Regents approve
luxury football

Although the sale of premium
tickets has gotten support,
one fan calls it "a betrayal"

The University of Hawaii Board of Regents unanimously approved a proposal yesterday that will displace some football season-ticket holders at Aloha Stadium. But the athletic department hopes the new fund-raising program will go a long way toward pulling it out of a three-year financial slump.

The goal is to raise $4 million to $5 million per year for scholarships and increase the athletic department budget to $24 million per year.

Boosters, a coach and a former athlete were among those who spoke in favor of the proposal, and athletic director Herman Frazier made a presentation to show how an exclusive "high-roller" seating section at Warrior football games could produce a huge revenue stream.

Premium seat donations for the exclusive loge-level section will range from $5,000 to $20,000, in 2007 and will include benefits ranging from parking passes to choice seats for arena sports and baseball.

All who spoke yesterday were in favor of the proposal. But some longtime fans who will be asked to either pay thousands of dollars more to keep their seats or move to another section submitted written protests.

"I do not believe it would be too strong to call this a betrayal of our loyalty to the program," wrote Maxwell Urata, who has been a season-ticket holder since the 1970s. "To hide this under the guise of scholarship to athletes is disingenuous."

In the end, though, the BOR approved of the motives and methods of 'Ahahui Koa Anuenue (AKA), the UH sports booster club.

"The board was unanimous in its feeling that the people who put (the proposal) together really thought it through, and it will benefit all student-athletes scholarships and recruiting, not just football players," BOR Chairwoman Patricia Lee said.

Frazier said the proposal was researched for years, and displaced fans will get "priority seating in other sections for the next three years.

"Everyone who is being displaced is being contacted and receiving consideration," Frazier said. "We had two public hearings. It was not done in a vacuum."

UH basketball coach Riley Wallace testified about the success of "Gucci Row," which debuted this season at Rainbow Warrior basketball games. Fans paid $2,500 each for 45 courtside seats where they receive unlimited food and drink, and other benefits.

"Basketball sold out, we have a waiting list and we've had inquiries for women's volleyball," Frazier said.

Wallace spoke of premium seating in general.

"It's a step everyone already has (taken)," he said. "The expenses have gone up and we have to compete. ... As long as this island doesn't float closer to the mainland, we'll have travel costs."

Luxury seating is an addition to an ongoing program of premium seat donations that began two years ago.

AKA revised its proposal this week to clarify items and answer questions put forth by regents at a hearing last week.

AKA Executive Committee member Bert Kobayashi said the committee researched how universities around the country handle premium seating.

"We found out Hawaii was behind the curve. The levels of contributions were higher at other schools," Kobayashi said.

Honolulu businessman Kelly McGill, a UH graduate and former Rainbows offensive lineman, said increased ticket prices are an investment in the community.

"Student-athletes are an investment," he said. "We've asked the community to step up. We're asking some people to move over a seat, please, because his next-door neighbor's daughter needs a scholarship."

Star-Bulletin reporter Craig Gima contributed to this report

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