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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Costs jump on home games, Zona Zoo”

    Pre-pharmacy freshman Veronica Ramirez buys her Zona Zoo pass yesterday afternoon from business sophomore Cecilia Becker at Gallagher Theater. Passes can be purchased at Gallagher from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and at the McKale Center from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
    Pre-pharmacy freshman Veronica Ramirez buys her Zona Zoo pass yesterday afternoon from business sophomore Cecilia Becker at Gallagher Theater. Passes can be purchased at Gallagher from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and at the McKale Center from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

    Priciest student-ticket plan in the Pacific 10 Conference: Arizona Athletics doesn’t mind the ring of that.

    As the Arizona football season opener approaches and sales of the Zona Zoo sports pass continue in earnest, members of Associated Students of the University of Arizona and the UA athletics department defended their decision to raise student-ticket prices to the highest in the Pac-10.

    The base charge of the Zona Zoo has increased to $60 from $40 last year, after athletics department officials felt that the old price was not raising enough revenue toward operational costs. Students who buy the pass may also go online on Mondays before men’s basketball home games to purchase individual tickets for $11 or for $10 at the McKale Ticket Office.

    Including the optional $10 fee to attend the ASU rivalry game at Arizona Stadium on Nov. 25, the cost for the students to watch all football and men’s basketball home contests this season has jumped 100 percent to $224, tops in the Pac-10 after Arizona placed seventh a year ago. The number falls to 71 percent when taking into account two extra men’s basketball games and one in football.

    “”One, we think it’s a very fair cost, in terms of what kind of entertainment’s being provided,”” said UA athletic director Jim Livengood, who said that much of the added cost is incurred only as students pay for more men’s basketball games. “”Two, it’s a tremendous benefit to our teams and to our programs in terms of not just as it relates to football and (men’s) basketball but as it relates certainly to the (department’s) other 17 sports, as well.””

    Costs adjusted to avoid deficit

    Members of both ASUA and Arizona Athletics said this year’s revised Zona Zoo plan, which was first announced in early May, was reached through constant conversation and interplay over the spring 2006 semester.

    In all, five individuals – former Zona Zoo spirit director Amber Harryman, then-acting Student Body President Erin Hertzog, former senior associate athletic director Chris Del Conte and then-associate athletic directors Scott MacKenzie and Russell Dean – met about 10 times during the spring to discuss facets of a new plan, MacKenzie said.

    Harryman said she and Dean met every week and that she kept Hertzog up to date on negotiations when Hertzog could not attend meetings. Francis and MacKenzie also did not make every meeting, as Dean kept them abridged on the progress.

    MacKenzie said the athletics department had two main issues with the old Zona Zoo plan, one being that services like student seating along an entire sideline during football home games demanded more than a $40 charge for six games.

    “”For the product we’ve delivered, it was underpriced compared to other schools in the Pac-10,”” said MacKenzie, who replaced Del Conte after he left Arizona this summer to become the athletics director at Rice. “”We felt like it was a great value before. It still is.””

    MacKenzie, who has also assumed Del Conte’s former budget responsibilities, said the department has finished each of the last several fiscal years with a small profit.

    Livengood said he considers that a fortunate situation, as Arizona has not required annual student fees for the last six years.

    Such fees are employed by many schools in the Pac-10, and they typically contribute to funding athletics, among other on-campus services, Livengood said. He predicted that those schools that demand fees reap as much as $500,000 to $4 million annually.

    Meanwhile, as gas prices and travel costs continue to rise, Arizona must rely on self-generated sources of money like the Zona Zoo pass, he said.

    “”I’m not bemoaning that at all,”” Livengood said. “”The student fees that we used to get now go through to pay off the debt service at the student union. Sometimes, that’s kind of forgotten in the mix, in the equation, if you will.””

    In June, the Sports Business Journal published a series of articles in which Livengood projected that the UA athletics department could face as much as a $5 million deficit in five years if it cannot find enough means to boost revenue.

    MacKenzie insisted that the Zona Zoo pass is just one of many efforts the department is making, including increased sponsorship and booster donations, to increase revenue.

    Although he estimated that up to $1 million would be raised if 10,000 passes are sold this year (more than 11,000 were purchased last year), he doesn’t see the price of the pass making leaps similar to this year’s in the near future.

    “”We haven’t developed any plans at this time to increase the price,”” he said. “”I think that with the plan, we hope to keep (the price) close to the same. (We have) no plans to raise it significantly over the next couple years, but we haven’t gotten into long-term discussions into it or with the people that we deal with in ASUA.””

    Lottery abandoned in new system

    Another issue for both the athletics department and ASUA was the lackluster attendance in the McKale Center student section introduced before last year.

    Dean, who left the department in August to join Del Conte in an athletics administration role at Rice, said that for some men’s basketball contests, as many as 1,000 of the section’s 2,300 seats were left vacated.

    “”People pay for tickets and don’t go. I don’t understand it,”” Dean said in a recent phone interview. “”People are dying for tickets and they can’t go.””

    Harryman said one of the biggest improvements in this year’s plan is the abolishment of the lottery system that awarded men’s basketball tickets to Zona Zoo members at random.

    She said she heard many accounts of winners selling their tickets, which cost an average of $6 per game, for hundreds of dollars online.

    Harryman greatly prefers the new system, which allows anyone to purchase a ticket to any home game on the schedule.

    “”The right people who would go to every game did not get the tickets. That was an issue to me,”” Harryman said in a phone interview. “”I think they should go to the people who want to be at every game.””

    One of Harryman’s main priorities while discussing a new Zona Zoo plan was increasing student involvement, in and out of the stands.

    The position she and Hertzog took was that the price of the pass should not go up unless more services were being offered to students besides access to home games.

    While she admitted she could haggle only so much about the base charge because of the athletics department’s financial priorities, she said the list of Zona Zoo events and programs being introduced this year, like pep rallies and increased tailgating, is further justification for the price increase.

    “”The Zona Zoo is an incredible value for what you get,”” Harryman said. “”I think students have been so used to that that I think there was a little bit of an outcry.””

    Although many students polled have expressed reservations about the new Zona Zoo plan and its rise in price, so far demand for the passes has been on pace with last year’s, according to Darren Graessle, UA director of ticket operations.

    The pass has been sold on weekdays at the McKale Ticket Office and during limited hours at the Gallagher Theater inside the Student Union Memorial Center.

    The latter site has been especially popular in recent days. During lunch hours Monday, the line of students stretched nearly 100 feet from the Gallagher box office to the Union Kiva Room.

    Athletics department employee Dave Perry said yesterday that the theater began selling the Zona Zoo pass three days earlier this year, starting Aug. 14, to accommodate an expected boost in interest.

    “”We’ve tried to alleviate the rush, but that’s not going to happen,”” he said.

    MacKenzie said about 11,000 Zona Zoo passes were sold a year ago and that he expects the number to increase this season.

    Graessle said 5,918 passes had been purchased as of 5 p.m. yesterday, a figure right on track with last year’s sales flow.

    “”With the excitement about (head coach) Mike Stoops and the football team, people are not going to want to miss that,”” said MacKenzie, who predicted sales of the pass will exceed 12,000. “”They’ll get the pass.””

    MacKenzie said the hope surrounding the football program under Stoops despite coming off consecutive 3-8 seasons was a motivation for raising the cost of the pass.

    Pre-business sophomore Arvin Ahmadieh took issue with that notion after buying his pass on Friday.

    “”The way I think about it, if the team is better – and I think it is – then they should promote it by keeping the price the same, or lower it to get more people out there,”” said Ahmadieh, who bought the pass last year. “”Increasing the price is stupid, but they got to do what they got to do.””

    Many students said they were particularly miffed by the added fee for attending the ASU game.

    Dean said that feature of the plan emerged after both sides concluded that relatively few students – he guessed about 3,500 – typically attend the contest, as it annually coincides with the Thanksgiving holiday. Thus the game was not initially included among the other six football home games in determining the cost of the pass.

    Other students said they were glad the basketball lottery system was done away with but gave lukewarm receptions about the new services being offered, as some were not even familiar with them.

    Virtually all of the students polled said that although they disagreed with the rise in cost, it was still worth what they got in return, especially compared to general-public tickets, which have also increased this year.

    “”They pretty much forced (students) to buy the pass,”” Ahmadieh said. “”You have no other option.””

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