Season tickets secure stadium’s salvation

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Author: John Nagy ’00M.A.

Put the words “Notre Dame” and “historic preservation” into the same sentence, and Notre Dame Stadium, as buildings go, won’t likely make most people’s A list. The “why” is simple: It looks like a stadium. The architecture isn’t a standout—the building was but one of many designed by an engineering firm that specialized in large stadium projects during the 1920s.

Mere appearances say nothing about the stadium’s beauty to Fighting Irish fans and still less of its historical value or its worth to the school. That’s why, in an age when new stadiums carry nine-figure price tags, the administration has found a very modern way—though historical in its own right—to finance one of the costlier preservation projects in the University’s history: the first sale of season tickets announced in 30 years.

Although the University has dutifully performed basic maintenance to its beloved football palace over the years, the concrete, steel and brick stadium is showing signs of seven-plus decades of weather exposure. Today, badly needed renovations to the seating bowl, supporting structures, drainage system and other features are projected to cost more than $40 million over the next 25 years. The project team, led by John Affleck-Graves, ND’s executive vice president, has chosen to meet the need by tapping into the record demand for football tickets.

Affleck-Graves notes that other funding options were a poor fit for Notre Dame. Luxury skyboxes would “change the [stadium’s] look and feel,” he said when announcing the ticket venture in September. Another option, seeking donor support, would risk diverting funds from academic needs and, possibly, renaming the stadium for an individual or corporation, as the University of Louisville has done with Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

The 5,000 tickets available in the initial sale won’t come cheap. The University hasn’t yet raised ticket prices themselves. Instead, the real moneymaker will be the annual rights fees on the newly floated season passes: $2,000 for a seat between the 20-yard lines, $1,500 to sit in a corner and $1,250 in the end zone. Theoretically, a pair of seats at the 50-yard-line could go for at least $4,826 next year.

The new season tickets will not reduce bench space currently available through the annual football ticket lottery. The University pooled seats for the sale by reallocating tickets that have been distributed internally and adding several hundred tickets not renewed by former season-ticket holders. Anyone willing to pay a nonrefundable $50 fee may enroll online for a season ticket application, mailed this month.

To date, more than 3,000 people have signed up to get on the list. If demand exceeds the 5,000 seats currently available, applicants will enter a lottery system similar to the single-game lottery, with preference given to alumni and others who have a direct relationship with the University. Applicants who don’t get tickets may remain on a waiting list to buy tickets as they are turned in by former season ticket holders.

The lottery scenario seems likely. For the 2006 regular season, the Athletics Department refunded $11.7 million worth of dashed lottery hopes, more than doubling the previous mark set during the 2005 season.

Another measure of demand comes from the University’s ticket resale policy, which drew substantial media attention early in the season. The ticket office assigned an intern the job of scanning classified ads and visiting as many as 30 websites each day in the hunt for profiteers. The Wall Street Journal reported the sale of a pair of Penn State tickets on eBay for $3,200, one of the more lucrative among hundreds of resale transactions; the seller likely became one of hundreds of Notre Dame ticket holders this year to have purchasing privileges revoked for at least the next three years.

Ticket office director Josh Berlo ’04MBA said a few of those reclaimed tickets may be allocated to the season-ticket inventory but that no connection exists between the increasingly vigorous enforcement of the resale policy and the season ticket sale.

Berlo does have good news for alumni who dream about returning for fall football weekends. As the University shuffles football tickets back and forth among its eager constituencies in its quixotic quest to meet demand, the number of tickets allocated to the single-game lottery is going up, too.

The University has posted information about the season ticket sale and the history of the stadium at stadiumpreservation.nd.edu.

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