From "P.O.T.T." to "TIDE PRIDE" (Part Two)
(Click on this link for Part One of “From P.O.T.T. to TIDE PRIDE”: https://tommyfordrealestate.com/trails-of-traditions/from-p-o-t-t-to-tide-pride-part-one/)
Usually, when you see a lawyer rummaging through your filing cabinets, you get nervous. Real nervous.
In this case, though, UA System attorney Robert Potts’ presence was not only requested, but welcomed with open arms. And, after several days of searching, what he didn’t find was just what we had hoped. And, what we fully expected.
Remember in Part One of “From P.O.T.T. to TIDE PRIDE,” when I mentioned the angst by some season ticket holders who, in protest of the new TIDE PRIDE program, were claiming, “Bear Bryant promised me these tickets for life”?
Well, I want to revisit this before we proceed to Part Two.
At some point following Coach Paul W. Bryant’s death in January of 1983, file cabinets full of years’ worth of his correspondence were moved deep into the bowels of Memorial Coliseum (later renamed Coleman Coliseum) for storage. (Eventually all this correspondence was moved to the Bryant Museum, which opened in 1988.) So, when word of the new TIDE PRIDE football ticket program leaked out in the spring of 1987, several season ticket holders cried foul, claiming that Coach Bryant had promised them their tickets for life.
Naturally, our first task was to ask these patrons if they could provide such a letter containing this promise. No one came forth.
In concert with these inquiries, we went to two prominent staff members of the Athletic Department who’d been with Coach Bryant from the start – former Associate Athletic Director Sam Bailey and Executive Athletic Director Jim Goostree. Both said that no such promise had been made.
I mentioned in Part One that the UA System legal counsel – namely Robert Potts, Glenn Powell, and Cindy Waid – was very involved in the startup of TIDE PRIDE. From the very beginning, we wanted to make sure that every step we took, every word we wrote, and every obligation we had to our donors were all carried out just as promised. The TIDE PRIDE program was much more than just a change in how Alabama football tickets would be distributed; it was, for the Athletic Department and all its patrons, a monumental event.
Therefore, it was paramount that if Coach Bryant had indeed made such a promise, then such a promise would be honored. Despite no patrons being able to provide such documentation, and Coach Bailey and Coach Goostree saying that no such promise was ever made, we decided to go one step further, and that was to do our due diligence to find such a letter. And there was no better place to look than in Coach Bryant’s correspondence.
So, that’s why Robert Potts was for several days confined to the “dungeon” – a dark, musty storage room below the concrete treads of the Coliseum’s sections W & X. In his search, Robert did find several letters from Coach Bryant promoting season tickets, but none about promising folks their tickets for life. Following Robert’s exhaustive search and his “non-discovery,” we had the green light to develop, then eventually launch, TIDE PRIDE. (See Part One for all the details.)
In early September of 1987 we mailed more than 100,000 informational brochures to athletic donors, season ticket holders in every sport, football lettermen, faculty/staff, and all alumni. Once those brochures went out, TIDE PRIDE was official; there was no turning back.
When introducing TIDE PRIDE, our message to everyone was threefold:
- We had to tell them why implementing the TIDE PRIDE program was necessary. In order to “keep up with the Joneses,” the Alabama Athletic Department had no choice but to find a significantly higher revenue stream. After all, we had a $24 million debt from numerous construction projects, and the Bryant-Denny west side upper deck addition was just getting underway. Creating a new ticket priority program was the way to realize more revenue.
- We stated that if you were an Alabama football season ticket holder, you had the opportunity to keep your number of tickets, and/or move to a better location, and/or add more tickets to your account. Of course, doing any of these would require a donation above and beyond the cost of the tickets.
- We also stated that if you were not an Alabama football season ticket holder, then this was your chance to get in on the ground floor of TIDE PRIDE. For years, the ability to obtain renewable season tickets had been difficult. Beyond the Educational & Athletic Scholarship Program, the Student Information Fund, and what we called our in-house Season Ticket Holders, there was the National Alumni Association’s “Alumni Priority,” where 15,000-20,000 season tickets were set aside each season for Active Alumni, i.e., those who’d paid their annual alumni dues. These four priorities had been basically full for years, and their high renewal rate each year had prevented any “new blood” from coming into the program. But thanks to the 10,000-seat west upper deck addition at Bryant-Denny Stadium, more seats were going to become available. (Legion Field was already considerably larger.)
So, after months of work, which included naming the program “TIDE PRIDE,” matching up seats in both stadiums, naming the clubs, setting the per-seat/per-year prices, determining all the amenities, fending off rumors and misinformation, and creating and distributing the brochure, we were off to the races.
In the first brochure, a perforated “Interest and Information” card was provided for folks to fill out and return to the TIDE PRIDE office. Although the card wasn’t an official application form, the ones we received provided early indicators as to what our demand would be.
In the brochure, we established nine priorities for entry into the TIDE PRIDE program:
- Donors to the Educational & Athletic Scholarship Program
- Donors of Vehicles for Athletic Department use
- Donor to the Student Information Fund
- Season Ticket Holders
- UA Faculty/Staff
- Football Lettermen
- Active Alumni
- Inactive Alumni
- Friends of the University (all others)
Providing the basic details of TIDE PRIDE was certainly important, but perhaps the most important result of the brochure was that it calmed the fears of those who’d bought in to the rumors of the exorbitant prices being charged. They saw firsthand – from an official, vetted document from the Athletic Department – that all the seats weren’t going to cost $2,500 each after all (as earlier media reports had implied). As a matter of fact, of the 25,000 or so seats designated for TIDE PRIDE seating in the first season, more than 13,000 of them were in the reasonable $100 (Century Club) and $200 (Bama Club) levels.
During the fall of 1987, besides the usual in-season duties the Ticket Office always has, we continued to meet with, and take phone calls from, patrons about the upcoming launch of TIDE PRIDE. Again, our mission was to tout the fairness of the program, where every patron would be assured that the fans sitting on either side of them were paying the exact same amount per seat that they were paying.
An underlying message we tried to get across was that TIDE PRIDE was in for the long haul. It wasn’t a program that was going to be scrapped after less than successful sales or a subpar football season or two. Obviously, an extraordinary football season would excite the fans and probably enhance sales (which would be proven after the 1992 national championship and Coach Nick Saban’s arrival in 2007), but the idea was that TIDE PRIDE would from this point be the go-to program for Crimson Tide football season tickets, regardless of the team’s performance.
At the time we sent out the official application brochure in early December of 1987, Coach Bill Curry’s first Alabama team had limped to a 7-4 record in a roller coaster season of highs (e.g., defeating Penn State in State College and Tennessee in Birmingham) and lows (e.g., losing to Memphis State in Memphis and Auburn in Birmingham). Win, lose, or draw on the field, though, TIDE PRIDE officially launched on Tuesday, December 1.
And wow, did it ever start with a bang. After those 100,000 brochures went out, money started pouring in like we’d never seen before. I recall one donor – with a $10,000 check in hand for four Ivory Club seats – standing on the Coliseum steps before the Ticket Office even opened that morning. Ready or not, we were off and running.
Despite all the buildup and initial interest, though, we were not so naïve to think that TIDE PRIDE was just going to sell itself. The “We are Alabama Football” mindset sure helped, but the program was so new and unlike anything our season ticket holders had experienced in the past. In other words, we knew that TIDE PRIDE wouldn’t sell out by us just opening the mail every morning and depositing checks. We needed to get the word out in a way other than by bulk-mailing tens of thousands of brochures. We needed a personal touch, an old-fashioned face-to-face strategy to make sales and build the program.
Enter former Alabama All-SEC linebacker Jeff Rouzie, who in January of 1988 became the first Director of TIDE PRIDE. In his new duties of promoting and selling TIDE PRIDE, Jeff – a star linebacker for the Tide in the early 1970s and an assistant on Coach Bryant’s staff in 1977-81 – organized numerous stops across the state, where folks could have their questions about TIDE PRIDE answered and/or sign up. I recall one stop in Huntsville, where Jeff stayed for several days at a downtown hotel and signed up several hundred new members. Other stops included Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, Mobile, and Dothan. Coach Goostree, Tommy Limbaugh, and I lent a hand at some of these locations, too.
And speaking of Coach Goostree, he was our designated “big fish” salesman. In other words, in the fall of 1987 and the winter/spring of 1988, in addition to the public stops he made with Jeff, Coach Goostree traveled all over the state for one-on-one visits with the Athletic Department’s top donors. Never leaving his side was a giant spiral bound book filled with forms to complete when one of these folks signed up for TIDE PRIDE. (Upon Coach’s return to campus, we always got a chuckle out of seeing him coming our way with the notebook by his side and with a grin on his face, which meant he’d made another sale or two.) Without question, most of the prime seats in the Ivory Club and Scholarship Club were personally solicited and sold by Coach Goostree.
And when Coach Goostree and Jeff weren’t on the road, they were often hosting other high priority donors on campus. Because of the ongoing Bryant-Denny west upper deck construction during the fall of 1987 (when all our home games were being played in Birmingham’s Legion Field) and the spring of 1988, unfortunately they weren’t able to take folks to look at the physical seats (although they were able to do this as soon as the chairback seats were installed). Many times, these meetings were held in the Football Building conference room (yes, the room where the name “TIDE PRIDE” was birthed), and in lieu of visiting the actual seats in the stadium, these donors were allowed to select their seats using the architectural seating charts of the Ivory Club, Scholarship Club, and the U1 & U2 levels.
Lost in the Alabama Athletics history books are the tireless efforts by Tommy Limbaugh, Coach Goostree, Jeff Rouzie, and the entire Ticket Office and TIDE PRIDE staffs during that summer of 1988. I know that it certainly stretched everyone to the limits. Not only were we navigating through a major stadium expansion (and all the unexpected nuances), the startup and continued selling of TIDE PRIDE, the first-time mailing of amenities to thousands of donors, the printing and distribution of all 1988 season and single game tickets, but we were still relatively new to the Paciolan ticketing software system, which had been installed in early 1988. In that first year of TIDE PRIDE, having a proven ticketing system was huge. Being able to input donations, as well as assign seats electronically (rather than the old way of marking “Xs” on huge stadium charts) was a lifesaver. (If that name “Paciolan” sounds familiar, it’s because it is still the Athletic Department’s primary software program for ticketing and fundraising. In an interesting bit of trivia, Paciolan’s name pays homage to 16th century Italian mathematician Luca Pacioli.)
As the 1988 season neared, all attention turned to getting Bryant-Denny’s new west side upper deck ready for occupancy. Clearly, this expansion had to happen for TIDE PRIDE to even exist; without these additional seats we could not have matched up seats in Legion Field with similar seats in Bryant-Denny. So, back in the fall of 1986, it wasn’t a coincidence that the early discussions about a new ticket priority program coincided with the groundbreaking of the west upper deck addition. The two went hand-in-hand.
Fortunately, the Tide’s first two games of the 1988 season were on the road – Temple in Philadelphia on Sept. 10 and Texas A&M in College Station on Sept. 17 – so that bought us some more time to get the stadium ready for the Sept. 24 home opener versus Vanderbilt.
Oh wait, did I say Texas A&M was our second road game of the season? My bad.
Well, it was going to be our second road game. Until, that is, Coach Curry cancelled the team’s trip to College Station due to Hurricane Gilbert bearing down on the Texas coast. Citing the risk as too high, as well as the uncertainty of when the team could return if they did go, he decided the team should stay put. Hurricane Gilbert was indeed a massive storm (ranked the second most intense Atlantic hurricane in history, according to Wikipedia), but it took a turn westward on that Friday and totally missed southeast Texas.
At the time of the game’s scheduled 3:00 p.m. start on ESPN, the sun was out and a mild breeze was blowing, adding insult to injury for the hundreds of Alabama fans already in College Station. Overall, Coach Curry’s decision was met with mixed reactions from the Alabama fan base, and, expectedly, anger from the Aggie fans. In the end, though, it was our Crimson Tide that had the last laugh. The game was rescheduled for Thursday night, Dec. 1, and despite all the retaliatory hype from the Aggies, the Tide easily prevailed, 30-10.
The week leading up to the “rededication” of Bryant-Denny Stadium was about as crazy as I’ve ever experienced. Believe me, there’s no greater fear for a ticket office staff than to open up a new addition and there be problems, e.g., seats or rows being misnumbered, some seats just not being there, unexpected pinch points making it difficult to access the seats, fans not knowing how to get to their seats, etc.
Some random thoughts about that west side upper deck addition:
- To test the water pressure in the stadium, Coach Goostree solicited Million Dollar Band members to come over after practice a week or so before the first game, spread out to every restroom, and, at a pre-determined signal, flush every toilet in the stadium (not just the new upper deck) at the same time. If there were going to be water pressure problems, it was best that they not be discovered on game day.
- In a strange twist, the red chairback seats in the Scholarship Club (lower deck sections F, G, and H); the U1, U2, and U3 levels; the Ivory Club; and the President’s Box were installed by Alabama Contract Sales, an Auburn company. As ticket manager, I worked closely with project manager Joe Turnham on ensuring that the seats they installed exactly matched our seating manifest, which we had used to assign seat locations. Needless to say, Joe and I had some fun going back and forth over our allegiances.
- The west upper deck addition wasn’t the only bit of construction going on at Bryant-Denny leading into the 1988 season. To improve ingress and egress and to expand the lower concourses around the entire stadium, several walls were knocked out. Although I didn’t witness any of this, word was that several surprises were discovered behind these walls, e.g., a ticket vault stuffed with old programs and ticket stubs, and old car, a truck body, an Air Force surplus tractor, and several old blocking sleds. Folks, I can’t make this stuff up.
- Anyone who’s been involved in major construction projects are accustomed to work being done right up to the last minute. Bryant-Denny was no exception. On the morning of the Vanderbilt game, I walked up to the new upper deck and workers were installing the handrails around the bottom rows and portals. On the morning of the game!
- The crown jewel of the stadium addition was no doubt the Ivory Club, located underneath the press box. Its capacity was around 350 seats. Adjacent to the Ivory Club was the President’s Box, which held around 250 patrons. Both areas had all the fancy amenities, such as food, restrooms, televisions, climate control, and the most important factor – location, location, location. One problem, though. A big Looking from the seats toward the field, from end to end was a collection of solid glass panels. Even though the patrons had a great view of the game, they were cut off from the sounds of Alabama football. They might as well have been watching the game in a fishbowl. It didn’t take but one game for us to hear all about the extra-sterile environment we had created. The inaugural Ivory Club members endured this stoic atmosphere for a season, but by the 1989 season, our sin had been forgiven. During the off-season, Coach Goostree oversaw the renovation project to remove the solid glass panels and install movable windows that rolled along a track and stored on the ends of each club level. Even though each club lost about 10 percent of their seats (as well as all the revenue), changing out those windows was one of the best investments we ever made.
Somehow, some way, we survived that first year of TIDE PRIDE, which included the installation of a new ticketing software system and a major stadium addition. As always, the Alabama fans stepped up to the plate – all TIDE PRIDE seats ended up selling out. An estimated $7 million in donations came in, almost $2 million more than anticipated.
Greater things for TIDE PRIDE and Alabama Athletics were still to come.
©2021 Tommy Ford All Rights Reserved
Next Month: Part Three of “From P.O.T.T. to TIDE PRIDE” (The LAST installment, I promise!)