By Scott Latta
UA Media Relations
For the right price, Alabama fans can watch the Crimson Tide play at Bryant-Denny Stadium without the hassles of extreme heat or pouring rain. They can forget about crowding onto a metal bleacher, and don't have to worry about freezing in the late October and November night.
In the skyboxes at Bryant-Denny, fans have the best seat in the house.
"Included in the cost of the skybox are parking passes, food, game day programs, and in the skybox there is furniture and televisions," said Jill Bender, the overseer of Alabama's skyboxes since 2002. "They also come with an attendant to see to their needs the whole game, and most importantly our office is here all year long to help with anything they want. If they want to have a birthday party in their skybox on game day, we can handle balloons and flowers and cakes."
Since 1998, Bryant-Denny has been home to 85 luxury boxes, spread across the east side of the stadium. 2006's new north end zone expansion brought the expansion of the university's skyboxes, with an additional 38 boxes being added in the new club level, The Zone.
The new boxes were modeled after the existing skyboxes, with two significant changes added.
"They were modeled after the skyboxes on the east side, but there are two main differences," Bender said. "The windows on the east side are manually operated and must be operated by university personnel. In the north side, there's a switch in the wall that turns on and the windows go up. Of the 85 skyboxes on the east side, 81 of them have their own personal restroom. In the north side, all 38 do not have restrooms, there are common restrooms."
Game day operation of the skyboxes demands a group of 70 student helpers who monitor the functioning of the boxes, as well as extensive catering and maintenance staffs. The students provide service and hospitality for some of the university's biggest donors, as well as protect the exclusiveness of the area.
Bender, who works for the Colonnade Group, a Sports Production Event Management company based in Birmingham, spends Saturdays troubleshooting along the east side of the stadium, responding to and solving reported problems.
"I can't be in 123 places at once," Bender said, "so those students are my eyeballs to make sure things are going well. Unfortunately there are a lot of people I don't get to see. If there's not a problem, unfortunately, I don't usually get to see them."
The Colonnade Group manages skyboxes and luxury boxes for both Bryant-Denny Stadium and Coleman Coliseum at Alabama, as well as boxes at Ole Miss, Mississippi State and LSU. Compared to the others around the SEC, Bender says, Alabama's facilities are second-to-none.
"I have Mayfield ice cream delivered to the skyboxes and I had a representative from Mayfield, who has a skybox at Tennessee, tell me, Â`Your skyboxes are so much better than Tennessee's,' and that made me feel good," Bender said. "Our skyboxes have been here since 1998, but our facilities crew does such a good job of maintaining them and keeping them in good condition. As far as the skyboxes and the club, they're definitely something to show off, better than a lot of the others I've seen."
Acquiring a skybox isn't a matter of first come-first serve, but is based largely on the amount of donations a fan has made to the university. With only 123 skyboxes at Bryant-Denny and hundreds of university donors, the process of getting a skybox is extensive.
Many of the skyboxes are owned by families, Bender said, or groups of friends that have gone in together and invested in one, and some are owned by corporations. Each skybox is done through a one-year licensing agreement, and the price differs based on the particular box. After the year runs up, fans are given the option of renewing for another year
Skyboxes are offered to the top donors to the Crimson Tide Foundation, and when a box comes open, those sitting on the waiting list to get a box are evaluated based on their gift to the university.
Getting an open box, Bender says, is the hard part.
"There have been years where all the skyboxes stayed the same, and I recall a year recently where three skyboxes came open," she said. "It's rare for one to come open, but it can happen. When a company goes out of business, they would have to give one up. It's rare for someone to give one up, because once you've got it, you've got it. Once you give it up, good luck getting it back."