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November 14, 2011

Reasons plentiful for reseating of Lane Stadium

By: Jimmy Robertson

Lane Stadium’s beautiful west side came with a price tag of more than $52 million. The Hahn Hurst basketball practice facility cost roughly $21 million. The new football locker room was $18 million. And the scholarship bill remains on the upswing.

The price to run a successful college athletics operation continues to escalate, and the Tech athletics department remains forever grateful to donors who contribute the large amounts of cash needed for such endeavors.

To reward those donors, the athletics department and the Virginia Tech Athletic Fund (or as most know it, the Hokie Club) will reseat Lane Stadium for a second time and the reseating goes into effect for the 2012 season. Plans also call for reseating Cassell Coliseum for the 2013 season.

Not that this comes as breaking news since the announcement came last March. During that time span, the Hokie Club has mailed out a 14-page glossy document to all donors and season ticket holders explaining the ins and outs behind the process, and the Hokie Club plans to mail out more information after the first of the year. The process will follow the reseating plan of 2005 – the first time Tech officials reseated Lane Stadium – and the timetable falls in line with what Hokie Club and athletics department officials stated back then.

“It goes back seven years ago when we did the initial reseating,” said Lu Merritt, Tech’s senior director of development for intercollegiate athletics. “Jim Weaver [Tech’s AD] said we would not reseat before five years and no longer than seven years.

“At the five-year mark, the economy had gotten pretty bad, so we decided to wait another year to see if things would get better because, honestly, we hoped for a bump in giving, which we got the last time. Then we decided to wait one more year because the economy was still struggling. So we were very sensitive to our donors. We realize that people have challenges with the economy.”

The prime impetus behind the decision to reseat is really quite simple: Merritt, Weaver and administrators within the athletics department and the Hokie Club want to reward those who have made major contributions to the athletics program in the past seven years – since the last reseating. A lot of people give because they want to give back to the program or they want to see continued success on the field or court. But most people give to improve their chances at better seat locations or better parking spots for football games.

Regardless of the reasons, the Tech athletics department appreciates their contributions, particularly at a time when most athletics departments are struggling to make ends meet, and wants to recognize and reward those donors.

“A lot of people have upgraded their giving and a lot of people have joined, and where you sit, where you park, where you sit at the ACC basketball tournament … all that is based on your giving,” Merritt said. “At some point, we’ve got to recognize those giving levels and allow those people to get the parking spot they want or to sit in the seats they want.

“I can’t say enough about the generosity of our donors and how much we appreciate their loyalty. It’s been amazing, and we know that people have had to make some sacrifices.”

The athletics department and the Hokie Club expect to see some additional revenue as a result of reseating. Many donors will enhance their contributions in hopes of obtaining better seats and better parking. In 2005, the Hokie Club saw more than a $5 million increase into the coffers from the previous year.

The athletics department and the Hokie Club need the revenue, too. The university keeps raising tuition as a result of cuts by the state government, and the extra tuition hikes resulted in a $700,000 increase this past fiscal year in the scholarship bill, which the Hokie Club pays a part of annually out of its annual fund. That fund was down about $2 million from recent years.

Plus, the athletics department wants to continue to build new facilities and enhance existing ones. The latest venture calls for a new field house for the football team and converting Rector Field House into an indoor track and field-only facility. The price tag for all that figures to be between $20 and $30 million.

“I think a new field house that’s football functional – meaning you can kick in there and throw a deep ball – and location-wise, being next to our practice fields and our locker room, is a big deal for us,” Tech head football coach Frank Beamer said. “I think, too, that it’s going to help our track program because they’ll have their own facility. All the programs here become better.

“I can tell you it’s big for us. Facilities are big in recruiting. It states your intentions. What kind of facilities you have states your intentions as to where you want to be in the college football world, and kids like big things and nice things. They like to see that. So there are really good reasons why we need to get this done.”

The reseating process this time around will be similar to the process in 2005 in which the Hokie Club came up with a “ladder” that recognized a combination of giving and continuous years of purchasing season tickets. In fact, those who have been a continuous season ticket purchaser since 1966 take the top spot on the ladder and get the first choice of seats. Next comes contributors who rank as Benefactors, Century Champions, Golden Champions, Diamond and Platinum Hokies. Then, those who have purchased season tickets continuously between 42 and 45 years, followed by Golden Hokies and so forth.

Where the process differs a little from 2005, though, is in the use of an online system to pick seats and parking spots. In 2005, major contributors visited Blacksburg and personally picked out seats. This time around, however, they can pick from their own computer. Merritt expects most to choose this method, but also knows that some of the older generation feels uncomfortable using a computer.

“North Carolina just did this, and 70 percent of their season ticket holders went online,” Merritt said. “Then you had others who came in who weren’t computer savvy, and we’ll have some of that and that’s fine. Ultimately, we’ll put it on the computer, but yeah, you have folks who aren’t comfortable with that, and you may have some who won’t be near a computer that day. They can tell us and we’ll handle it, or they can have someone else do it for them.

“If someone just forgets, then the system sends them and us an e-mail. We’ll get on the phone and call that person. It’s a pretty neat deal that the system has. The good thing is that several schools have used this system, so we’re not the guinea pigs. The system works fine.”

Once Hokie Club members select their seat locations, they then select their parking spot. This also represents a change from 2005 and from years past when members wrote their preferred parking spots on their season ticket order form and the Hokie Club office then assigned them.

Hokie Club members need to have members’ contributions in by Dec. 31 of this year to receive points toward their 2012 priority ranking and thus be eligible for benefits. Season ticket order forms will be mailed in January, and the deadline for returning them is March 2 – instead of May 1. The Hokie Club plans on starting the seat selection process in April, and the earlier deadline allows both the Hokie Club and the ticket office extra time to handle any problems that may arise.

For the most part, reaction from the Tech constituency toward reseating has been muted. Merritt and his staff continue to go to great lengths to educate, inform and also manage people’s expectations. He encourages donors to check out the color chart on page 11 of the reseating plan that was mailed to get an idea of the availability of seats according to Hokie Club rank.

“We’ve got roughly 2,500 Golden Hokies,” Merritt said. “But there are 1,100 people ranked ahead of them. That shows the growth we’ve had over the years.

“Golden Hokie is still a great level. Don’t get me wrong. But 1,100 people times six seats is almost 7,000 seats.”

Merritt certainly understands the angst. Some longtime contributors may not be able to increase their contributions, and thus, may get pushed out farther from the 50-yard line, where the majority of people want to sit. Others view this as a money grab by the athletics department, one that actually runs in the black thanks to shrewd management by Weaver, Merritt and others.

“The reaction has been good,” Merritt said. “You’re always going to have a few people who don’t like reseating, and we’ve had a couple of calls.

“One donor told me, ‘It’s all about the money,’ Well, that’s right in a sense. It is about the money. That doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate our membership. But it’s about paying the scholarship bill, and it is about building new facilities. These things have to be done to continue our success. That’s just the reality of the situation.”