Q & A: Reseating Policy in Kinnick for 2006

One of the hottest topics this summer related to the Iowa Football program has not been the Hawkeyes. Don't get me wrong, the Hawks are still THE topic. But with the renovations taking place at Kinnick Stadium and Iowa adopting a new seating policy for season ticket holders, that has created a lot of buzz in and of itself. We spoke with Mark Jennings, the point pan in the reseating project that will get underway this fall and winter, to answer a few questions related to the process...

Mark Jennings, Associate Athletic Director at Iowa is the man who is overseeing the Herculean task of getting everyone in their seats by the start of the 2006 season.

The new seating policy takes annual contributions, duration of giving, years of season ticket purchase and other factors into account as they decide who will sit where.

I take that back; they won't be deciding where the Hawkeye fans sit; that will be up to the fans themselves.

We spoke with Jennings on Wednesday afternoon to learn more about this policy, something that will affect tens of thousands of Iowa fans in future years.

Mark, can you give the fans an explanation of what is going to take place? A lot of people are concerned with the new points policy, being uprooted from seats they have sat in for years, etc.

MARK JENNINGS: The first thing Jon, a lot of fans are anxious about this. I think they should rest assured that if they have been any kind of contributor they will have a decent priority and get a good seat.

The main thing that people should keep in mind; we have so many people saying ‘I don't care what you do; I just want my same seats', which would be impossible. Even if we were not reseating, they would not be able to keep their same seat. When we expand the seats to 18 inches from 16 and a quarter, we lose 3,000 seats, meaning we lose two seats on every row in every single section.

So who is going to make that decision? What two people on every row move out and where do you put them? If you move them up or down, that means more people are displaced out of that row. The situation warranted to reseat Kinnick Stadium

Of course you get the question of ‘why did you widen the seats'?

The number one complaint without question has always been that the seats are too narrow. We have too many people trying to fit into our row. I never stand up because you can't get your seat when you sit back down.

So given that reasoning why we are doing it, we have been meeting for probably over a 100 hours to talk about the process and the best way and the most fair way to do this, and we have also looked at about seven different schools to see what they do. This is not unique to major college football. We are behind the curve as far as going to a per seat contribution.

What I tell people to think about Jon is that when they say, ‘I want my same seats', I say to hold on. Think of it this way: On January 1 of 2006, Kinnick Stadium is empty and nobody has a seat; no one. We start over reseating. That is not to say that some people are not going to sit in almost their same seat, but they are going to have to do it in an orderly and prioritized way.

Next Wednesday, the 31st of August which is the end of our athletic giving year, we are going to take a snapshot of everyone's priority. The reason why we did it then is so we wouldn't bleed these people for more money. We could have set December 31st (as the deadline) and then we would have had five more months to generate more money for the university and everyone would be trying to outbid each other to get more points. We specifically did not do it that way; we went to the end of the natural athletic giving year.

In October, everyone will get a letter from us outlining their priority points. When I say everyone, this is an interesting figure. We have sold 40,000 season tickets this year, and that is 15,000 records; so 15,000 people order 40,000 season tickets. So we have a lot of people to deal with here.

We are going to prioritize 15,000 records. Then we are going to decide when everyone will call in. The process for calling in is that we are going to have 150 people call into the ticket office for 100 days. They are going to select their seats. They will find out in November when their day to call in is. This is just like the process we used for the club seats and that worked out very, very well. We didn't have as many people calling in, but the process worked extremely well.

So in November they receive a date when they will call in. For the first time in history, Iowa fans will be able to select their seats. They may not be the exact seats they want, but they are going to have an opportunity to choose a whole array of seats. Plus, they will decide what section they want to sit in. Depending on that section, that is what their annual contribution will be. People can see how the stadium has been broken down online. We are going to start this (the actual seat selection process) on January 16th.

Let's say their selection day is January 22nd. They are going to go to the web page that day and see all kinds of seats available. They will say , ‘Well, should we take these four in this section, or go over here, or go over five yards and pay $200 less a seat?' People will have so much opportunity to select seats. They don't realize how good this will be, because they have never done this. They are going to enjoy this process because they are going to know on that day where their seats are going to be.

As long as they make that annual contribution, they can stay in that seat or if they want to move around, they can request a year from now that they will pay $200 more a section and move over, so they can see what is available then.

Once we get into the process, most of our fans are going to enjoy and appreciate the fairness of it.

Right now, we have a lot of inequities in there. There are people sitting next to each other that are not giving the same amount. We are trying to eliminate that and create a fair system.

So you have 40,000 season tickets sold, then 9,000 to students and a few thousands to faculty. That is still a lot of seats available to the public that do not make annual contributions. But it also means that anyone that does make contributions, unless they want to, they wont be stuck in the last row in the end zone.

MARK JENNINGS: That is correct. Plus, the other thing we hear about is that we are pricing the fans out of Kinnick…A full third of Kinnick Stadium requires no contribution to get a season ticket. That is just the way we have designed it. There is no seat contribution assigned to those seats; just order your tickets. That is a common misconception, that the average fan cannot afford the games. That is not right.

Maybe they won't be on the 50, but the average non-giver should not be on the 50-yard line, anyway. It will work out and I hope everyone relaxes a bit and lets the system work. A year from now when they go to the first game, they will be in a new seat and I think that most of them will like it. There are not many bad seats over there.

Where is your favorite seat?

MARK JENNINGS: I would always rather be higher than lower. I like to be able to see what yard line the ball is on and where we need to get to. When people call in and they have some concerns and want a better seat and they may be in section C. For many years I sat in section C, I sat 35 rows up and I used to tell the ticket manager, ‘Do not move me, I love these seats.' That is a great seat.

We also have a number of Kinnick Members, those in the highest giving level, that select seats in the end zone. They don't want to sit anywhere else but the end zone. So when someone says to us that they want a better seat, they need to be specific, because for some a better seat is in the corner of the end zone. I can't believe the number of people that like to sit two rows up on the sideline; they love to hear the chatter and the hits and almost like being on the sideline. But as you know, standing on the sideline is like the worst seat in the stadium.

Even for those who give and who will have chance to select their seats, for the average fan who feels they are being priced out, that is not to say that out of the 15,000 orders for 40,000 seats that they might not end up on the 30 yard line.

MARK JENNINGS: Absolutely. There will be a lot of people that will have a good pick, but they will say ‘we can give $200 per seat versus $600 a seat, and still sit on the 20 yard line 40 rows up, which is a great seat, and they can order eight seats instead of four. Let's get more seats and take all the kids.' But the neat thing is that they will have that opportunity.

You told us last week that there are still some suits and outdoor club seats available.

We have four suites left that are 12 seaters and they can purchase four additional seats and get 16 people in them. They are $45,000 per year and they will sign a three, five or seven year lease. The outdoor club seats, we have about 250 of the 1,150 seats left. Most of them are in the $1,900 per seat range, but that includes the contribution and the ticket price. Some are in the $2,400 range, but not many.

Fast forward to September of 2006. There will be a lot of people sitting in new seats. For years, these people have come in the same gate and left by the same path. They might need some help finding out where they are. Have you planned for that?

MARK JENNINGS: We have a whole new signage system ordered. The architects did that from the get go. We will have people stationed around the stadium the first few games to help people get to their seats.

We reconfigured things a bit. For years it did not make sense that section E for example, the aisle went down the center of section E, F and so forth. Now, sections start with aisles and you go to the next aisle, so that will be easier to figure out where you go.

There have been some fans that have sat next to one another for years and probably tailgate together. Will you accommodate groups of fans that still want the same people sitting next to them?

MARK JENNINGS: Yes, plus they can sit together if they want to. If there is a group of three couples for example that want to sit together, they will pick at the lowest priority of the three and they can still sit together.

The Hawkeye Express Train service was a huge success last year. That is going to take place again this year, right?

MARK JENNINGS: The Hawkeye Express is going to be a very enjoyable experience for people this year, especially given the fact that probably as many as three exits into Iowa City are going to be one lane with the construction. The one where the Hawkeye Express is, there is no construction out there. It is hassle free.

If you want to go to Kinnick hassle free, you should take the train. It is free parking, $10 to ride the train, kids 12 and under are free, it takes about 11 minutes to get to the Stadium and you get off right there at the base of the Stadium.

We can take as many as 5,000 a game. We start taking people there two and a half hours before kickoff, and the train starts going back at the start of the fourth quarter and we will go an hour and a half after the game.

The parking lot is just south of the Coral Ridge Mall on the South Side of the railroad tracks.

NOTE: I feel compelled to say that Mark Jennings, nor anyone at the University of Iowa, was involved with the road construction decisions in and around Iowa City this year. You will need to direct those complaints elsewhere.

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