Dedicated ‘Suite 16’ Fans Support Razorback Sports

by Talk Business & Politics ([email protected]) 268 views 

Only two companies have luxury suites in all three hallowed haunts of Hogdom.

Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale and Stephens Inc. of Little Rock have posh boxes booked in the three main University of Arkansas sports venues in Fayetteville — Reynolds Razorback Stadium, Bud Walton Arena and Baum Stadium.

The multi-year license agreements held by Tyson Foods and Stephens Inc. for all three venues amount to investments of $254,955 and $176,229.

All told, the University of Arkansas athletic department said its 169 suite license agreements for the year that ended June 30 were worth about $3.04 million, or about 8 percent of the $37.3 million reported athletic department revenue (see table here — requires Adobe Acrobat viewer; click here for a free copy.).

During the past seven years, suite licensing has made up about 5.8 percent of the department’s revenue. But that average is skewed because of the addition of 68 suites to Reynolds Stadium for the 2001 football season and eight to Baum Stadium for the baseball team’s 2004 march to the College World Series.

Even with the average annual price of a skybox at Reynolds Stadium running about the same as a college-bound kid’s brand-new compact car — $18,160 — there’s still a waiting list to enjoy the “suitest” seats in the house, according to Jerry Pufall, the Razorbacks’ associate athletic director.

“Suite 16”

Tyson Foods and Stephens Inc. may be the only companies pig-headed enough to have suites for football, basketball and baseball games, but 14 others have booked luxury suites at two of the three venues (see table here).

The “Suite 16” with multi-venue leases have annual commitments ranging from $11,250 to $37,485 at the three different Razorback venues.

The 16 includes four companies from the financial sector, two poultry firms, two transportation companies, three private individuals or families, a plastics manufacturer, a beer distributor, a utility company, a fast food franchiser and a real estate company.

The list includes five firms from Fayetteville and five others from northwest Arkansas, two from Fort Smith, two from Little Rock and one each from Jacksonville and Harrison.

Stephens Inc. acquired its suite agreement at Baum Stadium when its sister company, Stephens Media Group, bought Hawgs Illustrated magazine for an undisclosed amount last fall from Clay Henry. Without that agreement, it would only have suites at two venues.

A third super suite holder, Jim Lindsey, has a piece of skyboxes in all three venues. A star on the Razorbacks’ 1964 national championship football team, Lindsey shares suites at Reynolds Stadium and Walton Arena with Jonesboro banker Wallace Fowler, agreements worth a combined $112,479. Lindsey’s company, Lindsey & Associates Inc. in Fayetteville, also has an agreement at Baum Stadium, worth an additional $75,000 over five years.

The UA has a total of 176 luxury suites — 132 at Reynolds Stadium, 32 at Walton Arena and 12 at Baum Stadium. But five of those football skyboxes are reserved for Chancellor John White, Athletic Director J. Frank Broyles, the visiting school’s athletic director, UA System President B. Alan Sugg and the head coaches’ families. So those suites weren’t included in the 169 total.

Two suites at Baum Stadium were also not included because they’re multi-year agreements “related to major contributors” to the construction, the UA said. No other information on the users was released.

Suite Situation

Mary Ann Greenwood, owner of investment firm M.A. Greenwood & Associates of Fayetteville, has a 24-seat suite with enough space for 32. She said it’s usually full, with another 20-30 people stopping by to visit during the course of the game. With a $30,000 annual license agreement and five Fayetteville games this year, she averages a ticket price of $187.50 for each guest, not including catering.

Ticket prices at Reynolds Stadium range from $30 to $150 — but with “suite stuff” such as air conditioning/ heating, a private bathroom, tables, chairs, a fridge, cable television and room to set a cooler of beverages — a skybox agreement can look like a deal to well-heeled Hog fans.

Tony Uth, a tax partner at Tullius Taylor Sartain & Sartain LLP in Fayetteville, said corporate licensees using the suites for business entertainment get to deduct 50 percent of the face value of the non-luxury box seat tickets. That means a $30,000 licensee gets to deduct about $12,000 off their taxes annually.

Tommy Ford, director of Tide Pride at the University of Alabama, said his university has 85 skyboxes for football only, which are leased out on an annual basis and range in price from $35,000 for a 16-seater to $60,000 for a 40-person box.

With seven Tuscaloosa games this year, that comes to $312 per person per game in the smaller suite and $214 in the larger suite — and, unlike Razorback venues, Bryant-Denny Stadium requires skybox visitors also to buy tickets. (UA suite holders do have to buy tickets for extra “standing room only” guests.)

By comparison, Razorback suites may look downright affordable.

Pufall said UA officials did a national survey before pricing the luxury suites after the renovations on Reynolds Stadium. They are “definitely in the lower tier of pricing nationally,” he said.

There has been “no or very little” turnover in suite license agreements at Walton Arena since its completion in 1994, he said, suggesting that the price meets demand.

Goodwill Hunting

Donny Story, president and CEO of Arvest Bank at Fayetteville and an Oklahoma native turned Hog fan, said the skybox his bank has on the east side of Reynolds Stadium is a great way to entertain customers.

It’s an environment many of his customers enjoy, and during the course of a four-hour game, he said, it gives him time to talk in a less formal atmosphere.

This year, Arvest also began hosting a tailgate party at the corner of Maple Avenue and Razorback Road, he said. Because space is limited in the skybox and tickets come at a premium, the tailgate party is a goodwill option that can reach about 350-400 customers.

But for Story, the company’s suite isn’t just about directly selling customers on Arvest. Since the Hogs played the University of Texas on the third anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Story used the suite to host the “Flying Razorbacks,” the 184th Fighter Squadron of the Arkansas Air National Guard’s 188th Fighter Wing out of Fort Smith.

Of course, the pilots had to work first. They were busy opening the game with a sky-splitting fly-over at the crescendo of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Afterward, members of the 188th not already on the ground landed their F-16s at Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport and arrived in time to see the second half of the game.

Frank Thomas, a spokesman for Stephens Inc., said his firm is satisfied with the arrangement it has with the UA. Stephens fosters goodwill through customer relations, he said.

“It is an effective tool — obviously it’s more effective during a winning season,” joked Dennis Hunt, senior vice president and manager of Stephens’ Fayetteville office.

Customers aren’t the only sought-after guests. During the Texas game, Green-wood entertained state Attorney General Mike Beebe, U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., and state Sen. Shane Broadway, D-Bryant.

“They support Arkansas,” she said. “They work very hard, and we’re delighted that they could attend.”

Greenwood, an Arkansas native, doesn’t just measure the suite’s effectiveness as goodwill to her firm. Instead, she said it is part of her support for the university where her husband, Reed Greenwood, is dean of the College of Education.

The Greenwoods regularly attend men’s basketball and Lady Razorback games, too, though they don’t have a suite at Walton Arena.