LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Many diehard Husker fans will pony up at least a thousand dollars in booster donations in order to get season tickets. But who is willing — and able — to pay up to $2 million for skybox seats?
With CIA-like zeal, the University of Nebraska has guarded its list of wealthy Husker football fans who have signed top-dollar leases for the new skyboxes at Memorial Stadium.
A covey of corporate bigwigs and well-heeled Huskers are expected to first occupy the air-conditioned boxes on Sept. 11, when Nebraska plays host to California in the season home opener.
While university officials have tried to keep detailed information on the skybox occupants a secret, some of the skybox customers have told the Lincoln Journal-Star who they are.
The confirmed list includes Aliant Communications of Lincoln; Ameritas Life Insurance of Lincoln; NebCo. of Lincoln; First National Bank of Omaha; Omaha Steaks International; Crete Carrier Corp.; Norfolk Iron and Metal; Mark and Bus Whitehead of Whitehead Oil; former state Auditor John Breslow, who is also president of Linweld; Butch Brown, president of Brown Transfer of Kearney; and Dale Jensen of Scottsdale, Ariz., former owner of Information Technology Inc. of Lincoln.
Sale of the skyboxes is helping pay for a $36.1 million renovation of 76-year-old Memorial Stadium. Ten of the 20-seat boxes are being leased at $2 million for 25 years, 30 at a cost of $750,000 for a decade. All 40 skyboxes offered for lease were snapped up within two months.
”This is something that Nebraska needs to do,” said Jensen, who coughed up $2 million for a 25-year lease. Jensen, part owner of the NBA's Phoenix Suns and Major League Baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks, had the first pick and chose a skybox on the 50-yard line.
”It gives you kind of a big-time look and feel,” Jensen said.
The skyboxes elevate the Nebraska program, putting it on par with pro stadiums and top college programs, he said.
”Had the university just gone out and asked for contributions to renovate the stadium, it would not have been as easy,” said Frank Hilsabeck, Aliant president and chief executive, one of the skybox customers. ”This allowed the university to put a little pizzazz into the project and still raise the money it needed.”
Bruce Lauritzen, president and chairman of First National Bank of Omaha, said his company already had plenty of seats at the stadium, but the skyboxes offered a chance to help with the renovation.
”We look at it primarily as a donation to the university,” he said.
To others, the skyboxes help grease the wheel of business.
”Most of them we'll use for customers,” said Holly Ostergard. She said she and her husband, Tonn, of Crete Carrier Corp., bought a skybox with Ameritas.
”Some will be people from out of town that we've invited in for the game, you know, the Procter & Gamble and those type of people, and some for locals,” she said.
”It'll give people a chance to schmooze,” Mrs. Ostergard said. ”That's probably not the right word, but to get to know each other better.”
Not everyone was sold on the skybox idea, however.
Bill and Myrna Kubly of Lincoln were approached by university officials, and friends sought them out to split the cost, but they passed. Bill Kubly is founder and president of Landscapes Unlimited, one of the top golf course construction firms in the country.
So why didn't they pony up?
”There were several reasons, quite frankly,” Myrna Kubly said. ”The cost was No. 1.”
The Kublys enjoy the excitement of watching the Huskers from the stands, she said. She felt ”closed in” whenever she sat in the press box.
And the skyboxes ”are so far up, you'd feel like (the game) was on television,” she said.
On the other hand, Omaha Steaks International is thrilled with its skybox, said President Bruce Simon, noting the company plans to use it as both an incentive and reward for good work.