UNO Basketball has always been a small event; a glorified high school game, often with fewer people. Parking is free, but you have to find it in one of the lots or in the parking garage a short walk away. There are no reserved seats, so the early bird (or anyone who shows up) gets good seats. Season ticket holders get no special treatment.
When UNO decided to move to Division I they wanted to improve the game day experience for people who buy season tickets. While it would not be very effective at this point to change things for every game due to small attendance and interest, they wanted to make a few "big games" a better experience. I finally made it to my first of these "big games" on Wednesday against Western Illinois. Western Illinois is a "big game" because they are a Division I team, one of three UNO is hosting this year. The fourth "big game" is against in-state rival Nebraska-Kearney, probably the final time the two schools will be meeting for the foreseeable future.
Since it was a "big game" there was going to be Reserved Seating on one side of the arena. I only have one season ticket so I bought a group of 4 from an ad on Craigslist so that I could sit with my wife and a couple friends. I drove down to the game with my wife and a friend, and was immediately treated to our first "VIP" experience of the night... Reserved Parking!
Normally we park in campus lots that are a short walk from the Fieldhouse. If the game is on a school night it is easier to park in the parking garage (a slightly farther walk). The parking garage never fills up on these occasions and is also free. The parking is actually really convenient compared to some venues where you have to pay to park and walk just as far.
Tonight though was different. Our season tickets came with a VIP parking pass which allowed us to park in reserved parking near the arena. There were two parking attendants to check your pass and then they would remove an orange cone from a parking spot and allow you to park there! Such service! It was a major diversion from our normal routine, but it was very nice to park close to the arena and not have to search for a spot.
The next part of the VIP experience I looked forward to was the pre-game reception. I pictured free hamburgers, nachos, popcorn, everything I could ever want. I was excited. When we got to the front door there was a stanchion with a sign on it pointing us to the right for the VIP reception. A crowd of people were standing on the VIP side of it. I asked them if they were the other VIPs. They were not.
On the same side of the stanchion is a staircase leading up to the athletic department offices. A man was sitting on the stairs; the "bouncer" I presumed. I asked him if this was the direction to the VIP reception. He didn't have anything to do with it and knew nothing. We were out of idea as to where this VIP reception was, so we entered the arena to find our seats.
After having carefully checked our tickets we found our proper seats and put our stuff down. Oddly enough, our row of bench was not marked "Reserved Seats." It seems UNO only wanted to use the chair-back seating as reserved seating; if you wanted to sit on the bench seating you could sit wherever you wanted. I guess you could say the seating was not quite VIP worthy.
Determined to find the VIP reception area I approached an usher. I asked him if he knew where the VIP reception was. He asked me if I meant the alumni area, and really wanting some free food and being an alum, I went along with it. He directed us to a room on the backside of the arena so we headed over there. When we approached the room we found two ushers standing guard at the door. This seemed to be a good sign that we had found the VIP area.
Inside the heavily guarded room I found exactly what I was looking for, or at least as close to that as I was going to get tonight. Free water, free pop, free chips, free salsa, and free pretzels! Does it get any better than that? Probably, but for tonight we were thrilled to find this. After grabbing some grub and settling at a table we had a chance to talk to several young members of UNO's athletic department.
These two gentlemen worked in ticket sales and donations. I wowed them with my knowledge of UNO ticketing and history, not that hard when you've been one of a few die-hard supporters over the last few years. We talked of the new arena UNO will be moving into next year and the hopes that come with that. Unfortunately my plan to reconnect with them later on and help share good ideas with the athletic department was foiled when I found out the Staff Directory on the website is woefully out of date and features neither of them.
Having stocked up on food and drink we returned to our seats to watch the game. UNO put a great effort up and fought hard against a Western Illinois team that had superior talent. The Mavericks were in the game in the second half but allowed Western Illinois to hit a few too many 3's and grab too many offensive rebounds. Tonight would not be their first win over a Summit League foe.
Next year will bring a new arena and a full Summit League schedule. It will be exciting to watch the team grow and develop. Hopefully the community grows more interested and starts supporting the team better. Hopefully UNO improves their game day experience, especially for those VIPs. Will I get to be a VIP next year? Maybe, maybe not; but what I do know is that being a VIP isn't that important. The best part of the game was still being a fan.
WESTERN ILLINOIS 81, at NEBRASKA-OMAHA 70 01/24/2012
WESTERN ILLINOIS 11-8 (5-5) -- C. Clark 7-12 2-3 20; O. Emegano 7-12 9-10 24; J. Houpt 5-7 1-2 15; T. Parks 5-6 2-5 12; T. Tyler 1-3 1-4 4; R. Roberts-Burnett 1-2 2-2 4; D. Gebru 1-2 0-0 2; D. McAvoy III 0-2 0-0 0; J. McDonald 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-46 17-26 81. NEBRASKA-OMAHA 6-15 (0-0) -- M. Albers 5-11 4-6 14; A. Welhouse 7-11 0-0 17; J. Karhoff 4-8 0-1 8; C. Steffensmeier 2-5 0-0 6; C. Carter 5-9 4-6 14; I. Gandy 3-5 0-0 7; J. Ring 2-4 0-0 4; J. Coleman 0-1 0-0 0; M. Hagerbaumer 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-54 8-13 70.
Three-point goals: WIU 10-17 (C. Clark 4-7; T. Tyler 1-1; J. Houpt 4-6; O. Emegano 1-1; D. McAvoy III 0-2), NEBO 6-18 (C. Carter 0-2; J. Coleman 0-1; C. Steffensmeier 2-4; I. Gandy 1-3; M. Albers 0-3; A. Welhouse 3-5); Rebounds: WIU 30 (T. Parks 9), NEBO 21 (A. Welhouse 5); Assists: WIU 17 (C. Clark 5), NEBO 16 (J. Karhoff 6); Total Fouls -- WIU 14, NEBO 21; Fouled Out: WIU-J. Houpt; NEBO-None.