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Oregon fans worry about basketball seating prices

EUGENE — Like many Duck basketball fans, Chris Evans knows he won't be able to sit as close to the action in the new arena as he does in Mac Court.

He has season tickets for the second row. In the new arena, those seats likely will be filled by big donors to the UO athletic department. Calling it Millionaires' Row might be pushing it, but not by much.

Evans, a Eugene teacher, says he and other fans want to know what they can afford in the $227 million arena scheduled to open in 2011.

There's no answer yet. The first people to be offered seats will be the athletic departments highest rollers. It could be September or later before people such as Evans get a look at possible seats.

Some fear that die-hard, blue-collar fans will be left with the scraps.

Jim Bartko, executive senior associate athletic director at the UO, said even if big donors take all the seats they're allotted, the main seating bowl won't be close to half full.

And he said the department has no interest in making the remaining seats too expensive for loyal fans.

"One thing we can never do is outprice our fans," he said. "Those people are the ones who have made Oregon athletics what we are now."

First dibs may go to Phil and Penny Knight, whose $100 million quasi-endowment gift is making the arena possible and who asked that it be named for their late son, Matthew.

They will be members of the Founders' Club, as will anyone else who gives $1 million or more to the athletic departments Legacy Fund established with the Knight gift.

The UO wants to build that fund to $150 million, with $130 million coming from Founders' Club donors. With the Knight gift committed, that means the athletic department needs $30 million from $1 million-plus donations, and $23 million has been pledged.

Legacy Fund donors down to the $25,000 level will be first in line to claim season tickets, with the number of seats pegged to the amount of the donation.

After the Founders' Club, donors fall into either the Scholars or Champions category.

Many who can't afford the clubs wonder what will be left.

Evans worries that he'll be pushed 20 or 30 rows up and isn't sure he'll want to pay the price for those seats.

"I'll have to look and see where the million-dollar club bumps me. And if they bump me into the third tier, I won't go."

To get men's basketball season tickets, most fans will have to pay for the individual game tickets, make an annual donation to the Duck Athletic Fund and pay a one-time arena construction fee.

However, 3,000 seats in the balcony will require no construction fee and no DAF donation; another 1,286 require no DAF donation but have a $250 construction fee attached.

Most individual ticket prices range from $15 to $35.

Whether the team's poor performance so far this season will affect ticket sales remains to be seen.

In the Mac Court era, fans who contribute to the DAF as part of their football tickets bought basketball tickets without another DAF fee. In the Matthew Knight Arena era, separate donations are required.

To get the best seats, fans will have to pay either a $400 or $500 annual DAF contribution and either a one-time $2,500 or $1,500 construction fee on top of the $630 for the game tickets themselves.

Jay Gano, another men's basketball season ticket holder with court-level seats, said he understands the need to bring in enough money to pay for the new arena but hopes that won't crowd out longtime fans of more modest means.

"I recognize that things have to change and somebody's got to pay for it, but we'll just see what happens," he said. "We've gone through a lot of bad seasons to keep our seats, and if we get forced out by the money it wouldn't be very satisfying."

But Bartko said he's confident that won't happen.

"People sometimes think we don't care about the small donors. We can't do that," Bartko said. "We're going to reward our long-term fans, whether they're $10 donors or $10,000 donors."

Feeling flush? The new arena will include four suites at $2.5 million each. Bartko says three of the four are spoken for.