Adrian Rider remembers the first select-a-seat night Creighton held at Omaha’s new downtown arena a decade ago.
“We had tickets for sale close to the baselines,” said Rider, Creighton’s director of ticket sales.
Now, when folks call inquiring about season tickets, Rider tells them it’s likely they’ll be two or three rows from the top of the CenturyLink Center. More times than not, the response is, “I’ll take them.”
“Before, it was always, ‘Don’t you have anything else?’ ” Rider said. “Now, they are just glad they’ve got (tickets) because they feel this could be a special year.”
Creighton is making a much heralded move to the new Big East, is coming off two trips to the NCAA tournament and will be led by two-time All-American Doug McDermott. That’s put even more sizzle into a hot ticket.
Eight weeks before the season’s first tip, Creighton has sold 14,500 season tickets, almost 800 more than last season’s record 13,731. Interest in single-game sales appears to be at an all-time high. School officials are thinking about capping season-ticket sales in order to fulfill a number of single-game commitments to several large groups.
Kevin Sarver, Creighton’s associate athletic director for external operations, said it’s not out of the question that season-ticket sales could hit 15,000.
“We know not a lot of people are thinking about college basketball at this point, and our biggest ticket push traditionally is between Oct. 1 and Nov. 1,” Sarver said. “Given that, we feel we have a pretty good chance to be somewhere between 14,500 and 15,000.”
Sarver is one of several Creighton athletic department employees who can remember the days when Rick Johnson coached the Bluejays and in the early years of the Dana Altman era, when empty seats outnumbered paying customers 2-to-1 at the Civic Auditorium.
Sarver was the school’s sports information director during the 1990-91 season, when an NCAA tournament-bound Creighton team that featured two of the school’s all-time greats — Bob Harstad and Chad Gallagher — attracted no home sellouts.
Creighton is coming off a record-setting season at the box office, finishing sixth nationally in attendance with an average of 17,151. Nine of the Bluejays’ 17 home games sold out as fans turned out to watch McDermott lead the team to its second straight trip to the NCAA tournament.
Then came the mid-March announcement that Creighton would move from the Missouri Valley to the new Big East and start competing against teams such as Marquette, Georgetown, Xavier and Butler.
“With all the excitement last spring, I really thought 14,500 would be an attainable goal,” Sarver said. “And since the schedule came out a couple of weeks ago, people have been off the charts excited.”
For years, Sarver and other Creighton officials have discussed what would be the “magic number” at which the school would have to cap season tickets sales in order to accommodate other commitments. Creighton holds out 700 tickets per game for its students, and it has several games during the season in which it provides a large number of tickets to groups such as the Boy Scouts and the TeamMates mentoring organization.
“If we get to 15,000,” Sarver said, “we’d be close to it (cap number).”
Rider said Creighton experienced a higher-than-normal season ticket renewal rate during the offseason. Seats in the lower bowl, which have been sold out since the building opened in 2003, normally have a 99-percent renewal rate.
It’s the renewals for upper-bowl seats that caught Rider off guard.
“We usually see a lot of turnover in the upper bowl,” he said. “This year, we are just not seeing any cancellations in the upper bowl. I think that’s part of that mentality shift of people thinking they just need to get in the door.”
Rider said his office has experienced equally high interest in single-game ticket sales, especially since the Bluejays’ new Big East schedule was released earlier this month.
“In the past, we’d rarely get calls this time of the year about single-game sales,” Rider said. “We’re getting a lot of them this year.”
In previous years, Creighton would put single-game tickets on sale the Monday after it played its exhibition game. That would be Nov. 4 this year, but Rider said Creighton plans to push up that date by about a week, with single-game tickets going on sale at 10 a.m. on Oct. 29.
Creighton also will introduce a different pricing structure for single-game tickets. In the past, single-game tickets to all games were priced at $12 for adults and $8 for youths (high school age and younger).
Rider said this year the school will go to a three-tier pricing system. Fans will pay the lowest price for tickets to six first-tier games — Northern State (exhibition), Alcorn State, Missouri-Kansas City, Tulsa, Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Chicago State. Conference games against Marquette and Georgetown will be considered third-tier games and will be the highest-priced ticket.
Creighton’s other seven league games as well as nonconference contests against Nebraska and California will be considered second-tier games, with tickets priced between the first- and third-tier games. Rider said exact ticket prices have not been determined.
Rider said the excitement for this season parallels what it was 10 years ago when the Bluejays moved from the Civic to the new arena.
“The numbers aren’t the same, but there’s that same type of excitement,” he said. “When we made the move, there were a lot of unknowns. People wondered if we could fill the arena and what kind of teams we could bring into the new arena. There was a lot of energy.”
Creighton officials were delighted when they sold 8,500 season tickets for that first season and averaged 12,016 for 16 games. A decade later, the Bluejays will sell more season tickets than it drew in total attendance for all but one game during that first season at the new venue.
Said Rider: “I think that shows how much has happened in a relatively short time around here.”