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A different kind of luxury
Built with the TD Bank Sports Center in 2007, the University Club is an exclusive luxury box which overlooks both High Point Solutions Arena and Lender Court. The Chronicle takes you inside the club’s history and what makes it so elite.
To the naked eye, it’s tucked away in the corner of each arena.
The only ways up, an elevator and a staircase, are somewhat hidden.
While most in attendance file in through the TD Bank Sports Center gates shortly before game time, a select few arrive at an exclusive club 90 minutes before puck drop.
There, hard plastic seats are traded for Italian leather. Spiced Monkfish and Morrocan spaghetti is served instead of chicken tenders and hot dogs. Spectators dress in business casual rather than the standard blue or gold t-shirt.
For $6,500 a year, two can have access to an upscale buffet, an open bar, a commanding view of the Long Island Sound, and most importantly, two tickets to each men’s basketball and ice hockey game.
Despite such luxuries, the University Club’s purpose isn’t to make money. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
When Director of Athletics and Recreation Jack McDonald arrived at Quinnipiac in 1995, one of his initial goals was to build a new facility for the men’s ice hockey and basketball teams, in addition to the future women’s ice hockey team.
Previously the men’s ice hockey team played in various rinks in Hamden and East Haven, before finding a semi-permanent home in Northford Ice Pavillion in North Branford.
The basketball teams, meanwhile, played at the intimate Burt Kahn Court on the Mount Carmel Campus for 38 years, beginning in 1969.
Though loved by some, both Northford and Burt Kahn lacked modern amenities, and both McDonald and university President John Lahey believed a new facility was due.
The university originally considered the Mount Carmel campus as a site, but later decided the area would not be big enough, with the primary issues being the size of the building and parking concerns.
“It would have been impossible,” McDonald said.
The university then turned to land off Sherman Avenue, a large hill close to the Mount Carmel campus.
McDonald and Lahey didn’t hesitate to make their move. The land, which would eventually become the York Hill campus, was purchased in 1999, and construction soon began on the $360 million project that would result in the state-of-the-art TD Bank Sports Center, in addition to residence halls and a second student center.
When McDonald envisioned the TD Bank Sports Center, he wanted the complete package. The ideal facility included a single lobby, two arenas, open concourses and a high-end suite. The reasoning? A social aspect, which McDonald admired and coveted.
“The role of an athletic event is more than just two teams trying to beat each other to the best score. Athletic events, whether it be a high school event, or the Super Bowl, is a social event,” McDonald said.
Prior to the 1990s, open-air suites were a rarity. Many arenas, such as Boston College’s Conte Forum, opted for single, glassed-in boxes. McDonald wanted to go against the grain and create something different.
Because the open-air suite was one of McDonald’s bigger desires, he wanted to ensure that the university was on board with his plan. So in 2004, McDonald and a group of administrators traveled to Mariucci Arena on the campus of the University of Minnesota to accentuate why an open-air box would be the best fit.
Mariucci Arena, which opened in 1993, is home to the Minnesota Golden Gophers men’s ice hockey team. It seats 10,000 spectators, and has hosted several NCAA Regional events, in addition to the 2001 Women’s Frozen Four.
McDonald and his group, which included Lahey, saw the arena’s open-air suite as a template for High Point Solutions Arena. It was then that they made the decision that a single large, open luxury box would be the best option, instead of individual smaller ones.
“It was something I’ve always wanted,” McDonald said. “What we wanted to do was create a high-end open room, restaurant, reception area where the banker can see the insurance man, the president can see the vice president.”
The social aspect was once again important to McDonald, as individual boxes would have gone against his philosophy.
“It was the right thing to do,” McDonald said.
A little more than eight years ago, the TD Bank Sports Center held its grand opening. Its first event? An exclusive gathering at the University Club, where invited guests were treated to coffee and refreshments.
Hours later, the men’s basketball team hosted LIU Brooklyn in the first ever game at the TD Bank Sports Center. The women’s ice hockey then played Mercyhurst later that afternoon.
The weekend was capped with a men’s ice hockey game vs. Holy Cross, which was televised nationally.
Initially, club memberships were individual for each of men’s and women’s ice hockey, and men’s and women’s basketball. Specials were also offered in order to encourage fans to buy memberships.
The second season’s memberships struggled to sell, due to a variety of reasons. One was the 2008 financial crisis. Another was the fact that the curiosity factor of the brand-new arena had worn off.
Tweaks were soon made to rectify the situation. The club was eventually closed for women’s ice hockey and basketball, and memberships were changed so that single memberships now included tickets for both men’s ice hockey and basketball, instead of individual memberships for each sport.
Over the past two years, memberships have sold out. There is also a one-year waiting list for those looking to join the club in the future. TD Bank Sports Center Marketing Director Beth Griswold attributed the club’s recent success to high demand and the achievements of Quinnipiac athletics.
“People are able to afford it now. Exclusively, there’s a demand for people to come and see. To be able to do it in luxury is nice.” Griswold said. “Nobody wants to come to losing teams. That’s the core of any athletic event. You have to win to want people to come and watch.”
Current members range from corporate men and women to Quinnipiac fans.
“It’s a broad spectrum. We have people who are businessmen. We have people who love sports, who love Quinnipiac,” Griswold said. “It’s nice because it’s a good place to network. There are a lot of people who use it just for personal entertainment, and others who are using it to entertain clients.”
Most of those at the University Club on game nights are members. Yet, for some, they are invited as alumni, donors, executives and more.
Since the clubs inception, Vice President for Development and Alumni Affairs Donald Weinbach has entertained and met with clients, donors and benefactors during games.
“I’m a fan of both hockey and basketball, it’s great to be able to attend the games in such a beautiful atmosphere,” Weinbach said. “It’s an opportunity to meet new people, to spend quality time with people.”
On this specific night, he is watching from the President’s Box, a sectioned off area of the club which seats up to 14 patrons.
“In collegiate sports, it’s [luxury boxes are] very important. It’s very hard have a meeting with a CEO for three or four hours in their office. It’s just not going to happen,” Weinbach said. “If you invite them to a hockey game, we have dinner beforehand. During the game we can chat about business. It’s invaluable in terms of building a relationship with people.”
Outside of members, past attendees include CEO’s from Fortune 500 companies across Connecticut.
“There’s no other entertainment venue like this is New Haven county, and probably even in Connecticut,” he said. “In terms of collegiate atmosphere, this is pretty tough to top.”
Luxury boxes are a major source of revenue for many collegiate and professional sports teams.
Over the past few years across the Northeast, the New York Yankees constructed a $2.3 billion ballpark with an emphasis on luxury. Next season, the New England Patriots will remove 1,500 Gillette Stadium field level seats and build an exclusive lounge in its place.
At Quinnipiac, however, the purpose of the University Club isn’t to raise money. In fact, the club itself makes very little profit each year, due to the high costs of the buffet, open bar and staffing.
Memberships for the 2014-15 season cost $6,500, according to QuinnipiacBobcats.com. The membership includes two seats to all men’s ice hockey and basketball games, while additional guests tickets can be purchased for $70 a game.
VIP parking is another membership benefit. As one would guess, the expenses can add up quickly.
“We’re a different animal,” Griswold said. “It’s part of the whole package of the Sports Center.”
Weinbach said that financial gain isn’t the club’s purpose, as the TD Bank Sports Center’s main priority is to provide a good fan experience.
“The goal is not to make money,” Weinbach said. “It’s about having a family-friendly, fun environment.
McDonald took a different approach, noting that both the regular seating and the club have the same goal.
“In the downstairs, where everybody else sits, it’s an experience. Students don’t pay, tickets are 10, 15 bucks a game. The goal is to fill it, so that we’re all sort of entertaining each other. Nothing beats a full stadium,” he said. “Take that upstairs, and it’s priced to the point where we can pretty much get two thirds to full capacity at every game. It’s more of an atmosphere. If you’re paying a lot of money for a seat, and we lose, sort of a bad taste in your mouth. But if you’re coming as a guest of John Lahey, or the price is reasonable, then you walk away with a really good feeling.”