No suites for Duck fans at UO's new $200M arena
Portland Business Journal - by Don Muret Sports Business Journal
The most expensive college arena planned to date, the $200 million facility that the University of Oregon hopes to start building this year in Eugene, will not contain suites.
Projected for completion in 2010, it would be the first new arena in a Big Six conference to open without suites in 12 years. But that's the way big donors fueling the project, including Nike co-founder Phil Knight, prefer it, said officials principally involved in designing and developing the long-awaited arena.
"Suites don't drive interest in the program," said Jon Niemuth, Ellerbe Becket's principal designer for the project. Designers will instead focus on high-end club and courtside seats to help finance construction.
Texas A&M's Reed Arena was the last major conference men's basketball arena to open without suites, according to SportsBusiness Journal research. It didn't make sense to build suites at A&M in the late 1990s, when the basketball program was struggling and drawing crowds of less than 5,000, said sports facility consultant Bill Rhoda, who lives in Dallas but was not involved in the project.
"It's something colleges have to be aware of [because] they're a different animal," Rhoda said. "Suites are not as corporate-related as the pro products are."
Rhoda, a principal for CSL International, completed market research studies at Oregon, where the results proved that Ducks' season-ticket holders would rather pay a premium for sitting close to the floor than sit in a suite farther away from the action inside the 12,500-seat arena.
Ticket prices have not been determined, said Pat Kilkenny, Oregon's athletic director.
One reason for the absence of suites is that fans enjoy the old-school atmosphere at McArthur Court, the 81-year-old bandbox that gives the Ducks a distinct home advantage. Building suites in the new arena would eliminate that intimidating feel, Kilkenny said.
Throughout Division I, schools are conflicted over using luxury boxes to pay for new construction and renovations while maintaining a sense of egalitarianism on campus.
"The fact is, there are a lot of universities hesitant to create an 'us and them' atmosphere in their sports facilities," said Randy Bredar, vice president of marketing for J.E. Dunn Construction and a former college sports designer.
The challenge, Bredar said, is, "how do you create a finance model to support the facility itself?"
In Eugene, the 44 to 48 courtside and 4,000 to 5,000 club seats inside the new arena are tied to annual gifts, plus a one-time "construction fee."
"We felt we could sell club seating and other premium seats that would counterbalance the loss of the suites," Kilkenny said.
The financing behind Oregon's suite-free facility, 30-year bonds paid off by event revenue, has to be approved by the state Legislature and the Oregon State Board of Higher Education in the next two months.
Don Muret is a staff writer with SportsBusiness Journal, an affiliated publication. Contact email@example.com