Video: Joel Maturi Interview and Pictures of the new 'Barn' Scoreboard

Created: 04/02/2012 9:43 AM KSTP.com By: Darren Wolfson

Click the video box above to hear from athletics director Joel Maturi and see my story, which aired Sunday night on Sports Wrap. Within the piece are pictures of what the new scoreboard will look like at Williams Arena.

(below is the full Q&A from my 50 minute sit-down interview)

FULL Q&A:

If the men's basketball team were 9-9 or 10-8 and on the verge of an NCAA Tournament berth, do you think there would be the same backlash as you're getting now with the new Williams Arena ticket policy? It seems like your two-year down cycle is the real issue, not the overall idea of finding a new way to generate revenue.

 

I don't know if any of us want to pay more. I am not happy when I pay more in taxes, or when I have to purchase some item and pay more, but it's a reality. We're asking our season-ticket purchasers in some instances to pay more, and I say some instances because some people will pay less.

For the first time in the university's history, we will scale the house. To this point, our tickets have been the same. If you're in the last row in the rafters, or you're 10th row midcourt, you've paid the same. We're changing that and we think it's the right thing to do. We've done a lot of homework. Most of our peers scale, and quite frankly, they've had a preferred seating program that we have not had. We announced this publicly several years ago. We actually delayed it a year, partly because of the economy, and partly because we weren't winning as much as we wanted to.

To answer your question, there's been more commenting because we haven't been as successful. I think there's a hesitation by anyone to pay more. There's also a concern about re-seating. Those people have sat in those seats for many years. I've had people tell me they'll pay whatever necessary to keep their seats, and others who have never had to pay anything above the ticket price wondering why we are doing this. We haven't pleased both sides, so maybe in essence we're doing it the right way.

We've got a good system, the Minnesota points system. It reflects loyalty and has implications for those who have given to the University. Instead of raising ticket prices, we've asked for a preferred seating donation, which is 80% tax deductible. I think it's very fair, and I think in the long run, it'll be a good deal for the University of Minnesota.

Was there any hesitation to delay it more with the economy still not great, and the team performing poorly yet again?

There were discussions, but I think it's better for me as the outgoing A.D. to do this vs. the new A.D. coming in and doing it. That factored in. Yell at Joel Maturi, point the finger and write the emails. I understand that. I am here to promise you when people go into Williams Arena next year and see a new scoreboard, and they realize this is the only way to do it ... we're giving back to the fans. There will be some positive things (also at Mariucci Arena) that we couldn't do any other way.

The key point is your peers. Everyone in the Big Ten has a similar ticket program except for Northwestern.

Most charge significantly more than we do, but they've also had more success. As a result, we haven't charged more. We're sensitive to how much we should charge, yet at the same time, generate additional money.

On one hand, we're criticized for not raising more money in Gophers athletics. That our donation level is not what it should be in a large metropolitan area. On the other instance, this is what we're trying to do. Look at Wisconsin, look at Iowa, they get a great majority of their donations through their seating programs. It's not like people are just writing checks. They're writing them for their seat privileges. It's what we're trying to do. We're behind the times, quite honestly. We're trying to catch up in a lot of ways.

Can you describe the points system?

We don't know where anyone will sit. The person with the highest point total is the only person who knows where he or she will sit because they will have the first choice. Every season-ticket holder will have a point total and they'll be ranked, one through the thousands we have.

The points are determined by years of season-ticket purchase. We want to reward loyalty. It's given to contributions to athletics as well as contributions to the University, which are not rated as high. You can get one-time points if you're a graduate of Minnesota. You can get one-time points if you're a letter winner. We also have given points if you're a member of the alumni association. We're trying to be fair.

Everyone, including Joel Maturi, will have a point total. I will choose my tickets, and I did the same in football. I've already purchased four tickets because I knew the day would come when I would leave this position. I'll sit there for the first time next year. ... Some will get to choose on the first day, some on the second day and some on the 33rd day. People will get a period of time to choose their seat selection.

Is another point of contention the nonconference schedule? Enough people are OK with paying top dollar to see Ohio State and Michigan State, but not to see you play the directional school. You need to get a BCS school into Williams in November or December.

Yes. We're working on that. If you look at other schools and their nonconference schedules, they're similar. Our RPI rating is pretty competitive within the Big Ten. The thing about basketball is that some of the schools, while not recognizable to all fans, can be pretty good.

But it is a concern. We have the Big Ten/ACC Challenge and we're working with other conferences to do the same that may be of interest to Gophers fans. We are sensitive to the scheduling. But when you're going after 18, 19 home games, you need to buy people in. BCS-level schools won't do that if you don't return to their place, so it's a balance that we all have.

Joe Esposito (Gophers schedule guru) says it's a challenge to schedule these games because of lots of conflicts. Is that part of the deal?

He is involved with the dates. We have some conflicts with women's basketball tournaments, and they'll tell you they have conflicts. We do have two teams playing in Williams Arena and we have a parking challenge when men's basketball and men's hockey play at the same time. That's why we've had to play hockey games on a Sunday. Basketball has taken a preference. Maybe the schedulers when we're all in the same conference (hockey with basketball) will be a little bit more sensitive.

But TV controls a lot. We get a lot of money from them. The days of 1 o'clock football games and 7 o'clock basketball games on Tuesdays and Wednesdays are gone.

Whether it's your inbox or the table that was set up at Williams Arena for the Indiana and Nebraska games, what feedback have you gotten from your basketball ticket holders?

It's a variance. Nobody wants to be displaced. The long-time ticket holder who has paid just the price of the ticket is very frustrated that he or she has to pay additional money to remain in those seats. It's a donation and that's the mentality we need for people to realize. Right now it's for a new scoreboard, potentially a new sound system, ribbon boards, things of this nature. It'll eventually lend itself to scholarships and to endowing what is most important for Gophers athletics against the business reality of today.

What about a practice facility?

We do need a practice facility. We need to get that through other means of donations. The money we'll make through preferred seating isn't enough to do that. Just like we did with TCF Stadium, we need a naming sponsor, a naming donor, people who can give significant gifts, six- and seven-figure gifts. It's a need, not a want. We'll work hard to make it happen in the near future.