By Ferd Lewis
The biggest question surrounding University of Hawai'i football in the minds of some fans at the moment doesn't center on who will replace record-setting Tim Chang as the starting quarterback. Or, even the selection of the starting running back.
But, rather: How much more will season ticket holders be asked to ante up to see the Warriors play this season?
Spring football isn't far off for the Warriors, and neither is the point at which UH sets its premium seat donation charges. While both will be watched with keen interest, the latter will have pocketbook impact.
The confluence of a UH budget crunch and one of the Warriors' most attractive football schedules has some fans saying they are holding their breath about where the price might be set.
Clearly, it is going to take some adroit footwork by UH to come up with a plan that, on one hand, makes the most of a home schedule that features four Top 20 opponents to bolster the budget while not pricing some loyal, long-time supporters out of their seats in the process.
The premium seat donation is the price, above the face value of the season ticket, fans pay to retain seats in the more desirable locations. For instance, to stay in, say, the section LL orange, blue or brown sideline areas at Aloha Stadium in 2004 required a $125 per seat donation in addition to the $145 value of each ticket.
For 2005, the athletic department could keep the donation price the same or raise it to as much as $200 under the structure approved by the Board of Regents in 2003. Anything above that would require additional board approval.
Associate athletic director Tom Sadler said the athletic department "has some ideas" within the structure but isn't yet prepared to make an announcement.
With Southern California, the two-time defending national champion, and its Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Matt Leinart, opening the season here, and No. 17 Wisconsin coming in November, plus Western Athletic Conference games against No. 12 Boise State and No. 22 Fresno State, UH has a lot to sell.
It could be a while before the Warriors have a home schedule that attractive again. That's something a school pressed to end three consecutive years of deficit budgets and pay off "loans" from the upper campus wants to make the most of.
But it also needs to be mindful of keeping the enduring fans it does have. Already, shrinking attendance and the options that pay-per-view provide have cost it some fans in the stands.
Season ticket sales have declined in recent years and average turnstile attendance at Aloha Stadium was just 32,268 this season, the lowest since the premium seating and pay-per-view programs were undertaken.
For UH, there is money to be made in 2005. The question will be: At what price?
Reach Ferd Lewis at email@example.com or 525-8044.