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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Tigers have a plan to fill empty seats

Tigers have a plan to fill empty seats
U of M encourages resale of unneeded tickets

By Dan Wolken
Thursday, November 1, 2007

The University of Memphis sold out its final season tickets for men's basketball Wednesday. The question is, how many of those ticket-holders will actually show up when the Tigers tip off at 6 p.m. Monday against Tennessee-Martin for the first round of the 2K College Hoops Classic?

Few issues over the years have irritated coach John Calipari more than those large, familiar swaths of empty seats at FedExForum for all but the biggest games on Memphis' schedule. Now, for the first time, the school is encouraging its season ticket-holders to put unused tickets up for sale and giving them an outlet to do it.

Included in season-ticket mailing this year was the announcement of a partnership with Seat Exchange (, an online service that has signed deals with several schools to become their official "secondary ticket provider."

Kip Racy, general manager of Tiger Sports Properties, the marketing arm of Memphis' athletic department, said the deal will ultimately be good for all parties involved: Fans who don't want to use their tickets can get money back by selling them, otherwise empty seats will be filled, and the athletic department will get a percentage of the sales from Seat Exchange, which paid Tiger Sports Properties a flat fee for the partnership.

Racy declined to elaborate on the financial specifics.

"We might have been one of the few schools that didn't have a secondary ticket market," Racy said. "We're educating our fans. 'Hey, if you can't go to the game, go online and sell them.'

"There's not a better time for a secondary ticket market to come on board for Tiger basketball."

Seat Exchange, which will have a portal from Memphis' official Web site that allows fans to click "buy" or "sell" tickets, is similar to a site such as StubHub, where fans can list tickets for sale at a price of their choosing. If there's a buyer, the Web site processes the transaction and charges a fee, then arranges distribution for the tickets.

Calipari doesn't care how the process works, he just hopes it will provide a way for more people to fill seats.

"We've got to get to that point where our fans feel a responsibility to be there or have people in those seats, especially the downstairs tickets," Calipari said. "Because nothing makes people madder than having to be moved upstairs when they gave (Tiger Scholarship Fund donations) and they look down and see 1,000 empty seats down low. It's obnoxious."

Meanwhile, athletic director R.C. Johnson said Wednesday that the school's parking spaces at FedExForum are sold out and that he's going back to corporate sponsors to double-check whether they will actually use all the tickets they've been given.

"We're trying to get our hands on anything that even looks like a ticket," Johnson said.

A few tickets to Tiger games are already for sale on Seat Exchange, which has a Memphis logo on its front page. Of course, they won't always be a bargain. Lower-level tickets for the Feb. 23 game against Tennessee are being listed for $350, while club-level seats are for sale at $300.

More tickets will likely be available after Memphis launches its full marketing campaign for Seat Exchange, which will include radio ads. For now, the program is only for basketball, but Racy said it's possible it could expand in the future.

"We want to have people in those seats," Racy said. "Now, you're getting some of that money back. Before, they were selling those tickets anyway and the school was getting nothing out of it."

Etc.: Senior forward Joey Dorsey sat out most of Wednesday's practice with a sprained right shoulder, which has been bothering him since he injured it last Saturday in a scrimmage against Saint Louis.

Dorsey's rate of progress calls into question whether he'll be ready for Monday, though Dorsey said he will try to play.

"If he's hurt, he' s hurt; there's nothing I can do about it," Calipari said. "He doesn't need to be out here if he's hurt, just heal up and hope somebody doesn't catch fire at his position. That's just part of being hurt and part of coming back. But if you come back too soon and you're playing 50 percent, probably one of these guys is going to get you and pass you by."

Meanwhile, sophomore forward Pierre Niles also missed most of the practice after suffering a right knee sprain.

Niles, who was unlikely to crack the playing rotation, is listed as day to day, according to head athletic trainer Chris Simmons.

-- Dan Wolken: 529-2365

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