A $3.5 renovation at Indiana U’s Memorial Stadium that converted aluminum bleachers for 900 into 300 fully padded seats (at a fourfold ticket prices).

• A new 25,000 seat stadium in Kansas City that can generate as much revenue as a typical 40,000 seat stadium

• Individual club seats at the Fargodome at North Dakota State.

• Gorman Catholic School (Tyler TX) auctioned off molded plastic seats atop bleachers (thus fans could fund a chair, as is common in academe).

• Gimmicks: airplane seats, shaded porch seats, picnic-on-the-grass “seats” alongside outfield areas at minor league stadiums.

Regardless of the special accommodations, what’s left unsaid—or mumbled off to the side—is that the quality and excitement of the on field product need to be present, or else the appeal of the hospitality amenities dissipates quickly. With their perennial top 10 gridiron powerhouse teams, Ohio State can boldly charge big bucks for hospitality upgrades. However, Indiana—which hasn’t had a winning season in ten years—tries something similar, it doesn’t work out as well.

Obviously, not every team can be a consistent winner. The great majority of teams have increasingly worked at developing game day experiences that are almost as much entertainment as they are sports contest.

One has only to attend a typical NBA or minor league baseball game to witness a succession of dancing girls, giveaways thrown to the crowd, basket-shooting contests and frenetic mascots trying to steal the show. And all of it accompanied by a millions-of-dollars scoreboard with graphics better than what you get with your family room TV. And with an ear-piercing array of speakers blasting away as well.

So, where’s the game?

(this 372 word excerpt, with accompanying commentary, was drawn from a 2768 word article in Athletic Business of May 2004)