"It's about a month long process. We started on June the 2nd, the first Tuesday in June. Today is the 25th and we still have another week to go.
"When we go through the seating process it's kind of like a big puzzle. We run several different lists. We run a list of everybody who has ordered football season season tickets. We have a list of everybody who has made a seating request in our system. We have a list of everybody who has made a comment on their invoice online. And a list of everybody who has ordered parking. Then, we merge those lists together and put them in rank order, starting with number 1 in the Bulldog Club all the way down to the bottom. There were almost 11,000 records on the list. I say 11,000 because people may be on the list two or three times because they ordered season tickets, they have a request to move and they ordered parking. It's really closer to 6,500 people total on the list."
Do you also work with the seating for the folks in the skyboxes and club level seats?
"We do because a lot of folks who have club level seats have a request in to either move to a different location within the club level location or some are trying to add club level seats. But club level has been locked down pretty hard the last four or five years so we really don't have much available. Because of that, it's difficult to move people around. Occasionally we can. This year we can because we had some folks who have had six and have dropped down to four. But club level, section D, 100 level, 200 level are difficult areas to move people into or to add to what they already have because they are sold out and the renewal rate is very, very high."
Are the requests fairly easy to understand when it comes to changes in seating?
"I think people are understanding better how the process works. And a few days ago we talked about doing something like a video where we go through the process step-by-step explaining it. While some people understand the process, there are still other people who aren't quite sure exactly how it works. And since we handle football differently than basketball I can understand why they might be confused, especially if it's someone who has never had football season tickets before or only had them a year or two."
How about explaining the seating change process?
"If the request says that the person would like to improve their seats that could be interpreted several ways because some people like to be down low closer to the field, others like to be up high so that they can see the entire field better. We may have someone who is in section B and their request is simply to move to section F. If they are on row 50 in section B and the only seats we have in section F is in row 10 that is a pretty significant move. In cases like that we will normally try to email or call them and tell them what we can do just to make sure they are ok with the move."
What would be an easy request to interpret?
"Some people may write that they want to move to section F, they want to be between rows 20 and 40 and they want to be as close to an aisle as possible on the E side of F. That is a great request because we know exactly what they are thinking."
So if folks want to move their seats to a specific location then they should be very specific with their request.
"Yes, be specific. If they want to write three paragraphs, then by all means write three paragraphs. The more specific it is, the easier it is for us to understand the request. We try to call as many people as we can but we are working with 6,500 people and you can't contact everybody. And when we call people sometimes we may have to leave a voicemail. And if you don't hear back from them for four or five days you have to consider we are still working on everybody else's seats and what is available the day we called them is not necessarily the same seats that are available when they return the call."
Are most requests pretty generic or more specific like the one you just mentioned?
"It's about half and half. It's gotten better each year."
How do folks send their seating requests to you?
"They can write it on their (season ticket) order form. People can also attach a letter if they prefer. And on our website, when someone logs into their Dog Tag account, there is an area for your seating request."
What prevents a person from losing their seats to someone else who may give more money than them?
"In football, if you have seats in a particular section, you always have the opportunity to renew into them as long as you continue to give. Let's say you sit in section D and you give your $350 per seat and you continue to renew them, you get to keep them. There may be somebody who has a higher rank than you and wants to move into section D but as long as you continue to renew your seats you get to keep them."
What's the incentive to give more?
"Increasing your giving helps you in several ways but the three most important ways are that it gives you better parking because we assign the parking based on your ranking, it helps you with basketball season tickets because we do basketball based on your ranking, and it helps you with postseason tickets. When we do postseason tickets we run a rank list and that is how we assign the tickets."
How do you improve your baseball seating at Dudy Noble Field?
"Baseball is a little bit different. The folks who purchased chairbacks in the original stadium have a contract and get those seats lifetime. That's something we will honor. The folks who did that gave us the opportunity to build that stadium and they have been very loyal by buying their tickets every year.
"What we have done at Dudy Noble is when seats don't get renewed those seats revert back to our priority seating program and it is very much like football. There is a per seat cost assigned to that seat and it is available to folks who are on our waiting list for baseball season tickets. But instead of them giving a one-time gift and getting lifetime rights to that seat, it goes into an annual rotation where there is a per seat charge assigned to that seat plus the price of season ticket. Last year we had 40 or 50 seats become available."
Is the per seat charge a Bulldog Club contribution?
"Yes, it's a Bulldog Club contribution."
Switching gears, what is the maximum number of season tickets that State can sell?
"It depends on who is on our schedule. When we have Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU on our schedule like we do this year we can't sell quite as many because contractually we are obligated to provide them with a certain amount of tickets. We give those teams close to 7,000 tickets. When those three teams aren't on our schedule like last year, then the contracts that we have with our opponents don't include as many seats as those three teams have in their contracts.
"Based on that, this season the maximum number of full package season tickets, in other words all seven games, would be somewhere in the 46,000 to 47,000 range."
What is the maximum number of football season tickets State has sold?
"With everything included, including students, it was somewhere in the 38,000 range. And I think we have a great opportunity to exceed that this year."
You mentioned students. How many tickets do the students usually purchase?
That's a pretty large amount of tickets.
"I spent my first eight years of my life in Alabama, then we moved to the Washington, D.C. area. I worked at UNC-Charlotte as a student. I worked at Appalachian State as a graduate student. And I worked at James Madison and Oklahoma State. So, most of my formative years were spent north of here.
"I can say there is nothing like Southeastern Conference sports. There is nothing like it. None of those places that I have been have the level of involvement and engagement that we have from the students here at Mississippi State. And it's not just football. You go to any of our athletic events and there are students there."
When will football season tickets be sent out?
"It's probably going to stretch out over a week or so. We are supposed to receive ticket stock on July 17th. As soon as the ticket stock is in, we will start printing it. It's not out of the realm of possibility that we could start shipping them by UPS the first week of August. Our goal is to get tickets in people's hands at least three weeks before the first game."
Switching to the Bulldog Club. How much has the Bulldog Club membership increased over the last few years?
"When I first got here and really got involved in the Bulldog Club we were around 5,000 members. Now we are around 8,000. That's probably been around four years.
"We've done really well getting new people involved. And I think a lot of that has to do with our volunteers that are working for us. And a lot of that has to do with the excitement around our program. A lot of great things have happened here the last four or five years.
"And I think, to some degree, the points system and the rankings and people understanding how their membership will help them down the road has encouraged a lot of young folks to get involved. Greg (Byrne) talks about this a lot. When we are out on the road speaking he says that every member is important. If you are sitting out there thinking that you can't join the Bulldog Club because you can't give 2,000, 3,000 or 5,000 dollars, you shouldn't be thinking that. We simply want you to become involved no matter how much you can give, especially from the younger folks. If you can give $100 a year, that's ok. We even have some folks who give us $25 or $50. Folks graduate, get a job and move away but they don't buy tickets. However seeing us succeed in athletics is important to them so they may give $50. Those kind of things are very important to us."
What is the short-term goal and the long-term goal for the number of folks in the Bulldog Club?
"Our goal in the next three years is to get to 10,000. And Greg (Byrne) has told us that he wants to get to 12,000 within the next five years. The only way we will get to those numbers is by having people who give us that $100 per year and support the program whether they can buy season tickets or not."
Even if you can't purchase season tickets when you first leave college, by giving, even a $100, you are building up points and a ranking in the Bulldog Club for when you can purchase tickets, aren't you?
"That's true. Even if they can only give $100, in a few years when they have children and can bring them to watch football games that continued giving will have added up."
And there are other ways other than giving that allow you to increase your points and your ranking in the Bulldog Club such as attending sports other than the so-called big three of football, basketball and baseball?
"We have the Dog Tags (that we give to Bulldog Club members). We send them out prior to our season in the fall. Basically, what they can do is bring their Dog Tags to those (non big three) athletic events and we will scan it. I think there is something like a 20 minute window around the start of the event. That adds priority points to your membership.
"That is really a good thing for everybody. It's good for our fans because they can earn some priority points. It's good for our student-athletes because more folks come out and watch them play. And I think what people are learning by going to a sport that they may not have gone to before is how much fun it is to watch. And you are going to see some of the most talented teams and players in the country because we play in the SEC.
"If you come out to watch softball, soccer, tennis, volleyball, track or golf, you are going to see the best. There's no doubt about it, you are going to see the best in college sports."
Anything I didn't cover that you would like to talk about?
"One of the things that we have really stressed to our staff this year is our Bulldog Club retention rate, and Bart Gregory has done a really good job of getting our volunteers to focus on that. Last year our retention rate was down around 80%. And we have to get that higher. If we are going to get to that 10,000 to 12,000 level we have to have retention. Our goal is to have our retention level at 90% every year."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.