A Q&A With Associate A.D. Mike Richey

Mike Richey, Mississippi State Associate Athletic Director in charge of the Bulldog Club and Ticket Operations, talks about the Bulldog Club, the basketball seats surcharge and new chairback seats at Polk-DeMent Stadium.

Has the enthusiasm for Mississippi State football transferred over to the Bulldog Club?
"It has. We have gotten about 1,200 new members this year from January 1st to right now. That is a little bit more than what we usually experience. But we still have some people who haven't renewed from last year so we still have some folks who we will spend the last quarter working with. Most of them are young people. A lot of them get a new job and move or they have a child and it changes what they can do (financially). And that's fairly standard because we experience it every year."

Speaking of renewals, what is the normal renewal rate?
"I think it's somewhere in the 85% rate, but I'm not really sure of the exact number. But our fulfillment, which is the number of folks who actual pay their pledge, was through the roof. We ended last year with just under 96% fulfillment. And we try to keep it above 95%. It hasn't ever been below 95% here. And traditionally it has been 97%. Getting to 96 last year was pretty good because we experienced so much growth last year. And a lot of times where your fulfillment tails off is in those incremental new memberships that are increases in your numbers. A lot of those new members are young people who get a new job or get married and move away and have a hard time coming up with the extra $500 that they pledged. And I understand that, because I remember what it was like to be young and just getting started. But at the end of the day when we see young people in their early 20s who are fired up, buying tickets and getting on board that is very exciting for us."

How do you get in touch with the young people, especially the students that are seniors?
"Keeping the students engaged as they leave here has always been difficult. We have tried several different things. We have tried a free membership for a year, then a gradual payment scale over the next four years that gets them up to the minimum $100 level. That didn't go very well."

Why do you think it didn't go well?
"I think a lot of it has to do with the excitement around the product. And we have more excitement around this product now than we have ever had. Another thing is the students are a difficult demographic for us to program for and communicate with because young people today communicate in such a different way than we did. That's why you see us using Twitter and with our Facebook pages. A lot of times that's the only way we can effectively communicate with them. That's why the social media has become so important to us.

"Another thing is my age. Today's students are about half my age. The key for us to have successful interaction with the students is to have students in leadership roles who can help us do that. With Thomas Sellers as our SA president this year and the great group he has working for him on the Athletic Support Committee, that has helped a lot. Brittany White is working on that. And John Thompson is helping us with a new initiative called the Bulldog Coalition, which is going to be like a rewards type program for students where they can go to events and get a card swiped that earns them points. It's not just athletic events because it could also be alumni events or the Drill. What will happen is those points will be converted into a Bulldog Club priority point total. Because this is student driven, it will have staying power. Because Thomas took such a strong stance to back it, that is what will give it staying power. While the student association transitions every year with new leaders, once this is in place and takes hold that is what will make it last for the long haul. We are going to make it happen. So, it will take place, it is going to be well- run, well-funded and well-organized."

Switching over to something you mentioned to me a few days ago, the lower section seat surcharge. How will that work?
"In basketball there is a value assigned per seat but you aren't accessed that until you come to the arena and pick your seats. If we have seats available in the grey telescoping seats on the floor, those seats will require a $500 per seat contribution to our basketball enhancement fund. That will extend to the entire lower level."

That price is in addition to the person's Bulldog Club donation, right?
"Yes, that is in addition to your Bulldog Club contribution. What your Bulldog Club donation does is give you the rank and priority to select seats at a certain time. Then, when you come in and choose, you can choose, as long as we have lower level seats available at your selection time, the grey seats that are $500 or mid-court seats that are an additional $250 per seat or another seat in the lower level that is an additional $150 per seat. Or, you can also sit at mid-court in the upper level which doesn't require an additional donation."

Does the selection process change each year?
"We re-seat the arena each year. When you order your tickets you aren't ordering a specific ticket, you are just ordering a ticket. We put everybody who ordered tickets in ranked order based on their Bulldog Club priority point total. And the person who has the highest number of points picks first. We actually set an appointment time for all of our donors, they come to the Hump and pick the seats from the seats that are available.

"This is brand new and (MSU AD) Scott (Stricklin) is going to talk about it on Saturday at the general Bulldog Club meeting. And we have also put some things out about it in Scott's weekly email updates. We have shared it with the Bulldog Club Board and they approved this additional fee."

Why have the surcharge on basketball seats?
"We feel it is very important. We know Humphrey Coliseum is a great place to watch college basketball. In my opinion, the seating area and where the fans watch the game is one of the best. There are no bad seats in the Hump. It is a great college atmosphere to watch a college game. With the center Hump scoreboard and the video board on it, you always have a great view of the game and always feel like you are a part of the action in any place in the Hump.

"But with that being said, we are going to have to make some improvements to the Hump. As an example, next year we are going to replace all of the grey seats that go all around the floor. That is going to be make the experience better because they will be nicer seats, newer and more comfortable. We also need to enhance the concourse area and add some graphics or other things like that that will make it a little bit more of an exciting atmosphere and to better the fan experience. We also need to work on restrooms and concession stands. All those things are important. And the basketball enhancement fund is how we are going to pay for those projects."

Is this common among SEC schools?
"It is not uncommon, but I think every school handles it a little differently. Auburn is building a new arena and they have a different structure of securing seats in that arena than we do because they are funding a huge project. What we need to do in the Hump is fund ongoing maintenance and renovation that will make the Hump a better place for fans to watch basketball games.

"A lot of people have asked why not increase the price of tickets. We talked about that but the issue with ticket prices is the additional increase is not tax deductible. But if we do the basketball enhancement fund and you make a contribution to the Bulldog Club in order to secure certain seats then that is a tax deductible expense for the donor."

If you sell all of the lower level seats and receive a surcharge for all of them, what would the annual amount be?
"It would be just a little over $500,000 a year. For a five-year period it would be just over $2,600,000, which is significant. Just replacing those seats that I referred to earlier, that is an expensive project."

Is there anything new going on at Dudy Noble Field?
"Yes, we are replacing all of the chairbacks seats in baseball. That will start this fall. That is not an inexpensive project but it has to happen. We are going to start taking them out sometime in October. We will have all the new seats in place for the season."

How will you finance that project?
"There are some things that we would like to do and there are some things that we have to do, and replacing those seats is a have to do. They don't even manufacture those seats anymore. So, if one breaks we have to take parts from the seats in the football stadium and use them to replace that seat in baseball. Then, when the baseball season is over we have to take parts from the seats in baseball and take them back to the football stadium. Replacing them will give us an inventory to work with the seats in the football stadium and it will give us new seats in baseball."

Will they have cup holders in them?
"I believe they will. The ones we have there now don't."

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 swindoll@genespage.com.

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