Despite criticism, UAA plans to bolster Shootout with airline incentive

In an effort to bolster attendance at the Great Alaska Shootout, UAA has announced plans to provide reduced airfare for fans from rural Alaska that purchase tickets to the tournament. The “Fan Flight Frenzy”, announced on July 8th, is part of a two million dollar appropriation designed to increase Shootout attendance over a three year period.

The incentive offers tournament packages, including airfare and admission for a total price of $230, to 18 Alaskan cities including Barrow, Fairbanks and Cordova. Though the initial plan was to provide free airfare with the purchase of the Shootout package, priced at $127, the offer was later changed adjusted due to concerns from the public.

According to Kristin Desmith, Assistant Vice Chancellor of university relations, fans who took advantage of the initial offer will have their purchases honored by the university.

The money for the program comes from a 2011 appropriation sponsored by State Representative Bill Thomas. The initial proposal called for 2.5 million but the appropriation was later pared down to two million by Governor Parnell. Approximately $400,000 was set aside for the airline incentive, with the remainder of the money used to acquire new contracts for 2013 and 2014.

Director of Athletics Steve Cobb explained that the incentive is a small piece of the appropriation that will be used over a three year period to increase attendance at the Shootout.

“For 2013-2014 almost 100% of the money is going to be used to enhance our game contracts to attract higher quality teams, said Cobb. “In the case of 2012, by the time the money was available to use, it all game contracts had already been settled.”

Cobb said that the money allocated for 2013 and 2014 has already gone towards signing new teams to increase interest in the tournament. Cobb expects the incentive to draw an additional 1200 fans to the Shootout; a fact which he says will benefit Anchorage’s economy.

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“The average stay for guests will be six days, people will take advantage of that to spend time in Anchorage and create a significant economic impact,” said Cobb. “This gives us a chance to strengthen a state event, while giving back to the local economy.”

In recent years, the Great Alaska Shootout has seen declining attendance, in part due to increased competition by other tournament that may draw sought-after teams away from the state. Additionally, Alaska poses a logistic challenge to teams, who may often choose to stay closer to home.

Nevertheless, Cobb says that, overall, the Shootout offers a huge benefit to UAA and the state of Alaska.

“For 30 of the 35 years the Great Alaskan Shootout has been running, it has made a profit,” he explained. “At times it’s been as high as a half million dollars a year and that money goes directly into UA Sports, which supplements the money that isn’t paid by the state.”

In regards to critics who claim that people may take advantage of the reduced airfare without attending the tournament, Cobb says that the benefits outweigh the risks.

“Obviously we run the risk of some people abusing this, we are trying to track it and minimize it. We’re not concerned about that problem impacting the shootout as a whole,” explained Cobb.

Cobb emphasized the importance of the plan to rural areas, explaining the major level of interest in many of Alaska’s smaller communities.

“We’ve got fans in Kodiak, fans in Fairbanks and my hope is for young people to come to UAA and get a chance to experience the Shootout,” said Cobb.

However, not all fans of the Shootout are convinced of the benefits; UAA student Michael Schachle voiced his concerns over the use of state money.

“I’ll admit, I’m skeptical of the idea,” said Schachle. “I feel like this may not have the positive impact we’re looking for, but I really do hope that the incentive can help revive the Shootout.”

In a press release regarding the incentive, UAA Chancellor Tom Case defended the incentive and reassured the public of the positive intent of the plan.

“Our goal was to find a solution that addressed the concerns of the public while still honoring the intent of the appropriation, explained Case.”Providing rural Alaskans a way to attend the Shootout in Anchorage at reduced rates was part of that intent, as well as stimulating the local economy and building greater national visibility for the tournament.”

For Cobb, the program is just one step towards building a stronger tournament for Alaska.

“The incentive met the intent of the appropriation. The program is good for UAA, good for Anchorage and good for Alaska. We will be good stewards of the State’s money just as we have been every year.”