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Ole Miss considers leaving suites off blueprint for next arena

Ole Miss considers leaving suites off blueprint for next arena

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Don Muret
Ole Miss wants to build a new arena that will most likely follow Oregon’s model, meaning no suites.

The school recently hired Aecom to determine the cost for constructing an arena similar in size to 9,061-seat C.M. “Tad” Smith Coliseum, which opened in 1966. At the same time, the UMAA Foundation, the school’s nonprofit fundraising group, is developing a plan to finance construction that will include long-term commitments tied to club seats and a private lounge for those premium-seat patrons. Aecom’s study will come up with the right mix of premium seats, said Danny White, senior associate athletic director and the foundation’s chief development officer.

UNIVERSITY OF MISSISSIPPI ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT
Tad Smith Coliseum, Ole Miss’ current home, opened in 1966.
Aecom designed Oregon’s Matthew Knight Arena, a 12,500-seat facility that opened in January with no suites and 106 club seats.

Project officials are not ruling anything out, including developing tailgate suites similar to what was done at Auburn Arena, the new basketball facility that opened at Ole Miss’ fellow SEC school last fall. Those 12 skyboxes have outdoor balconies that suite holders use for hospitality purposes on home football weekends.

In Oxford, depending on the final site selection, the new arena could sit about 200 yards from Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, White said.

That being said, Ole Miss officials do not think there would be a huge demand for suites in a town of about 20,000, not counting the school’s 14,000 students. The closest major market is Memphis, an 85-mile drive. Depending on where potential suite holders live, it could be a challenge to pitch companies and individuals and at the same time hand them a schedule with several midweek home games. As it stands, it is difficult to fill the arena for a Wednesday-night SEC game, White said.

Club seats, though, are a hot commodity at Ole Miss. The school has sold out its club seat sections for football and baseball.
Swayze Field, the school’s baseball stadium, added 880 indoor club seats in 2008. Those seats sell for $1,500 and cover the cost of season tickets, White said. The football stadium’s 2,500 club seats sell for $1,100 a season on top of the cost of season tickets.

Tad Smith Coliseum has no suites or club seats, but does sell out four rows of 150 premium courtside seats. They cost $1,250 a seat plus the cost of season tickets, which were $210 last season. There are no amenities other than the seat itself, White said.
Initial projections indicate Ole Miss could build a new arena for between $50 million and $70 million.

Auburn Arena’s $86 million price tag covered the cost to build a new basketball practice facility, something Ole Miss won’t need. It opened a $13 million practice facility in January 2010.

The school’s goal is to open the new arena for the 2015-16 season, White said.

MUSIC TO MY EARS: Minnesota Twins President Dave St. Peter has been hearing via Twitter from die-hard Twins fans unhappy with changes the club made to the music played at Target Field.

The Twins shook things up this season by hiring Dan Edwards as the ballpark’s new music director. He replaced Kevin Dutcher, who had held that position the past 11 years. Edwards also works at a local radio station owned by the Pohlad family, owners of the Twins.

When Dutcher had the job, he played a local music spotlight 35 minutes before the first pitch and developed a following among Twins fans for steering away from top-40 hits between innings. That all changed this season and has a few fans tweeting their displeasure to St. Peter.

St. Peter, who on Twitter goes by @TwinsPrez, has no problem addressing team-related issues through social media platforms. “I love the fact that people are paying attention, and it speaks to how much they care about the Target Field game experience,” he said. “Twitter is part of our new reality. It would be disingenuous if we only responded to issues that are positive for the team.”

The Twins still play local music before, during and after games, but those selections are mixed in with alternative, pop and oldies tunes as Edwards tries to find a happy medium for all fans, St. Peter said.

Don Muret can be reached at dmuret@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @BreakGround.