An opportunity like this comes around once every 32 years.
The Missouri basketball teams will compete in the new Paige Sports Arena next season, and season ticket buyers have a chance to choose their seats for the first time since the Tigers began play at Hearnes Center in 1972.
In previous years, when Hearnes Center season tickets became available, athletic department officials would lead patrons to their seats and ask if they liked the view.
Construction on the $75 million arena began in September 2002 but will not be completed until Oct. 1. Because of the ongoing construction, the select-a-seat process has gone through a technological overhaul to become as modern as the new arena.
Since April 5, the athletic department has sold more than 5,000 season tickets. At peak times, about 50 people go through the half-hour process a day.
A computer simulation of every view in the arena is the centerpiece of the process. After the buyer selects a few sections where he or she would like to sit, the computer can show the view from multiple areas from each section.
The athletic department sent 25,000 “letters of intent” last summer to donors, MU faculty, basketball and football season ticket holders, single-game ticket buyers from the past three years and alumni within a 75-mile radius.
Officials received 2,600 letters from interested parties, which they converted into an appointment schedule based on the buyer’s priority points. Donors earn one point for every $100 they give to the Tiger Scholarship Fund, two points for each consecutive year they buy season tickets, and three points for each year they have been a member of the fund.
The first chances to select seats in the arena are given to the donors with the most points.
When buyers enter the selection area in the press box at Faurot Field, a large board that details every seat greets them in the waiting area. Yellow pins representing taken seats fill a large part of the board.
Eric Morrison, director of Development for Annual Giving, runs the selection process. He said many people enter the process with a good idea of where they would like to sit.
“They are very knowledgeable about where they want to be or who they want to sit with,” Morrison said.
After briefly discussing where the buyer would like to sit, an official brings the buyer into the simulation room. The computer program, developed by Fearless Eye and architects cdfm2 and HOK, gives a view from almost every row. Missouri is the first college program to use this virtual technology.
The average buyer sees two or three views during the 10 to 15 minutes he or she is in the simulation room.
“It’s like draft day; they’re ‘On the clock,’” Morrison said. “We want to give people the opportunity to have plenty of time to select a seat. It’s very personal … We talk it all out with them and set out the options.”
Paula Callis, a season ticket holder for more than 15 years at Hearnes Center, said she enjoyed the virtual process.
“It was great,” Callis said. “I had a good feel for where we would be.”
In addition to the price of the tickets, buyers are required to make an annual donation to the Tiger Scholarship Fund and, for most seats, a one-time donation to the Champions for Life.Annual donations range from $5,000 for floor seats to $125 for seats in the higher deck. Some lower bowl seats are available for donations of $250. Champions for Life donations range from $1,000 to $125 for club and lower bowl seats.
The Tiger Scholarship Fund helps pay scholarships for student-athletes, and the Champions for Life Campaign is a fund-raiser for building sites. The campaign is part of the athletic department’s $109-million contribution to Missouri’s $600-million “For All We Call Mizzou” fund-raiser.
“We’ve seen really generous support for the Tiger Scholarship Fund,” Morrison said. “A lot of people are excited to get good seats and sit closer.”
Season ticket prices will not be available until Missouri’s schedule is finalized this summer, but Morrison said the prices should not rise significantly from the $184 charged at Hearnes Center. Paige Sports Arena features 15,000 seats, 1,500 more than Hearnes, and eliminates the D-level seating. The view from the higher deck is equivalent to the C-level at Hearnes.
A seating area reserved for MU faculty and staff in the lower level next to the student section is one change from Hearnes. All Missouri employees are eligible to buy these seats, and the athletic department will match all donations for this section.
Although some buyers upgrade their Hearnes Center seats, Callis was one of many to select a seat similar to her view in Hearnes Center.
“I liked a couple things about my seat in Hearnes and wanted to repeat it,” she said. “I’m near the top of a section on an aisle.”
In his monthly column on mutigers.com, Athletic Director Mike Alden said people are buying an average of five seats per account, an increase from 3.3 seats per account at Hearnes. Buyers may buy up to eight club seats, four floor seats, and 12 seats elsewhere, but they must give donations for each seat.
The select-a-seat process continues through June 30.
Dennis Knudson, a Hearnes Center season ticket holder for 20 years, said the process gave him a good idea of where he would sit, but he would rather have had the opportunity to sit in his new seats.
“Unless you really get an idea of where the baskets are and your relation to the crowd and some of the background things you’re going to be seeing, it’s much better seeing (the view) in the actual arena,” Knudson said.
“You could tell it good (with the simulation), but not as well as you could in person.”
Callis said the select-a-seat process made her eager for the arena construction to finish and for the season to begin.
“It makes me very excited for basketball season,” she said.