ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – If you’ve been to a Lobos basketball game the past few years, you’ve probably noticed there are a lot of empty luxury suites—suites that were supposed to help pay for The Pit renovation.
The $60-million makeover, which began in 2009 and was completed by the end of 2010, included 40 luxury suites.
UNM Athletic Director at the time, Paul Krebs, dismissed skeptics who were concerned there weren’t enough big businesses and wealthy fans to buy the boxes during a recession.
“We’re confident that we will be able to sell all 40 suites,” Krebs said in 2009.
In July, a Larry Barker investigation exposed a problem. Not everyone who was renting the private suites was actually paying the hefty price tag.
UNM records showed the Athletic Department failed to collect more than $432,000 in rental fees between 2010 and 2016.
The Athletic Department said it has since collected just under $200,000 of those outstanding fees, and it’s still trying to determine how much more it will be able to get.
“There might not have been contracts for some and maybe for others there were, so that’s what we’re trying to kind of go through the weeds and figure out, what we can get and what we can’t get,” said new Athletic Director Eddie Nuñez.
Since the bookkeeping problems came to light, Nuñez said the department has put together better contracts with hard-line dates to consistently collect the rental fees moving forward.
However, UNM said it sold less than half the luxury suites for this season: 17 ½ of the 40.
That includes the sale of a partial suite. The Lobo Club website shows a suite consists of 20 tickets and 5 parking passes per game. UNM said a partial sale would only cover tickets for some of the seats in a particular suite.
Plus, this follows a price reduction on the cost of a suite from the 2016-2017 basketball season, when UNM said it rented out 20 suites.
“What is the challenge in filling those suites?” KRQE News 13 asked Nuñez.
“It’s industry also. Across the industry, you’re starting to see less of an opportunity of people purchasing suites. There’s more so of a direction of people going to club seats,” he responded.
Club seats at the Dreamstyle Arena include a cushy chair and access to private restrooms and concession areas for $1,500 for the season, according to the Lobo Club website.
“Wins and losses plays a part in it,” Nuñez added. “I think everybody’s aware that that plays a huge role in generating interest for your venue.”
Still, even for the most spirited of fans and local businesses, suites go for $30,000-$40,000 depending on the location.
Nuñez said, after the season, he’ll re-evaluate how much UNM is charging to see if they’re still just too expensive.
“What I want to do is sit down with my staff after the season and kind of put these things on the table,” he said. “Maybe there’s some opportunities that they can enhance it or make it better.”
He didn’t provide specifics on what those opportunities may be.
In the meantime, the Athletic Department has been trying to get creative.
UNM started renting out suites for a single game for $1,500.
The Athletic Department said it’s rented 16 this season, about one a game, compared with 8 to 10 in the two seasons before that.
Plus, Nuñez said he’s looking for other ways to bring in revenue.
He said he wants to take a closer look at the food and drinks offered up in the arena, and how much everything costs.
He’s also hoping to host more major events at the arena to help get the Lobos out of the red and put the focus back on the floor.
In the past, The Pit has been home to Professional Bull Riders events. However, structural limitations have prevented the arena from hosting a lot of outside events.
Last year, Paul Krebs released a statement saying the floor space at The Pit didn’t meet the needs of the NCAA to be a host site for the men’s basketball tournament.
“More and more new buildings are opening and bidding on the tournament, and they have been built with the required floor space. While our renovation that was completed in 2010 addressed many things relating to the NCAA Tournament, the decision to install custom courts has really hampered our ability to host the tournaments. The concrete surrounding the playing floor limits the required space needed, and while that closeness of the fans to the court is what gives us a great home court advantage, it does not meet the needs of the NCAA,” Krebs explained.
In October, the state Department of Higher Education called on UNM’s Athletic Department to come up with a plan to pay back its $4.7 million debt owed to the University.
When it comes to paying for The Pit renovations, a spokesperson said UNM owes about $32.7 million through the year 2036 on the roughly $42-million bond issued to fund the project. A spokesperson said UNM is current on those payments.