Does Your School Have a Sky Box?
If you travel across the state to enough different high school football games, you may notice that some schools have different amenities at their field, but† no matter how many fields you’ve been to, chances are you’ve never watched a game from a Sky Box. Or maybe you have.
Schools throughout the state have been trying different approaches to making some extra money for their football programs. Selling t-shirts, hats & sweatshirts at the games has always been a staple of the game. Concession stands selling pork chop sandwiches & other specialty food items have also been a hit. There are many teams who sell season passes & others whom even sell assigned seating season tickets, but a skybox in high school football?
In the fields somewhere between Peoria & Bloomington sits the little town of Mackinaw, home of the Deer Creek-Mackinaw Chiefs, a 1A school of 256 kids. The Chiefs are lead by long time head coach Jim McDonald, who’s been the head coach there since 1983.
Under McDonald, the Chiefs have only missed the playoffs 4 times in 22 years, placing 2nd in 1987 and are returning this season looking very promising, after making the quarterfinals in 2004.
As in a lot of small towns, football stadiums on a Friday night can get quite packed, but it wasn’t the need for extra space following the success of coach McDonald’s Chief that lead to Deer Creek-Mackinaw getting a skybox. It was something much simpler.
Six years ago Jim’s father, who lives in Northern Illinois, had read in his local paper an article about how an area high school, had started to auction off unused space in it’s press box for spectators, through it’s booster club.
Jim and his wife Linn got a copy of the article and knew that it would be a simple way to raise money for the program. "The people love it, the view is amazing. And in the playoffs during cold wet weather, it’s wonderful." Explained Linn, as she described the reactions of people in town, at the idea of having a skybox.
Linn, who has run the auction for the skybox since it’s inception, said it was an easy choice to make, on whether or not to do an auction. With Jim being at the school for so long it was simple to get things moving on the auction. Jim agreed, "I thought it was a fantastic idea. Our community is so behind our football program. We have such great crowds at the game & I thought it would be a good way for them to see the game from a different vantage point."
Originally people were placing bids in boxes Linn placed and collected at local stores, but as things progressed Linn started a web site for taking bids. "I created an online form & it really simplified things for me... and people have learned to go there for information" she said, although she does still get a few bids called in directly.
For those of you wondering exactly what you would be bidding on, it's no Solider Field skybox. There's not a TV or a desert cart. Skip the idea about private bathrooms or former players coming in and signing autographs, although you do get an autographed team poster this year. The skybox at Deer Creek is basically an empty room on the third story of the press box on the visitor’s side that fits 8 people. There's a table set up for any snacks or drinks you bring and you can have up to 8 people placed on a list at the gate for admission to the game.
Winners do have to follow a level of conduct though, given the fact that the press box that is used for the winner is on the visitors side, yelling down or heckling opposing fans is not permitted. However cheering for the visiting team is permitted since bidding for the skybox is open to anyone.
"We've had some people from other schools bid on it. Especially in big games, the playoffs, but they've always dropped out after the bidding got higher." Linn explains.
While the fear of standing out in the crowd can sometimes be an issue in a small town like Mackinaw, most people have gotten over the possibility of being labeled "elitist". "At first people were a little reluctant, they thought having 8 people up there, that it would cost a lot of money, plus they were use to standing down by the field. Now all the people who have ever been up there say they wish they could watch all the games up there." Jim said.
Linn, who actually works for the Bloomington school district, has been running the skybox strictly as a volunteer. She estimated that roughly over the last 6 years, when the skybox started, that it has brought in over $3,000 dollars. "Believe it or not, we've actually never really kept track."
With winning bids going any where from $50 to the all time high of $550, the winning bid amount is also never publicized. "We feel that people kind of deserve their privacy. Plus we didn't want to make it an elitist type of thing." With other schools that do a skybox having raffles costing $200 a ticket or having bidding during booster club golf outings. "We've been really successful with just making [the bid] any amount,” she added.
On top of the success, is the payoff. One hundred percent of the winning bids have gone towards the weight room for the team. The Chiefs had a brand new weight room and this has allowed them to get the stuff they need for training. And if you look at the Chiefs performance over the last couple of year where they've gone a combined 21-2, you may be able to point to the skybox as a part of that success.
Jim said that last spring the football program got a jump trainer, speed ladders & an elliptical machine. "When there's a big item that comes out that we want. It's fantastic. If we like it, we're able to get it, instead of 'Boy, I wish we had that'". And with the Chiefs ranked high in 1A polls, the weight room might be seeing some new equipment in the off season from an influx of skybox bidding.
While the school, which also uses the equipment, has helped purchase some of the weights, it's up to the football program to pay the cost of the maintance contract & keep it up. "We'll be looking to see what we need to do with the kids & what equipment that's gonna take" as Jim answers questions about what's next for the weight room.
"It's been a really great money maker for not a lot of effort." Said Linn. She has had bidding wars though, "It was a playoff game [2 years ago] and it went down to the wire. I was getting e-mails right & left and it was from two people who knew each other. It got pretty intense," she said, although she doesn't know if there was any bad feelings after the bidding ending. Over all though the skybox at Deer Creek-Mackinaw has been a huge success.
So far this year the Chiefs have had one home game so far. A match up versus archrival Tremont . The winners of the skybox auction for that game were the grandparents of player & the parents of a former player. As usual, the winning bid amount wasn't revealed.
Bidding closes the Monday night before the game. Up next the Chiefs take on Flanagan, Friday Sept. 16th. Go to http://feast.ed.uiuc.edu/sites/bloomington/lmcdonald/football/skybox_form.htm or click on the link to place your bid.
When asked whether Linn would suggest another school trying a sky box of their own,” If they had room, yes, absolutely. It's a winner."