Arkansas Launches RSVP Ticket Plan

Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long unveiled a new ticket initiative Wednesday.

Jeff Long answered questions after the RSVP press conference. Here are his answers:

How much will the new Razorback Seat Value Plan, or RSVP, raise for the Razorback Foundation?

"Our conservative estimates believe an additional $5 million new dollars annually generated to the program."

How important is that?

"Well, it's important, again, as we outline where our budget is. You can see it's at $60 million, again, we don't need to be at the top of the SEC. We need to lessen the gap between those that are ahead of us. So that's what we need to do. Does this plan get us all the way there. No, but it's a step to moving our program to providing resources to get the pieces we need."

You said in an interview that you wanted to get to $70 million?

"The question is how long is it going to take us to get there. But I also said that it's a moving target because if it takes us three to five years to get to $70 million, our competitors probably aren't standing still. Again, we don't expect to reach that with this, but we want to lessen the gap as far as facilities. We are also competing in the class room, too, and we need to increase our resources in that area as well."

Do you have initial feedback from fans on whether they are going to keep their seats?

"It's mixed as I'd expect. We think the majority of fans, when they look at the information and see how long it's been since we moved and had an increase and they look at others around the conference, I think they understand it. Nobody likes to have an increase. We don't like doing an increase. It's not something we want to do. But when we assess where our program is and where our fans want us to be, we've got to move in that direction. When they understand that, they are going to support us. Of course, there are always going to be some that it does create a financial hardship. We understand that. We appreciate that. We feel for that person. At the same time, we have to move our organization forward."

Is this what you need to get Coach Bobby Petrino the tools he's asked for?

"I think it's part of the answer. Some other things we need to do in a comprehensive fund raising plans will help. But it's clear to me that Coach Petrino wants to have the tools to win a national championship. So do I. I want him to have them. This is part of that. Answer the Call is part of providing the resources."

Chris Wyrick has moved to the Razorback Foundation in an on-loan capacity for one year. He's coming back after one year?

"Yes, he's on loan. His responsibility has been divided among our current staff. When he's brought back, he'll have them brought back in some way shape or form. As we move forward as an administration, we'll move forward. But Chris will definitely have a role when he comes back."

In Wyrick's remarks, he mentioned that there had been 400 hours of discussion on the plan. Really, 400?

"Yes. Many hours. Many plans were reviewed. We felt it was important to take all of those gyrations so everyone understood the plan. I think there were a number of different ways we could have gone. As Chris pointed out, we tried to reward that fan who has been loyal for us for a long time. Some of the plans called for fans to automatically lose their seats. In our plan, no one automatically lost their seats unless they can't meat the increase we are asking."

Have some schools done that?

"Absolutely. I don't want to name names, but there is one right now that's announced that is doing what we call a total reseat based on your giving and based on your rank. We didn't feel that was the way. It was certainly an option for us. Again, we didn't think it fit the culture and the fan base at Arkansas was the right way to go. We thought updating the system that was already in place was the answer for us.

"Some have asked why now? Some think it's because we have high expectations for the season. You know what, that actually is fortunate. The truth is that the financial condition we face is the reason. We wanted to announce now so our fans have as long as possible before 2011 season to make their decisions. We know some will have some very difficult decisions on keeping the number of seats they have. We know we have some that control maybe 20, 30, 40 seats in prime locations. They'll have to make decisions on whether they want to keep some of them or all of them. We wanted to give them as much lead time as possible so they can make the best decisions. Chris Wyrick and his RSVP team will be available (to answer questions) all the way through January of 2011 before they'll have to make decisions on their seats."

You mentioned 14,116 that have season tickets. Is that people, or what?

"Those are accounts. That's, I believe, are accounts in Fayetteville and they represent all of the season tickets sold. Those accounts have multiple seats."

You mentioned that it's a decade-long plan. Do you have built-in increases along the way?

"No, we haven't built those in. We will reassess and have the opportunity to move forward and have increases. The problem we are in today is that we have not had any movement or even small increases in 15 years. Really, this first jump makes a significant jump because we haven't made any jumps recently."

Do you evaluate every year?

"No, I think we have announced, for the next three years we will remain constant. After that period we will assess. Certainly, assess every year. But we said to our fan base, this initial increase is going to hold for three years."

How do you compare dollars from now to dollars in the past?

"It's interesting, when you look back to the cost of the 50-yard line when Coach Broyles started the priority plan in 1982, Coach Broyles was on the cutting edge when he formalized the plan the way I understand it from the Razorback Foundation. He was quite a bit ahead. Alabama didn't do their plan until 1988 or 1989. He was way ahead. Then, over time, we didn't adjust those values much in the 28-year period while others adjusted along the way. We find ourselves where we have to have a significant adjustment. Then going forward we don't expect those adjustments to be that dramatic."

Even with this raise, the school will still be in the lower half of the SEC.

"Yes, when you look at the charts -- again I don't like to mention names -- it doesn't put us in the middle of the pack, it just gains us on those at the lower end. When you look at every school when talking about 50-yard line seats, there is more to the story. Georgia, for instance, you see $400 for 50-yard line seats. There is more to the story. You also know if you look at Georgia, they have $60 million in reserve, they have an endowment of $60 million. So you see the pressure for them to generate money from their seat plan isn't there. But they have been $400 for significant period and that's allowed them to build those reserves."

What is your long-range goal to be at at the end of this decade of planning?

"To be honest, we haven't pegged a number on that. We need to see where our program goes. A lot of it depends on the success of our program. Really, it's kind of a chicken and the egg concept. You need more resources to help your team win and you need your team to win to get more resources. So we haven't set a hard and fast number we expect to be at the end of a 10-year period."

Salaries are going up with coaches. You mentioned that you want to keep them. Can you expound on that?

"Obviously, we think we have great coaches. When you have great coaches, there will be interest from other schools. We want to be competitive to keep the great coaches here. You need resources to do that. When you look at our coaches salary, some of them are middle of the pack in the SEC. We are not at the top even with our most successful programs. When we are in that situation, we want to be able to respond to the market when others have interest in our coaches. We want to be able to respond in an appropriate manner to keep those coaches here."

How much does it help when you are raising funds to have the excitement of Razorback football right now?

"I think it certainly helps, absolutely. What we think and hope is that our fan base will rally around our team this year and then step up and help us as they can. What we are asking from our fan base is to do what you can. For some, that's significant. For some, it's just buying season tickets. For others, it may be just buying single game tickets from our fans. We understand there is a broad way for our fans to answer the call."

You worked at Michigan. You've worked at some big programs. What is your feeling about the excitement going into this season?

"I'm very excited. I'm trying to get too excited myself. I have cautious optimism. It's great for the fan base. I love the fact that Bobby Petrino embraces those expectations. He doesn't shy away from them. He's smart enough to use them to motivate his team and make it better. I think what he's doing is excellent and I applaud him."

In the video, Bobby Petrino said he tries not to let the recruits see the locker room. That's pretty blunt.

"Coach Petrino is to the point. He sells what he thinks will make them believe. You know what, I can't disagree with him. We have slipped behind the rest of the SEC when you look at our infrastructure for football we are not in the middle of the pack. We are at the bottom or next to the bottom. Since 2006, virtually every school in the SEC has put in infrastructure for their football in one way or another. Now it's our turn.

"We want to focus on our student athlete. In the last two or three years, we've put resources into our training room, strength and conditioning, academic support and into our life skills and personal development. We've put staff and resources there. That's an obligation we have, but it also helps us compete because they are not leaving."

Here are Jeff Long's opening remarks at the RSVP press conference:

"We come to talk about an even brighter future for Razorback athletics as we move forward today. We are really excited about the possibilities that lay ahead for this program. I have had the pleasure of traveling all around the state the past 2 and a half almost three years and I have felt a passion among our fans unlike any place I have ever been. I have also received a great message from the fans. I have received it over and over and over again. They want us not only to compete, they want us to compete and win. So as we set out to make this program even better, that's what we have focused on. A wise leader once told me you either are getting better or are getting worse. You never stay the same. Coach Broyles always had an eye for the future. He was always looking to make our program better and always looking to improve our facilities. We cannot rest on the accomplishments of Coach Broyles and his era. For decades we have prided ourselves on having the greatest facilities in the country, some said. And not long ago I think we did have those things. But our competition has not sat still. They have continued to improve and push the standards Arkansas set.

"We have been very blessed to have generous supporters in the Razorback program. We are a small state. We understand that better than anybody else. We don't have a large population base to draw from. But our fans have given and given again to make this program great. But the reality we face today is we have lost ground to many of our competitors in the SEC. We rank ninth for annual funds in the conference and seventh for the number of donors that we have and ninth in our over-all athletic budget. We believe it is our time now to do some serious work to make up for this gap.

"We will always outperform our resources. We will always do more with less. That's the Arkansas way. That will never change. We don't need as much as the very top of this conference to succeed, but we do need to lessen the gap between us and those ahead of us. It's become clear we need to move quicker. We can't wait any longer. Today we are launching the Answer Call campaign. It's a multifaceted decade long call to action for our fans to help us provide our student-athletes, our coaches and our programs the resources they need not only to compete but to win in the SEC.

"We have partnered with the Razorback Foundation. They have been there for us in the past and they will be there for us in the future."

Here are Harold Horton's remarks at RSVP press conference:

"The stated mission of the Razorback Foundation is to support the athletic endeavors of the University of Arkansas Razorbacks. we embrace that mission and are proud of the role that we play. The financial support derived through the Razorback Foundation is essential. By helping provide the much-needed funds for scholarships, facilities, as well as incentives and extra compensation for coaches success. It is our responsibility to work alongside the athletic department to provide what leadership feels is needed to give us the best chance, as stated earlier, not just to compete, but to win. The plan that has been developed is a priority ticket assignment system based upon donors generosity while rewarding fan loyalty and longevity. The razorback foundation has always supported the athletic department and will continue those efforts to make our program second to none.

"With the experience of Chris Wyrick in this area, a committee was formed. and from hours of discussion, with the committee, the athletic department and the razorback foundation, increased premiums were suggested. On approval from the Razorback Foundation board of directors, a restructuring of seat values will be implemented in the 2011 football season. with seat values going up, other policies will be implemented that make seat assignments more desirable and fair to our fans who donate at various classifications. The foundation board of directors has hired Chris Wyrick and a customer service staff for one year to help with this 2011 change."

Wyrick followed Horton:

"Thank you coach. I am excited about this new role and want to thank Jeff and thank Coach Horton and the Razorback Foundation for this opportunity and the confidence that they have in our team to lead us through this very important task. The Razorback Seat Value Plan, or we will refer to it in the future, the RSVP program indeed will be implemented in the 2011 season. It is designed to reward loyalty and create opportunity. I want everyone to understand this is not a reseating plan. It is our desire the Razorback faithful will want to keep their seats and will increase the needed levels in order to do so. The program itself is the result of 55 different plans that we studied and over 400 hours of discussion and debate on the policy. As coach mentioned the committee was formed, we spent a lot of time studying this and at the end, one thing rang true — and I think this is the most important thing that I want to say today — this is an Arkansas plan. This isn't a plan from X school or Y school, although we did study those schools and learn from the things they've done it was important to us our plan reflected the true values of Arkansas. I want to touch on a couple of those and what they mean to this plan:

First, is loyalty. And by loyalty, what we mean is donors are allowed to keep the seats they currently have. They must simply increase to the level of the section that is designated. The Arkansas Razorbacks are the tie that binds this state together. In no way do we want a plan like this to divide our audience. We want it to unite us. We wanted to have a plan where all 14,116 season ticket holders would have an opportunity to contribute. It's not about one family. It's not about 10 families. It's about 14,116 strong uniting for this cause. It is about equal opportunity. Opportunity means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but to us it mean rewarding that loyalty and keeping your seats, while also, for the firs time in a long time, perhaps opening up some seats for some first time donors to come in and obtain seats and give new customers the opportunity to purchase even more.

"And finally, and the thing I feel probably the most passionate about is the customer service. Our folks are going to have a lot of questions in the coming days that we have just mailed out. And thanks to Coach Horton and to Jeff and the Razorback Foundation board, they have allowed us to hire a customer service staff that was mentioned before: four full-time individuals whose jobs are on a daily basis to answer the questions of our Razorback faithful.

The numbers, as listed behind is 1-800-982-HOGS, the exact number of our ticket office. They will then press option two and they will be routed to our customer service team. On there the calls will be recorded. It will list the amount and the wait time for each call. We do anticipate for the first couple days there will be a lot of questions and we want to know where people are.

"And finally, we are launching today literally as we speak, the AnswerTheHogCall.com. That is going to be a website specifically designed to the RSVP program. Our hope is, at lest in these first couple days is to update that daily with the most pressing questions that were asked and the answers to keep everyone informed.

"There are a lot of nuances in this plan. I don't want to go into too much depth, but there are a couple things I do want to touch on:

"Again, I do want to mention that you can keep your seats by going to the new premium level. Something that Coach Horton alluded to and is correct: deadlines are going to become very important in the future of Arkansas athletics. We haven't followed those in the past. We're going to be very strict about people ordering on time so we can get the tickets in the hands of the customers on time.

"We wanted our stadiums to be semetrical. What we meant by that as we followed a lot of these other plans, we were one of the few schools in the country where the 50 yard line was a different price for the home and the visiting team. So one of the very first things we did here in Fayetteville and also in Little Rock is, the cost of the 50-yard-line is identical, whether you're on the East or the West side.

"We did add some sections to this plan. There were some sections in the past that did not have seat values. We did add some seat values. We wanted to make this very, very clear and this was very, very clear to our committee that 15-percent of the seats in Little Rock, 15-percent of the seats in Fayetteville do not have a seat value. A customer would just have to pay for the ticket.

"The cost basis is approximately is $30 a game. Again, that is outlined in the brochure.

"A couple statistics, well, and there's one other part I want to bring up, which I touched on before:

"The second part of this plan that I think is going to be very, very helpful. I think the hardest thing that we do is when people call us and say, ‘I want better tickets. How do I get them?' I've never really fully understood how that works.

"One of the things the foundation staff came up with and I think it was an excellent addition to this plan, now every section in Fayetteville and every section in Little Rock that has a seat value will also have a Razorback Foundation giving level attached to that section. So, the best example I can give you is 104 on the west side here in Fayetteville, if you are a new purchaser or you're wanting to move into that section, it would require you to become a minimum of a Broyles-Matthews silver. I think that will help us in customer service. Now, the customer will have a dynamic, kind of a bottom line if you will, of what they will be having to contribute to even move. So they can help make those decision themselves rather than just mailing in a ticket application and not understanding. And, again, we think that's really going to help us with our customer service.

"A total of 14,116 of these packets were mailed either last evening or being mailed as we speak. We hope that our customer will look at these and read these thoroughly. Inside the packet you'll find a DVD that we'll show you here in a minute. [the DVD] really introduces our ‘Answer the Call' campaign. It's got a very detailed brochure that hopefully has a majority of the answers to the questions that folks will have. We understand that there will be more and we'll address those.

"And finally, there's a cover letter. That letter will address you by name and it will give you an identification number which will enable us to look your account up as quickly as possible. And then it will outline what you must pay in order to keep your seats, the minimum you must pay to keep your seats in 2011.

"I think it's very important to note that a minimum of 33-percent of the audience, 33-percent of the 14,116, that will receive this packet will not be required to pay an additional premium. I think that goes back to the loyalty factor that we discussed before.

"So, it's been said before, and as I close, my thoughts are as follows:

"This plan is a must. It is our time. We are behind. And in the brochure you will look at, even with the increases that we have and that we are putting in place we will only surpass Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, Georgia and Kentucky. The Floridas and the Alabamas and the LSUs of the world still are substantially higher than we are. But it goes back to what Jeff said, it goes back to what we talked to Coach Broyles about; this is about an incremental increase of getting us the money because we will do more with our resources than anybody else. It gets us to where we want to be in this league.

"I've only been here two years and I realize me trying to define what the passion and the past of Arkansas athletics isn't possible, but I do want to say this; in my short time I have learned it is the passion and the pride of the Arkansas family that makes this special, more special than any place I've ever been in my life. I am 100-percent confident that when this is done we will be successful, people will participate and we'll have a stronger family than we have had in the past."

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