"You go for a while where you just fly through things, then you hit a spot where you can't get people on the phone or have to leave messages," Richey said. "But based on where we are right now we should get it done by the end of this week, or be close."
How close? Per King, the Monday evening update showed just under 500 unassigned seats, out of the (roughly) 43,800 annually available at DWS. "Counting the 11,000 student seats," King clarified. "The re-orders should wind up right at last year's number or maybe a little more."
He meant the number of distinct re-orders, which per MSU officials looks to be running at 95%. The challenge this June though has not been how many priority holders re-upped for 2011; it is how many of them asked for more seats than before, to be part of Coach Dan Mullen's third season. The combination of a big Bulldog breakout in 2010, and the every-other-year ‘good' home SEC schedule which brings all of the three great rivalry games to Scott Field, has meant all-time demand for ducats.
And this, King and Richey note, in the face of obvious economic uncertainties everywhere. That may well be the most impressive indicator of how Bulldog fans have gotten behind their program. If they could, Richey added.
"For the first time we had people send their forms back with written notes they could not renew this year, but not because they're upset. They moved, they just retired, they're on fixed incomes. We've never had people explain why they didn't renew before, unless they were mad about something! But this year we had people happy to renew or get on the waiting list."
Yes, that famous waiting list. Athletic director Scott Stricklin had a good idea just how strong season ticket demand was going to be this year when he promoted this list's existence early in the spring semester. It was a way of fans who had not held season tickets in 2010 or before to go on-record with their request and stay there, instead of having to constantly call the Ticket Office about purchase possibilities. And, at the same time, to encourage priority holders to get their re-orders in on time or risk losing a seat. Or more.
It worked very well for State, and most everyone else. Not, however, that the whole waiting list will get the call they hope for. In fact King said the list reached "750 or so" requests that added up to over 2,000 tickets. Of those, "About fifty or so of the true waiting list people have been filled. Some were people who had, say, basketball season tickets for years, or had a history of giving over a number of years, they just didn't have football tickets."
Richey explains that when names went on the waiting list it was without a lot of details asked since, at the time, State was unsure what there was to offer. Particularly for the first-time orders. "There were so many unanswered questions we felt it was better to talk to each one and tell them what options they had." Even if not a lot of those were offered, response on the other end of the line was as expected.
"We'd call and they would be excited about the chance to buy tickets." Any tickets, usually, though a very, very few opted to pass based on other circumstances. Still, Richey said, the highest-ranked person on the waiting list "was like 450" on existing Bulldog Club priority. Oh, and fears from some fans that a brand-new Bulldog fan would jump the line by making a new major donation did not come to pass.
For that matter, "Even if they made a first-time gift this year was going to be down around 500. You would have to had written a really, really big check to just walk in and buy season tickets!"
Even then a ‘good' seat would not be guaranteed, though given current all-time demand and the '11 home schedule any address in DWS should be considered prime territory. As of today those scattered singles and maybe a few linked open seats were in sections V and W in the main grandstand, or section 709 in the ‘Top Dog' option purchase. Demand is so tight for this season that even long-time fans of top priority could not always have their complete order-increases met. Never mind the handful of newcomers, though King said most have understood the situation.
"You set the tone to have people thinking realistically. There have been a few who thought we were going to call and offer four seats on the 35-yard line! But they were more disappointed, not angry."
However there will be a limited opportunity for fans to attend half of the home schedule. On July 5, State will begin advertising a limited ticket plan of three games--Louisiana Tech, South Carolina, Tennessee-Martin--for $75. (Please do not call to try ordering until they go on sale.) These 2,000, roughly, packages are available via expected returned-tickets by the opponents. State wouldn't mind having more to offer.
"It's locked-in now," King said. "In this case Louisiana Tech and Martin aren't taking 2,000 tickets. In theory that leaves 7,000 but with South Carolina taking 5,000 that leaves the 2,000 that we sell." It seems safe to suggest that there will be game-week sales for those two non-conference games, though MSU hasn't confirmed it.
Richey did confirm that there will be no returns from the 7,000 or so tickets provided to LSU and Alabama. In fact they will always ask for more but have no luck this season. Interestingly, though, "Ole Miss took 6,000, that's what they committed to. We offered more, the same as they do to us. I guess we're both in that same range, we took right at 6,000 last year." All Richey can figure is that each fan base has a portion who would not set foot on the opposing campus for any reason, any season.
Filling DWS won't be an issue this fall at all as the 95% renewal rate and waiting list signal. The trick is accommodating demand. "And yesterday we had a few more people who had put in new requests," Richey said. "They turned down seats just because of location. It was to the point the extra seats wouldn't be anywhere near theirs, so they're declining. But we've had very, very few people on the waiting list say they didn't want what we had available."
One other item needing clarifying was the gap between season/student tickets, visiting fans, mini-packs, and the official 55,000-plus capacity figure. Those are, mostly faculty/staff reserved sections; but surely more than two or three thousand MSU employees attend? They do indeed, Richey said.
"Some of them buy full-price tickets in addition to what they get, and a good number of faculty/staff are members of the Bulldog Club." So antipathy about loads of free tickets to these folk? "It's overstated, because of location. People know where they sit!" Though, Richey agreed, there is the annual outcry when opposing fans somehow end up in those sections. "We hear quite a bit of that on a regular basis!" he said, though he also figures it is more symbolic than serious.
Meanwhile Richey, King, B.C. official Luane Laird, and Jason Laird from the Ticket Office are, they hope, wrapping up weeks of work in their temporary Templeton center. "It's nice, we actually get to see what's going on in the world!" Richey said. Marketing and promotions staff—Chad Thomas was there this morning working out details of special offers—drop by as needed. Even Bart Gregory will make an occasional appearance when not otherwise busy with the full-time job of being himself.
Transparent conditions or not, it beats other cramped quarters of the past where the main need was a blank wall to hang a huge printout of both grandstands for seat assignments. That might be why Gregory isn't so involved now, as there are no colored pencils lying around for marking seats open (green), moving (yellow) or taken (black) to play with. "Now our spreadsheet system does the same thing," Richey said. "We call up a name and it is in rank-order, and if they're blue they are on the waiting list; yellow they have a parking request; if just white they want to be moved." There is also a space for special requests, something that used to be hand-written on order forms and filed in big boxes piled around the room.
Richey pulls up a random seat-holder for an example. "We work our way down the list, then we go into their account and it shows where their tickets are and what they are trying to do. In this case it was somebody who asked to go up higher, to Row 59." That tells Richey that this holders would like his/her seat moved up to a location under an overhang. "And it shows what their rank is, their giving, all their numbers." In case of extra or special requests a call is made to walk through the process. Besides the standard query about more or better seats, or moving nearer friends and family, there are the cases of an aging or limited fan who might need locating closer to an aisle. Though, how MSU would handle a particularly nasty divorce situation remains a tantalizing unknown question for later.
"It's a lot smoother this way," Richey said. "And this is the first year we've divided parking from seating. Because seating is a lot easier process, parking you have to dig deeper to literally allocate within the system." The good news, for most, is Richey is told the lots for 2011 will not be changed. He was not involved in the new rule restricting private golf cart use on campus for game weekends.
It's a major job placing people at DWS any year, all the more so this one because football fever is running higher than ever in Bulldog country. In fact, King said, in cases where waiting list folk turned down State's offers "There were a few who said keep me on for next year, but that's been very few." As for disappointed current fans unable to get an all-season ticket, "A lot of them are still in the Bulldog Club, staying in the fold," Richey said.
Hopefully by Friday afternoon everyone in the temporary office can pack up the laptops and printed lists and unload them in the real offices. And, in Richey's case, go on the long-awaited vacation. "I'm very pleased with this process, and very ready to get away," he said.