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July 9, 2012OXFORD, Miss. -- While building a new basketball arena is the primary focus of the Forward Together campaign's first phase, improvements inside the IPF are scheduled to begin at the end of the upcoming football season.
The capital fundraising campaign, which began on Aug. 9, 2011, is currently at $64 million of its total $150 million goal, with the majority of that total coming from capital gift agreements associated with Vaught-Hemingway Stadium season tickets. An extra donation is required for certain season stickets, but the total cost remains in the lower half of the Southeastern Conference.
UMAA executive director Keith Carter is pleased with the progress and expects noteworthy construction to begin soon. A cafeteria inside the IPF and a new football team meeting room will be completed as soon as possible after the season. Other possibilities for that timeframe include renovations to the football locker room, IPF weight room and moving the head football coach suite to the first floor from its current location overlooking the practice fields.
"What we're starting first is already underway," Carter said. "We're putting graphics and a lot of visual things throughout the IPF, and all that should be done by the time the players report. That's a surface thing. As soon as the season is over, we'll start the team cafeteria, which will be open to the general population, but we'll create things that are advantageous to our student athletes. The team meeting room that has been in the works for a couple years will get started as soon the season is over.
"Also a possible part of it is a renovation that brings the team lounge into the locker room. There will be no reason to walk across the field from locker room to lounge area. It's a convenience thing to our athletes. Also, moving the lounge will allow us to expand the weight room. Another part of it is Coach (Hugh) Freeze has asked to look at moving his coach suite to the first floor around the assistant coaches. He constantly has questions for his staff and would love to be near them. That's a possibility for the north end of the IPF."
The internal goal for the campaign is to get to $80 million by Sept. 1. That number would allow for the possibilities above and also keep the basketball arena construction on its current schedule. Once the number is met, the design and development portion of the arena will begin and require eight to 12 months to complete, Carter said. The current timetable suggests breaking ground for the arena in "mid-to-late summer of 2013."
Naming rights for the arena are being negotiated and carry a $20 million price tag. Philanthropic giving will be vital to reaching that internal goal. Philanthropic giving makes up $50 million of the $150 million ultimate goal, but that segment is only at approximately $4 million currently. Carter said that while it's lagging, he expects that $4 million to become as high as $25 million over the next six months.
"The (CGA) was a huge process for us," Carter said. "We launched Aug. 9, and we underestimated the time required to make sure donors understood how the CGA worked and also how it affected them financially. We talked about that for six months and tried to make everything with that clear. Now we're moving to the philanthropic part of the campaign All improvements are based on funding, but we feel good about where we are. We've talked about financial options. Traditionally, we needed a certain amount of cash in the door to do it, but this time we're going to leverage our pledges and cash. Lenders are willing to do that for us."
TICKETS THE MAIN PRIORITY: Selling season tickets for Vaught-Hemingway Stadium is the main day-to-day objective of the UMAA Foundation right now.
Currently Ole Miss is 5,000 seats behind last year's final total. In an effort to ignite sales, Ole Miss has implemented a call center and is working from several lists including but not limited to parents of incoming freshmen and 4,000 former ticketholders that haven't purchased season tickets since 2006.
"I think we can't wait for winning," Carter said. "We know that's coming and we feel great about our coaches, but we have to be proactive on our end. We're doing little things with a call center and getting back to people. We're calling and trying to get them back. There are a lot of different lists. Let's give it a shot.
"We're struggling some with season tickets We may end up a little short of last year, but we're working hard to bridge that gap. It's a perfect storm. It's an unsuccessful season in 2011. It's the economy and it's the CGA which is new to people and dollars out of their pockets that didn't happen in years past. I think it's a short-term problem."
New season ticketholders are also being offered incentives, such as Rebel bucks to use inside the stadium on game days. Carter said those targeted aren't ticketholders, so it's mandatory to make it as attractive as possible.
Memphis is a key area for the ticket push. While there are many opponents when it comes to discretionary spending, Ole Miss is the closest SEC team to that area.
"We have to tackle Memphis," Carter said. "There are a lot of competing dollars there, but there's not SEC football there. You have people that are Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas fans, but you also have fans that aren't tied to teams. We have to get those people interested in our product. It's about the people that can be here in an hour to watch a football game."
Progress has been made, and construction will soon begin, but the next few months are vital if Ole Miss is to keep its current timetable for the arena and other aspects of the capital campaign.
"Right now it's about season tickets and new members," Carter said. "We work every day for major gifts, but selling out the football stadium is the single-biggest thing we can do to get this done."
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