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Sunday, July 01, 2007

FedEx Forum Re-Seating Reinvigorates Scholarship Fund

Re-seating reinvigorates fund

By Dan Wolken
July 1, 2007

For University of Memphis athletic director R.C. Johnson, hardly a day has gone by this summer without somebody calling or e-mailing him questions about the upcoming re-seating of FedExForum.

And those questions are understandable, since every basketball season ticket holder will have to go through the process of selecting new seats beginning July 12.

"Our ultimate objective is to be as fair as we possibly can," Johnson said. "We try very hard to please everybody, but it's very difficult when you go to re-seat as many people as we re-seat."

Re-seating is the athletic department's primary vehicle for increasing donations to the Tiger Scholarship Fund (TSF), which essentially pays for athletic scholarships for all sports.

By making an annual TSF donation, the donor acquires the rights to buy basketball season tickets. Donors who give more money will have priority in the seat selection process over donors who give less. And spurred in large part by the buzz surrounding the 2007-08 team, which will likely be ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in every preseason poll, TSF has already taken in a record $5.6 million in donations.

Bill Lansden, the associate athletic director who oversees TSF donations, sat down with The Commercial Appeal to answer some questions about the re-seating process.

CA: How does the process work?

BL: Nobody has any seats down there. It's a clean slate. We have about 3,000 accounts, and we rank them 1 through 3,000. We have eight giving levels, anywhere from $100 to $25,000. We rank you within the giving levels. That is very beneficial to us because it means if Dan Wolken wants to come in as a new donor, if there's somebody at the $5,000 level who has been giving since 1983, if you come in at $10,000 brand new, you'll pick over them. That's good for us because it's an incentive for people to come in and pay the high dollar.

CA: How has it impacted people's donation levels?

BL: The last two or three re-seatings have brought in an extra $300,000 to $400,000 of just new money, people upgrading. We set a goal of $455,000 of people upgrading, and we've taken in $940,000 from people going from $100 to $250 or somebody just going from $25,000 to $28,000. We had 435 accounts that upgraded at least one level. That's almost 15 percent, and I'd say the majority of that would be in the top four giving levels."

CA: If somebody wanted to jump in today, how could they get seats downstairs?

BL: $2,500 is the minimum donation to be down on the club level, on that middle level, or in the end zone of the lower level.

CA: How many season tickets do you expect to sell?

BL: We probably sold 11,000 last year, not counting students. If you take out students and suites, we have about 15,000 seats to sell. I think we'll sell about 13,000 or 14,000, which is great.

CA: Explain the process of selecting seats.

BL: The Ambassadors ($500,000 donors) start July 12 from 5 to 7 p.m., and then we start July 13 and 14 with the Platinums ($25,000). Saturday (July 14) is a mixed bag. We have faculty/staff coming and the M Club from 9 a.m. to noon. Then we go Monday the 16th through Thursday the 19th, and then we skip a week and come back July 30 through Aug. 2. The first group comes in at 9 a.m., and the last group comes in at 5 p.m. those days.

CA: How long do people have to select?

BL: We usually bring in about 20 to 25 people per hour, so they have upwards of two or three minutes. It doesn't sound like much, but when people come down on the floor they start eyeing where they want to go. You have the occasional ones that want to walk from side to side and sit in it, but most likely these people know where they want to go. The $2,500 and above; they know where they want to sit.

Recruiting news

DeAndre Liggins, one of the top point guards in the 2008 class, was supposed to be on the Memphis campus this weekend for an official visit. And there was quiet confidence within the program that once Liggins got here, he'd strongly consider becoming a Tiger.

But Memphis never a chance to make its pitch to Liggins, as he committed to Kentucky on Wednesday night. Liggins' decision was a huge surprise considering he had indicated just one day earlier he was still planning to visit Memphis.

The Liggins development certainly stung worse than losing out on center Kenny Kadji, who committed to Florida on Friday. Though Kadji was in Memphis two weeks ago for Calipari's elite camp, it was understood by everyone with knowledge of the situation that getting him away from Florida would be difficult.

Despite losing out on two of their top targets, there's no reason to fret about Memphis' 2008 recruiting class. The Tigers already have the Morris twins from Philadelphia in the fold and still have a strong chance to land 6-11 forward Angel Garcia, who visited the same weekend Kadji did. The Tigers are also recruiting Terrence Jennings, a top-10 power forward from North Carolina.

Though Memphis would certainly like to add an elite guard like St. George's Elliot Williams to the mix, one factor possibly working against the Tigers is the number of underclassmen in their backcourt. In 2008-09, Memphis projects to have Willie Kemp, Andre Allen, Doneal Mack and Jeff Robinson, plus perhaps Antonio Anderson and Chris Douglas-Roberts if they come back for their senior years.

To reach reporter Dan Wolken, call 529-2365

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