UK fans responding favorably to survey about funding Rupp renovation

jtipton@herald-leader.comJuly 2, 2013 

It sounds like asking someone if they support the idea of breathable air. Kentucky fans are being surveyed about their interest in helping finance a renovation of Rupp Arena.

Apparently, they're interested.

"The preliminary responses are overwhelming and the results analyzed are very encouraging," Brent Rice, the chairman of the Lexington Center Corporation, said Tuesday. LCC is exploring the possibility of renovating Rupp Arena as part of a new entertainment/convention district in downtown Lexington.

In the last month or so, fans and corporations have been asked about interest in buying perks in a new-look Rupp Arena: private suites, special loge boxes, memberships to a lounge at the top of the lower-arena bowl and/or court-level club seats and/or a "courtside suite" located under the stands.

Proceeds would help finance another renovation of Rupp Arena, which has served as the home for University of Kentucky men's basketball since 1976. LCC's Strategic Financial Advisors — which consists of three companies: Conventions, Sports & Leisure International/Legends Sales & Marketing/HKS World Events — are conducting the survey and are expected to make formal recommendations on paying for the project within the next 30 days, Rice said.

While private suites, loge boxes and a lounge might be beyond the financial reach of many fans, the survey also includes a pitch to the proletariat. It asks about a financing idea Rice first floated more than a year ago: UK fans buy a membership stake in the renovation much as Green Bay Packers fans did in a recent upgrade of Lambeau Field. The survey asks how strongly fans feel about paying an initial fee of $300 for a "True Blue Membership." There would be an additional annual fee of $100. What a fan would get with the membership is not yet determined, but the survey speaks of such benefits as entry into a lottery to win a seat in the lounge for a game, recognition on a "Founders Wall," special access to buy tickets to all Rupp Arena events (concerts, Sweet Sixteen high school basketball, NCAA Tournament games, etc.) and a discount to a memorabilia store inside the new Rupp Arena.

"The initial results are extremely favorable to that particular concept," said Rice, who envisions a televised lottery for True Blue members each week.

The Packers reportedly sold 1,600 shares in the team within the first 11 minutes of making the offer known. The team sold enough $250 shares to raise $67 million, which was about half the cost of a Lambeau Field renovation expected to be completed in time for the 2013 season.

Bill Rhoda, the president of CSL International, said about half the fans participating in the survey so far liked the idea of a True Blue Membership. Of those people, about 90 percent accepted the proposed fees, he said.

The survey also asks fans about their level of enthusiasm for a surcharge on ticket prices, an effort to secure a naming rights fee for the arena, a hotel/motel tax, a car rental tax, an increase in the sales tax and a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) plan.

The survey has been made available to the Lexington Chamber of Commerce, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and a Rupp Arena data base that Rice said contained "hundreds of thousands" of names.

Between 250 and 300 corporations accepted an invitation to participate in the survey, Rhoda said. Also about 3,000 people who have bought tickets to events in Rupp Arena responded so far. This was enough to feel confident about projecting the demand, he said. His company will need two or three weeks to interpret results from the survey, he said.

After asking warm-up questions like have you attended an event in Rupp within the last five years, are you a UK season-ticket holder and have you bought season tickets, club seats or suites to other sports events in Lexington and Louisville, the survey hits the high-end perks:

■ How likely is it that you would pay $2,500 each year for access to a suite level club, which includes "premium food and beverage options?

■ How likely is it that you would pay $10,000 each year for a special seat (wider cushion, more leg room) in the suite level club? These seats include tickets to all Rupp Arena events.

■ How likely is it that you would pay $30,000 each year for a loge box, which typically seats four. Each box may come with a "drink rail" and flat-screen television. Amenities also include tickets to all Rupp Arena events, preferred parking, VIP entry and private restroom. As a follow-up question, the survey asks about a $20,000 annual fee.

■ How likely is it that you would pay $100,000 each year for a private suite? In follow-up questions, the survey asks about a $75,000 annual fee and your willingness to share the suite (and the cost) with another party.

So far, the survey reflected "significant demand" for the suites, loge boxes and other perks, Rhoda said. "There's nothing that's had a lack of demand."

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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