Big 12 slate sparks fan-demonium
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - West Virginia University fans flooded phone lines in Morgantown Tuesday to make sure they would be able to take part in the school's first-ever football season in the Big 12 Conference.
University leaders announced the signing of the official settlement finalizing the school's June 30 divorce from the Big East Conference shortly before 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Less than an hour later, the Big 12 Conference released its long-awaited 2012 conference football schedule featuring new member WVU.
"As soon as the schedule came out this morning, our phone has been ringing off the hook," said Aly Gregg, spokeswoman for the Waterfront Hotel in downtown Morgantown.
The front desk clerk at Euro-Suites Hotel, which is just a short walk from Milan Puskar Stadium, said the hotel's entire sales staff was on phones dealing with callers who wanted to book rooms for home games. The clerk said that staffers were too busy to take calls from the press.
Gregg said fans traditionally start booking hotel rooms the day the Mountaineer football schedule is announced. Whether it's a Saturday night game against LSU or a Thursday night game versus Connecticut, she said football fans will max out local hotel capacity.
"We have never had an issue with selling out a hotel in Morgantown on a football day," Gregg said.
But she said there's a palpable difference this year as people are booking rooms for Big 12 home games.
"The difference is the excitement that's been generated for playing on a larger stage," she said. "People are eager to be there and be a part of it.
"Our fan base is really ecstatic and we've really had our call volume go up throughout the day."
The calls weren't all from WVU fans.
Gregg said some Big 12 member schools and alumni groups already were calling to reserve rooms for fans.
"They've called and said, 'We're coming in and we want to book a block of rooms,' " Gregg said. "They have been eager to take what available rooms we have for them."
All WVU football games are scheduled for Saturdays this year, and the Waterfront Hotel has a two-night minimum stay requirement during football weekends. Gregg said rooms during the Nov. 17 home game versus Oklahoma - a rematch of the 2008 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl - were in highest demand.
"We were about 20 rooms away from selling out as of 3 o'clock (Tuesday) afternoon," she said.
Gregg said in past years game-day hotel rooms would sell out by April. She didn't see it taking that long this year.
"Looking at the response we've seen so far, we anticipate to be sold out within the next couple weeks," Gregg said.
WVU sports marketing director Matt Wells said the ticket office sends out season ticket information in mid-March.
He said the university would follow its normal priority seating procedure with season ticket sales this year. Past season ticket holders and Mountaineer Athletic Club donors get first preference in that system.
"They'll have a May 15 deadline," Wells said.
Last year, season ticket packages cost $365 per seat for the seven-game home schedule. Wells said this year's price probably would not be set until the beginning of March.
Past ticket holders will be able to request seating upgrades and increases or decreases in the number of tickets they want. Once those are evaluated and approved, the general public will get a chance.
"Usually sometime in late June or early July, we'll put remaining tickets on sale through the Mountaineer ticket office and online," Wells said.
He said the ticket office can book a maximum of 38,200 season tickets. Last year, 34,750 were sold.
"There's always some number of fans who don't renew for various reasons," Wells said. "The unknown right now is will that number be 5 percent or 10 percent."
He said the combination of the Orange Bowl victory and the move to the Big 12 has boosted interest. He said general public packages may be available by July, but the number can't be determined.
"Any fan interested in new season tickets, their best option is to join the Mountaineer Athletic Club and purchase their season tickets through there," Wells said.
Single-game tickets and smaller packages of three or four games will go on sale in late July or early August, Wells said.
Matt Borman, executive director of the Mountaineer Athletic Club, said several fans called in Tuesday to make donations.
"If the first few hours are any indication, the fans are pretty excited," Borman said.
While ticket procedures will remain the same this year, the cost of securing priority seating is going up.
Borman and Wells said athletic department officials decided to make the change last spring, well ahead of the conference realignment drama that ensnared the school this past fall.
In the past, fans had to make a minimum $100-per-seat donation to secure priority seating. That minimum level will rise to $125 this year.
The university has several levels of priority seating, depending on how much a person donates. Higher donations yield the opportunity for better seats.
Borman said prices for each level are going up this year. While the minimum price rose by $25, other tiers are going up by $50.
A new top tier includes lower-level seats near mid-field for a donation of $500 per seat.
Borman said details on the new donation tiers will be sent to Mountaineer Athletic Club members next month and published on the athletic club's website.
Contact writer Jared Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5148.