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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Big changes for new Husky Stadium


    It’s a crumbling stadium in a spectacular setting, one that serves as a focal point of Seattle’s social life for six to seven days every fall. And it’s one of those rare football venues where students have some of the best seats in the house.

    This November, the University of Washington will begin rebuilding outdated, 90-year-old Husky Stadium, making room for well-heeled fans by moving students out of their prime seats and bumping ticket prices. The price tag for the remodel: $250 million.

    For fans able to write a big check, there will be new seating options, including approximately 25 suites, 25 loge boxes and 2,500 premium covered seats on the south side of the stadium. Premium seats likely will come with a season price of about $3,000, and holders of those tickets may be allowed to purchase alcohol for the first time in Husky Stadium.

    These options will allow the university to nearly double the amount of revenue it receives from ticket sales — from $23 million in 2010 to a projected $41 million in 2013.

    Athletic-department officials say they have not settled on prices for the 2013 season. They do not plan to announce pricing for those tickets, and for the games that will be played inQwest Field in 2012, until this fall.

    But planning documents suggest premium seats initially could go for between $2,000 and $3,000 per seat, a price that includes both a Tyee Club donation and the cost of a season ticket. Tyee Club members could pay $1,000 or more — including both a donation and the cost of a ticket — for seats near the 50-yard line. Regular-season ticket prices could increase approximately $20 per game.

    “”It’s not an across-the-board increase,”” and some seats may be cheaper, said Jennifer Cohen, the school’s senior associate athletic director for development. “”There will be something for everybody.””

    It’s difficult to know how season tickets will be priced because the new stadium will open up a range of seating that hasn’t previously been available to fans, Cohen said — including a much larger swath of 50-yard-line seats, some where students traditionally have sat. The athletic department is likely to raise the upper end of Tyee Club donation levels to help pay for the stadium, Cohen said, and that also could affect season prices.

    About 6 percent of the new stadium’s seating will be made up of premium seats, a percentage that’s lower than the 10 percent figure at most other schools, Cohen said. But those premium seats will account for $6 million annually in new revenue — in effect, paying for a significant chunk of the $15 million the school must raise each year to pay off the stadium bonds that will be sold to finance the project.

    Still, the average ticket price in 2013 would be lower than at most Pacific-10 Conference schools, UW officials estimate.

    A suite, which would seat as many as 25 people, would be the most expensive option, costing between $35,000 and $75,000 per year and requiring a five- to 10-year commitment.

    At the same time, seat prices in the north upper deck — the only part of the stadium that won’t be touched by the renovation — are likely to decrease. “”What’s really important to us is affordability,”” Cohen said.

    A matter of money

    The university has been talking about renovating the 90-year-old stadium for seven years, but money always has been the stumbling block. For a time, the university tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade lawmakers in Olympia to help it collect $150 million in public money to go toward the remodel.

    Finally, in May of last year, UW announced plans to reduce the scope of the renovation and raise the money privately, using the school’s institutional lending program. The decision does carry risks: It could cause the university’s bond rating to be downgraded and could limit the amount it can borrow for future projects.

    The university also could run into financial trouble if the project has significant cost overruns, or attendance at future games is worse than expected. But members of the school’sBoard of Regents say they’re confident the financing plan is solid.

    “”I think our direction is very sound,”” Regents chair Herb Simon said.

    Bargain or hurdle?

    The plan calls for the entire lower bowl and south-side upper deck to be demolished and reconstructed. About 4,000 premium seats will be built on the south side. Students and the band will move to the west end zone.

    A swath of 50-yard-line seats on the north side, behind the Husky bench, will open up to Tyee Club members.

    “”Because we haven’t needed it, we’ve generally fallen behind what it costs to sit on the 50-yard line”” compared to other schools, said Ron Crockett, the former owner of Emerald Downs, who is on the committee that will set pricing for the new stadium. Crockett said he believes the new prices will still constitute a Pac-10 bargain.

    For some Husky fans, 2013 can’t come soon enough.

    “”To be quite frank, it’s long overdue,”” said Scott Elmquist, a Seattle resident who has had Husky football tickets for 11 years. “”For too long, there was a sense of complacency regarding doing anything with Husky Stadium.””

    But some fans are concerned that the higher prices could edge them out.

    Matt Ohlinger, a season-ticket holder, doesn’t know if he’ll renew his tickets if prices creep too high.

    Ohlinger is a member of the Tyee Club, the Husky boosters club that allows donors to get better seats in exchange for annual donations of up to $425 a seat. He’s especially worried that his parents, who aren’t Tyee Club members, will lose their 22-yard-line seats on the south side to club members who can afford substantial donations. (The club’s priority-point system, based on the size of the donation and the length of time a ticketholder has contributed, will carry forward to the new stadium.)

    Tyee Club donation levels are likely to go up, Cohen said. About 80 percent of Tyee members give $425 per seat, and that suggests the university “”hasn’t priced tickets according to location very well,”” she said.

    One planning document suggests top Tyee giving levels could be set at $550; another suggests a top Tyee donation of $900.

    “”It’s driven by the fact that there are people out there willing to pay for it,”” said Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon.

    Cultural shift

    UW officials believe some Husky fans and corporate sponsors will be willing to pay thousands for season tickets for suites and loges; indeed, those types of seats are widely available already in college stadiums across the country, Swangard said.

    Will premium boxes change the social atmosphere at Husky Stadium? About 67 percent of season-ticket holders surveyed in 2008 said they feared it would.

    “”I like the stadium the way it is,”” one fan said in a telephone interview with a surveyor. “”My concern is this college sport is getting as if it is pro sports, and it is getting too expensive for the average guy to afford. Soon, only the wealthy will be able to participate.””

    Another said: “”You run a severe risk of changing the culture with these reconfigurations.”” And a third: “”The stadium has community feel; it’s important not to disrupt the culture.””

    According to UW planning documents, even with premium seats, the average ticket price per game would be about $154, including donations, in 2013. That’s less than the projected average of $182 at the University of Oregon, and well below the top Pac-10 school, the University of Southern California, where the per-game price is projected to be $1,315in two years.

    Charles Clotfelter, a professor of public policy at Duke University and author of the forthcoming book “”Big-Time Sports in American Universities,”” notes sports donations such as the ones being solicited to rebuild Husky Stadium are tax-deductible. In effect, federal taxpayers subsidize college sports because donors receive a tax break on their donations.

    In his book, Clotfelter says, he weighs the problems of sports — the compromised academic values, the pushing of student athletes — against the good that sports bring to a university, which includes the enjoyment of watching your team win a big game.

    “”For all the problems in big-time sports,”” he said, “”they make a lot of people happy.””

    Mark Coker is one of those fans. He’s had season tickets since 1981, and although he’s concerned about how much prices will go up, he’s resigned to paying them.

    “”They’d have to do a heck of a lot to price me out of the market,”” he said.

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