Whereas the first two parts of “From P.O.T.T. to TIDE PRIDE” covered the creation of TIDE PRIDE in 1987-88 and the program’s kickoff for the 1988 season, this final part will cover, oh, the next 32 years.
So, in the wise words of Briscoe Darling, “Just jump in where you can and hang on.”
TIDE PRIDE’s inaugural season in 1988 was considered a smashing success. Once the season got underway, so many doubts, uncertainties, and apprehensions were put to rest. Thankfully, those early rumors of every seat costing $2,500 each had been proven to be just that – rumors. Once the initial brochure hit the streets in the fall of 1987, patrons saw that TIDE PRIDE was a fair and equitable program that provided many seating options and amenities.
So, after going through more than a year of planning the new TIDE PRIDE program, installing a new ticketing software system, and providing input for the west upper deck expansion to Bryant-Denny Stadium, we were quite pleased at the almost $7 million generated by some 8,000 donors during that first season. No doubt, it exuded positivity for the future.
To whisk you through the subsequent three decades, read on to recall a few benchmarks of the program, our various stadium expansions, and a few other peripheral sidebars.
(1989-1997) “Steady as she goes…”
The 1988 west upper deck expansion at Bryant-Denny Stadium brought its capacity up to 70,123, while at the time Birmingham’s Legion Field held around 75,000. (Ticket-wise, the approximate 5,000-seat difference in Legion Field was made up by the Birmingham Park & Recreation Board Warrant & Certificate holders. Also, Legion Field’s expansion to approximately 83,000 seats in 1991 did not allow us to offer more TIDE PRIDE season tickets, but it did allow us to sell three-game Legion Field packages.)
Our first Director of TIDE PRIDE, Jeff Rouzie, whom I mentioned in Part Two, left us in early 1989 to pursue other opportunities, but would later return as an assistant coach under Gene Stallings (1991-96) and Mike DuBose (1997-2000). So, during 1989 I served a dual position as Athletic Ticket Manager and Director of TIDE PRIDE. Joining the TIDE PRIDE staff that year (and coming to my rescue) were two great guys – Wayne Atcheson and Coach Dude Hennessey. Wayne had served faithfully in our Sports Information Office from 1983-87, while the colorful Dude had been an assistant under Coach Paul W. Bryant from 1960-76 and Bryant Hall dorm director from 1986-88. During their years in TIDE PRIDE, Wayne and Dude were extremely helpful in sales and customer relations, and both became dear friends. Sadly, Dude passed away in 2011, leaving behind many stories that we still talk about today. Wayne, now the historian for the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, N.C., remains a great friend and encourager.
With Bryant-Denny staying the same capacity during 1989-97, TIDE PRIDE experienced slight (10-15 percent) growth. So, with no additional seats added during these years, how could TIDE PRIDE grow, even slightly?
It was a matter of slicing the pie differently.
Besides the TIDE PRIDE donors, also ordering season tickets each year were several other categories, e.g., faculty/staff, football lettermen, legislators/governmental officials, active alumni, inactive alumni, and friends of the University (general public). (See diagram from original brochure below).
In these categories, a certain number of season tickets were guaranteed for faculty/staff, football lettermen, and legislators/governmental officials, while any remaining season tickets always went to active dues-paying alumni, inactive alumni, and general public. (Note: The ability for state legislators and governmental officials to order season tickets was discontinued many years ago.)
So, as demand for TIDE PRIDE increased during 1989-97, we were able to accommodate new members by reducing the number of seats being offered to other priorities, in this order: general public, inactive alumni, and active alumni.
Revenue-wise, we held steady through this time with approximately $7 million per year through the 1992 season, then $8 million per year through 1997.
The approximate $1 million jump from 1992 to 1993 was not by accident. Following the Tide’s 1992 national championship, demand soared. Fortunately, we were able to accommodate many new members by adding to the TIDE PRIDE inventory seats in the southwest and northwest corners of Bryant-Denny and Legion Field. Again, as TIDE PRIDE inventory increased, the ability of the general public (and, ultimately, alumni) to order season tickets decreased.
And speaking of that national championship, from my Ticket Manager’s perspective, 1992 was such a special season. I could write so much about it, and perhaps one day I will, but here are a few things that stand out the most:
- The Centennial celebration of Crimson Tide football. Being the Alabama football buff that I am, I relished every moment of our celebration, all the way from an A-Day Weekend packed with Centennial events to assisting with the national championship parade in early 1993. One “forever” memory of the season is my design of the 1992 season tickets, which featured individual photographs of each member of our All-Century team. We had Weldon, Williams & Lick – our ticket printing company – print six different sets of season ticket stock so that every member of our All-Century team was featured on a ticket during the season.
- Our trip to Little Rock and a win over Arkansas in its first season in the SEC. Joe Kines, who had served as Ray Perkins’ defensive coordinator in 1985-86, was the Razorbacks’ interim head coach. Joe’s now back in Tuscaloosa and serves as a deacon and Sunday School teacher in our church. True salt of the earth.
- Alabama’s 30-21 comeback win over Mississippi State in Starkville, clinching a spot in the inaugural SEC Championship Game in Birmingham’s Legion Field. My most vivid memories from this game, though, have nothing to do with the game itself. During halftime, standing just outside the visitors’ locker room along with team physician Philip Bobo and team dentist Rush Smith, I ate a couple of hot dogs, which proved to be a big mistake. I’ll spare you all the details, but a horrific case of food poisoning sidelined me for a week or so. Thanks to Assistant Ticket Manager Rhoda Vaughn and the Ticket Office and TIDE PRIDE staff members, all SEC Championship Game ticket orders were filled and distributed within days. I was back in time for the Thanksgiving Day victory over Auburn and for Antonio Langham’s heroics in the cold and blustery SEC Championship Game. (Note: It took me 15-20 years to work up enough courage to eat a hot dog again.)
- The national championship game in the Sugar Bowl. Our allotment of 17,500 tickets was quickly gobbled up, and unfortunately, we had to refund many TIDE PRIDE members. (I feel confident that most of those refunded found a way to get to New Orleans; the Superdome crowd was decidedly in Alabama’s favor.) The game itself – a 34-13 shellacking of Miami – will forever go down in Crimson Tide lore. I can’t add any more to Alabama’s magnificent performance, especially Coach Brother Oliver’s defensive game plan against Heisman Trophy winner Gino Torretta and the explosive Miami offense. Besides the Hurricanes, though, another victim of our win was – get this – my hair. During the summer before the 1992 season, while working out on a Stairmaster next to Jeff Rouzie, I casually mentioned that if Alabama won the national championship in 1992, I’d get a crew cut like his. Well, following the win, Jeff held me to it. Just a few days after returning from New Orleans, legendary Tuscaloosa barber Joel Williams (who’d been Coach Bryant’s barber) gave me a nice buzz cut. The story made the Associated Press wire and for several weeks, I caught all sorts of ribbing. (Growing it back was quite an adventure; it was then I discovered styling gel, which I still use today.)
TIDE PRIDE revenue for the 1993-97 seasons stayed steady at around $8 million per season. Evident was the fact that the only way TIDE PRIDE could grow (and more revenue could be realized) would be to add more seats to Bryant-Denny. The obvious location to expand was on the Colonial Drive (also known as Sorority Row) side of the stadium, but for years Colonial Drive was assumed to be off-limits to any sort of expansion due to the presence of several small sorority houses and one University building located just a few feet from the stadium. But one by one, as these buildings began vacating for various reasons, the University kept them vacant and, eventually, subject to demolition. Before long, the idea of an east side expansion picked up steam, and in September of 1995, the University’s Board of Trustees approved a 13,000-seat east upper deck expansion, including the construction of 81 skyboxes, 10,000 bleacher seats, and a new south end zone video scoreboard. Also in the plans was an east tower that would contain reception/eating areas for the Scholarship Club and the A-Club (replacing the Hospitality House outside the southeast corner of the stadium and the A-Club Room under Bryant-Denny’s northwest stands, respectively).
(1998-2006) “We’re in the big time now…”
Nothing, I mean NOTHING, could’ve prepared us for Saturday, September 5, 1998, the day we opened the east side upper deck, which of course included the 81 new skyboxes. I could write a novel or two about our almost three years of planning this expansion, which, next to the startup of TIDE PRIDE in 1987-88, was the most challenging project I ever encountered in my more than 33 years in Athletics. Here are just a few memories.
- I mentioned earlier that as the buildings on the east side of Bryant-Denny were vacated, the University kept them unoccupied, paving the way to build the east side upper deck with no property acquisition issues. Except, that is, for the Pi Beta Phi sorority house, located on the corner of Colonial Drive and Stadium Drive (8th Street). The Pi Phis dug in their collective heels and made clear their intentions to stay where they were. So, the architects had to design the east side expansion with the Pi Phi house staying put. (That’s why the center of the east tower, which everyone assumes lines up with the 50-yard line, actually lines up with the south 25-yard line.) At some point during the construction, as the massive east upper deck rose and began to dwarf their house, the Pi Phis blinked. In no time, they decided to vacate their house, and the University made accommodations for them to build a new house around the corner between the Chi Omega and Kappa Delta houses. (I’m not saying this as fact, but the rumor going around was that once the east side expansion began to block the sun from Pi Phis’ rooftop deck, that was the last straw.)
- Not long after the expansion was announced in September of 1995, our long-range planning began. In late November, I accompanied former Athletic Director Hootie Ingram and a few others on a one-day whirlwind plane trip to Clemson University, Florida State University, and Jacksonville Municipal Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla., home of the NFL’s new Jacksonville Jaguars. Clemson and Florida State already had skyboxes in their stadiums, and we wanted to see them and learn how their skybox programs worked. Our trip to the Jaguars’ stadium was not only to look at their new skyboxes, but to see their state-of-the art windows system, where each skybox’s windows rolled along a track to an out-of-sight storage pocket. We knew right then that we wanted to include that feature in our new skyboxes.
- I’m not sure at what point this happened, but during our long-range planning process, we once again called on Jay Sterling, the marketing professor who’d done the market research prior to the start of TIDE PRIDE, to gather data for us. His market studies provided valuable information for us in determining demand, the sizes of the skyboxes, and the amenities to offer.
- By late summer of 1997, our skybox marketing plan was ready. Even though we felt good about what our data revealed about the demand for skyboxes, not until folks actually started applying would we really know. In early fall, we sent out a slick application brochure announcing the availability of 18 24-seat skyboxes and 63 16-seat skyboxes. Included in the brochure was a list of all the amenities offered (in-skybox food, parking passes, the chance to order Legion Field game tickets, road game ticket availability, etc.), as well as the priorities that we would use for skybox selection. Initial prices were $25,000 annually (plus tickets) for a 16-seat skybox and $35,000 annually (plus tickets) for a 24-seat skybox. (Since Alabama was still playing two to three home games in Legion Field, the prices reflected such. It was written into the skybox contracts that as soon as all home games came to Bryant-Denny, the annual prices would increase accordingly.) We set a skybox application deadline date of Monday, Nov. 3, 1997.
- The next few months were interesting, to say the least. Bob Bockrath, who’d been our Athletic Director since June of 1996, did not believe we could sell all the skyboxes. I vividly recall going into his office at some point in, probably, early October and saying, “Bob, we’ve had 50 applications come in so far for the skyboxes.” His reply was, “Well, those first 50 are the easiest to sell. It’s those final 30 or so that we’ll have trouble selling.” I was confident they would all sell, because I knew the Alabama fanbase, our tradition, and our history. And sure enough, by the Nov. 3 deadline, we ended up with 115 applications for the 81 skyboxes, guaranteeing a sellout in our first year.
- No question, 1998 was a blur. Not only were the TIDE PRIDE and Ticket Office staffs having to deal with 81 new skyboxes coming on board, but with 10,000 new upper deck seats as well. Of course, this meant adding seats into our TIDE PRIDE inventory, which enabled many folks on the waiting list to join for the first time. (Now that Bryant-Denny had leapfrogged Legion Field in capacity, over the next few seasons we offered a couple of plans – “Bryant Denny Only” and “TIDE PRIDE 2” – that help offset the difference. Following Alabama’s final game in Legion Field in 2003, all plans converted to full TIDE PRIDE donation levels in 2004.)
- Carrying out the mechanics (donations, tickets, etc.) of a skybox program was doable. After all, we had created the entire TIDE PRIDE program from scratch 10 years earlier. But servicing these 81 new skyboxes (and their almost 2,000 patrons) was an entirely different story. When someone leases a skybox, they rightfully expect to have an experience unlike ever before, e.g., the best in food, comfort, hospitality, and service. And paying what they’re paying, they deserve it. So, going from zero skyboxes to 81 skyboxes in one year was quite a daunting task for our small staff, especially from the game day servicing standpoint. For the most part, those duties fell to Wayne Atcheson and me. We certainly survived, but it wasn’t without some painful growing pains. For us, the two biggest skybox issues that first year were the food and the sun/heat. There was no in-house kitchen in the stadium that could accommodate the quantity of food required for 81 skyboxes (almost 2,000 people), so all food was cooked by Bama Dining (the University’s campus food provider) across campus and transported in trucks to the stadium. Always at issue were the delivery times to the skyboxes and the freshness of the food. Further adding to our challenges was that 81 different skyboxes had multiple menu selections. It was a trying time for all, but eventually, things got better. Climate-wise, all the skyboxes were air conditioned; however, opening the windows during the game was no different than you driving down the road while running your vehicle’s air conditioner at full speed, then opening all your windows. In a matter of seconds, all the cold air goes away. On opening night against BYU, it was 95 degrees at the 6:00 p.m. kickoff, the late setting sun was blazing directly onto the entire east side, and in the skyboxes, the air conditioning blowing full blast was barely felt. Needless to say, it was a long, hot night for our staff, as well as for all the skybox patrons.
- For four seasons (1998-2001), Wayne Atcheson and I handled the servicing and hospitality of the skyboxes, in addition to all our other TIDE PRIDE duties. We did the best we could with the small staff we had, but I never felt the skybox holders were getting the attention they deserved. Shortly following the 2001 season, the Athletic Department entered into a long-term agreement with Robbie Robertson and the Colonnade Group to handle all skybox hospitality. Oh my, what a Godsend they were! Leading their team was Jill Bender, who took over and handled the job like the professional she is. Every time I see Jill, who still works for Colonnade, I thank her for taking our burden almost 20 years ago and making our skybox hospitality so much better. (Today, the Colonnade Group handles all Bryant-Denny hospitality, including all skyboxes, both Zones, the field suites, and the new Champions Club and Terrace Club.)
As I mentioned in an earlier post, not until late 1998 was the Athletic Department even allowed to go out and solicit funds over and above what TIDE PRIDE brought in. Say what you want about UA president Andrew Sorensen, but he’s the one who took the shackles off and allowed us to start soliciting donations. To head up those efforts, Bill Farley from the University of Oklahoma was hired as our first Director of Athletic Development in December of 1998. Bill did an outstanding job navigating through a territory that was totally new to Alabama Athletics, yet old hat for so many of our competitors, especially those in the Southeastern Conference. Yes, our TIDE PRIDE ticketing program was the best anywhere, but until Bill came, we had no staff in place to go out and solicit philanthropic gifts to Athletics. Bill laid the groundwork for what would become the Crimson Tradition Fund in 2002 and eventually the Crimson Tide Foundation in 2005. Bill left Alabama in June of 2003 to become the Athletic Director at the University of Central Oklahoma.
As you can imagine, with 81 skyboxes and the new TIDE PRIDE seats in the east upper deck added to the inventory for the 1998 season, revenue jumped quite a bit – from $8 million per year to more than $11 million per year in 1998, 1999, and 2000.
In TIDE PRIDE’s 13 seasons from 1988-2000, there had not been an increase in donation levels. Before the 2000 season even began, it had been decided by Athletic officials to impose an across-the-board 20 percent increase on all TIDE PRIDE levels beginning with the 2001 season. The plan was to inform all TIDE PRIDE members of the increase when invoices went out in December of 2000 for the 2001 season. Well, who knew that Alabama would go 3-8 in 2000? And lose a head coach before the season ended? So, two weeks after losing to Auburn, 9-0, in the Tigers’ first-ever trip to Tuscaloosa, we sent out letters announcing a 20 percent increase in TIDE PRIDE donations. The timing couldn’t have been worse, and believe me, we heard about it! Nevertheless, we went through with it, and the 20 percent increase bumped up our TIDE PRIDE revenue to around $14 million per year through the 2005 season.
There’s no need to mention in detail the Mike DuBose-to-Dennis Franchione-to-Mike Price-to-Mike Shula sagas during 2000-03. Never to be forgotten during this time, though, was the courage and determination of Mal Moore, who’d been our Athletic Director since 1999. During the lowest point in our football program since the mid-1950s, Coach Moore refused to take a back seat to anyone. Despite all the on-field and off-the-field fiascos (including NCAA probation), Coach Moore dug in his heels and in the spring of 2002 announced the creation of the Crimson Tradition Fund, a $100 million fund-raising campaign for athletic facilities. Included in the initiative was the renovation of Bryant Hall into a new academic center; construction of a new athletic dorm and dining hall; the renovation and addition to the football complex; the renovation of Coleman Coliseum; construction of a new tennis complex, a new soccer complex, and a new golf practice facility; and, lastly, a north endzone expansion to Bryant-Denny Stadium, including the construction of 38 new skyboxes, a club level, and upper deck seating. In so many words, Coach Moore said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “We’re not going to sit around here feeling sorry for ourselves.” Coach Moore’s vision during our lowest days proved to be the catalyst for the great days to come.
Despite our football team’s struggles on the field in 2003 and 2004, demand for skyboxes intensified, which gave credence to Coach Moore’s plan to build 38 more in the north endzone expansion. Except this time, it wasn’t a matter of applying for a skybox using one’s existing TIDE PRIDE priority. Each applicant had to pledge at least $300,000 to the Crimson Tradition Fund in order to secure a skybox. All skyboxes sold out, and by the time they eventually opened in 2006, the average gift ended up being $500,000. Once again, we called on Jay Sterling to do the marketing research.
While our athletic development team (Lance Covan and David Wolf in 2003-2005 and Ronny Robertson from 2005 on) was securing these large donations for skyboxes (in addition to soliciting other non-skybox gifts), the TIDE PRIDE staff was making plans to market the new Zone seats. When I first heard the plan to build 1,600 or so seats in the endzone and charge a higher price per seat than the Scholarship Club seats between the 35-yard lines, I thought, “There’s no way we’re going to sell those!” I didn’t let my skepticism show, though, as we designed a nice, large brochure with the theme of “It’s Where The Action Is!”, referring to the endzone. (After all, we said, who’s ever scored on the 50-yard line?) We sent out the brochure in the fall of 2005, almost a full year before the seats were to be available, with a November 4 deadline to apply.
Was I ever wrong about having trouble selling these new seats! Not only did The Zone sell out in its first year at $1,500 per-seat/per-year, but it was also a huge hit. Copying the concept from so many NFL stadiums, The Zone’s food, lockers for personal “beverages,” restrooms, televisions, close-by parking, and the constant socializing made it (and still makes it) the place to be.
The addition of 38 skyboxes in the north end required a major change in TIDE PRIDE’s ability to offer to its members road game tickets and post-season tickets. Whereas the Scholarship Club and Ivory Club had since 1988 been guaranteed road game and post-season tickets, this amenity could no longer be offered once the new skyboxes opened in 2006. It’s not like we could go to the other schools and request several thousand more tickets; on the contrary, road game ticket allotments were actually going down among all SEC teams. So, a new priority system was needed to determine how our limited road game and post-season ticket allotments would be distributed. Such a new program – “Tide Totals” – was introduced in 2005 to take effect on Feb. 1, 2006. Tide Totals was actually several years in the making and was designed by a small committee within the Athletic Department. In Tide Totals, donors receive points based upon several criteria, including cumulative donations to, and longevity in, TIDE PRIDE; season ticket purchasing history in six different sports; and other recognized charitable funds given within the Crimson Tradition Fund (until 2005) and the Crimson Tide Foundation (2005 forward).
In August of 2006, after working for 19 years in tickets and TIDE PRIDE, I moved over to Crimson Tide Foundation and became the first director of the A+ Incentives Program, our first annual fund. (Brenda Vaughn, who’d served in the TIDE PRIDE office since 1987, took over as Director of TIDE PRIDE, where she remains today.) For years, Coach Moore was convinced there were many Alabama fans (especially those living out of state) who had no desire to obtain season tickets, but may be willing to give an annual donation to Alabama Athletics. The program rewarded donors with a multitude of amenities based upon varying levels of annual gifts to the Crimson Tide Foundation. In its first year, some $1.5 million of new revenue was raised, specifically earmarked for athletic scholarships. A few years later, the A+ Incentives Program’s name was changed to the Crimson Tide Scholarship Fund.
The 2006 addition took Bryant-Denny’s capacity to 92,138. The addition of the 38 skyboxes, The Zone seats, and the new seats in the upper deck was a huge boom to TIDE PRIDE, as donations exceeded the $20 million per year mark.
(2007-2019) “I want everybody here to know, this is not the end. This is the beginning.” Coach Nick Saban at the 2009 National Championship Celebration
Coach Saban’s arrival in Tuscaloosa in January of 2007 ushered in an incredible time – not only in Crimson Tide football history, but in college football history. The hire by UA President Robert Witt and Mal Moore was historic, both for the University and for Alabama Athletics.
Not long after the Tide fans stunned college football with more than 92,000 at Coach Saban’s first A-Day game, Coach Moore began entertaining the idea of a south endzone expansion. I remember him once telling me, “We won’t need any marketing research for this one,” referring to the previous times we’d used Jay Sterling to collect data. He was so right.
By fall of 2008, the UA Board of Trustees approved the concept of a south endzone expansion, and by early 2009, the project received final approval and construction began. In less than 18 months, an additional 10,000 or so seats were added to bring Bryant-Denny’s capacity to 101,821 to open the 2010 season. The new Zone club level that was built was dubbed the “South Zone,” while the name of The Zone in the north end was changed to the “North Zone.” The 36 new skyboxes brought the stadium’s total to 159. Incredibly, only 13 years earlier, there were no skyboxes in Bryant-Denny.
A few days ago, the UA Board of Trustees approved a contract extension for Coach Saban through the 2028 season. With an annual salary of more than $10 million, he’s on track to make more than $84 million over the next eight years. For the University of Alabama and its legion of fans, $84 million doesn’t come close to his true value.
Case in point: Since Coach Saban was hired in 2007, check out UA’s enrollment figures, alongside TIDE PRIDE revenue (through fall of 2019 and not including the 2020 COVID-19 season and the most recent renovation of Bryant-Denny):
2007 – 25,580 $20 million
2008 – 27,052 $20 million
2009 – 28,807 $20 million*
2010 – 30,232 $25 million
2011 – 31,747 $25 million*
2012 – 33,602 $25 million*
2013 – 34,852 $28 million
2014 – 36,155 $28 million
2015 – 37,100 $28 million*
2016 – 37,655 $28 million
2017 – 38,563 $32 million*
2018 – 38,392 $32 million
2019 – 38,103 $32 million
*Denotes national championships
Clearly, hiring Coach Saban was (and is) the best investment any institution could’ve ever made. Truthfully, Coach Saban’s impact on the University of Alabama is incalculable. I’m just thankful for the vision of Coach Moore, Dr. Witt, and the UA Board of Trustees back in late 2006/early 2007. Little did we know then what a blessing we were about to receive.
Following my three-year run as Director of the A+ Incentives Program from 2006-09, Coach Moore asked me to oversee the A-Club Alumni Association and the Red Elephant Clubs, which I did until my retirement in the fall of 2019.
Counting my student time at UA in the mid-1970s, I was on campus for more than 41 ½ years. That’s two-thirds of my life. That’s more than 22 percent of the University’s existence. What a blessing!
Since that first year of TIDE PRIDE in 1988, the program has experienced tremendous growth. In that season, around 8,000 donors bought approximately 24,000 tickets and donated around $7 million. Today, approximately 18,000 donors are purchasing around 60,000 tickets and donating more than $32 million per year.
The 33-year total? How about more than $500 million?
Now, THAT’s what I call TIDE PRIDE.
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