Part Four: The Year of Finance

For Frericks, the team’s poor performance in 1967 followed by the Waterman affair complicated his efforts to raise money to build the arena. With the location of the building settled, Frericks’ immediate problem in the fall of 1967 was to find a way to finance its construction. It took from the end of 1967 to late 1968, what we have termed “The Year of Finance,” to get that done. His first efforts involved the invention of a novel way of monetizing attendance that would revolutionize the marketing strategies of both college and professional sports. Ultimately however, in yet another demonstration of historian LaDale Winling’s argument of the symbiotic relationship between the rise of the modern university and public funding, Frericks had to utilize political connections and state level government programs in order secure the money he needed. [84]

A Big Idea that Wasn’t Big Enough

Nearly a year before, when the University Trustees agreed to build a new arena, Frericks had announced plans to create a fund for its construction. Frericks devised a plan to sell VIP access to the yet-to-be built arena. [85] Fans willing to donate $1,000 (approximately $7,400 in 2018 inflation adjusted dollars) towards the fund would gain a number of exclusive privileges. Termed “Arena Associates,” these donors gained the opportunity to purchase season tickets for two seats. They also had access to a planned Associates Lounge that would located on the mezzanine level and the rights to what would today be called premium parking. Donors gained these privileges for a 25-year period and guaranteed right of renewal at the end of that period. [86] It was an innovative marketing technique. Indeed, we have not found an earlier example of “seat licensing” and consequently believe Frericks’ actions to be one of the first times it was used.

“Arena Not Built, But 11,270 Seats Gone Already” Source: Dayton Daily News, January 29, 1969, Frericks Scrapbook, University of Dayton Archives and Special Collections

“Tom Frericks’ Arena Associate Card” Source: Frericks Family Private Collection.

The arms of each of each Arena Associates’ seat was embossed with their name, “Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Frericks” Source: Frericks Family Private Collection.

In mid-1967, buoyed by the recent success of the team and the strong initial response to the fundraising drive, Frericks may have believed the school was able to swing the project by itself. If this was the case the poor showing of the team in the winter of 1967 and the turmoil of the Waterman affair did not help. By the beginning of 1968, Frericks had to contend with the possibility that he could no longer count on the enthusiasm of the city’s fans to help push through the financial support the school needed. In its first nine months the Arena Associate campaign had raised approximately $500,000 dollars ($3.7 million). While a considerable sum, nearly an eighth of the entire planned cost of the construction, it was not enough to begin – let alone complete – the building. The intrepid Frericks also had to know that it was likely that the cost of construction would exceed the budget stipulated by the President and Board of Trustees, an amount considered by by architects as the bare-bones minimum needed to build. Delays and unforeseen circumstances might take place and Frericks had to be ready in case these happened. And there was little hope that the university’s administration would authorize a wider funding campaign for the arena’s construction.

This was because President Roesch was on the verge of announcing an ambitious new $43 million dollar ($317 million) funding drive titled “Threshold of Greatness.”  Money raised by this campaign was already earmarked for other needs. Making matters worse for Frericks, administrators were not confident they could even raise this sum from sources outside of Dayton. As a result, President Roesch and the Board of Trustees hired a consulting firm to test the willingness of local business leaders to supply $4 million ($30.6 million) of the total. The consultants confirmed what UD administrators already suspected: while there were donors ready to give, UD should not count on raising more than $3 million ($22 million). [87] All of this meant that Frericks was going to have to find the money himself, and it appeared he had diminishing options: the chances that the city would contribute to the construction or help to secure a favorable loan had all but vanished, and local donors were being tapped for other needs.

NIT to the Rescue

In a stroke of good fortune for Frericks, the Flyers’ play improved in late January of 1968. After a loss against Louisville Donoher found a lineup that worked. At the same time the team entered the easiest part of its schedule. The Flyers swept their opponents in the following five-game home stand, improving to 12 and 9 for the season. With four games left it appeared that the team had a chance to make the NIT but could not afford to lose again. Although the NIT committee was concerned about the team’s nine losses, the winning streak and the program’s reputation was enough to land them a berth in the tournament. The team’s improved play and invitation to the NIT did a great deal to distract fans from the revelations of the Waterman interview, which took place during this stretch.

In mid-March the Flyers began an unlikely run to the NIT title game. Defeating a series of quality opponents in West Virginia, Fordham, and Notre Dame, Donoher relied on a core of six players – including Hooper, who kept playing despite a dislocated finger and broken hand. Once again the city became excited about their team and the earlier turmoil of the season faded. In the final game against Kansas on March 23, 1968, the Flyers relied on May, who ultimately earned the MVP trophy for the tournament.

Following the half UD gradually built a lead that carried them to the schools second NIT title. When asked by a St. Louis reporter if he was satisfied with an NIT championship, May declared, “Of course. I’d rather be the winner of something than be second in something else. This NIT is as good a tournament as the NCAA.” A relieved Donoher expressed the sentiments many may have been feeling, “this team could have been the biggest joke in UD history. Instead, they fought back to make it one of the great UD teams.” [88] Neither Torain nor Waterman played much of a role in the title run. according to St. Louis Sporting News, when Donoher cleared the bench with nine seconds to go in the final game, Waterman refused to enter. [89]

“NIT Championship Celebration” Source: Dayton Daily News Archive, https://www.mydaytondailynews.com/rf/image_large/Pub/p8/MyDaytonDailyNews/2017/03/04/Images/ddn032810sparch001.JPG.

The team’s NIT run improved donations to the Arena Associates fund while keeping the charges of racism hidden within the more stirring story of the team’s perseverance and reversal of fortune. Sports Illustrated’s recap of the tournament typified the coverage: the shocking background events were isolated to approximately four lines, and downplayed there impact further by an emphasis May’s recovery from injuries as the cause of the teams early season woes. [90] In the midst of the run, bowing to the inevitability that the city would not come through with the money he needed, Frericks told David Hopcraft of The Journal Herald on March 19, 1968 that the university had decided to pay for the arena through private financing. [91] While he must have known that was not going to happen, much like the coming NIT victory, it helped to optimistically reframe the narrative. The university, the declaration suggested, was very confident that the needed money was forthcoming. The reassurance it produced helped to drive Arena Associates donations up to $800,000 by the end of the following year. It also seems likely that by this point Frericks was confident he had secured the money he needed. Eleven days before, on March 8, 1968, Bill 453 became law. This legislation enacted Chapter 3377 of the Ohio Revised Code creating the Ohio Higher Education Facilities Commission, whose mission was to support the construction of “academic and other facilities” for private schools “by the sale of revenue bonds issued by the Commission.” As the Commissions mission statement declares:

The Commission enters into agreements whereby a college or university leases the facilities from the Commission and pays rent to the Commission in the amount needed to retire the Commission’s bonds. Since the Commission is an agency of the State of Ohio, the interest paid by the Commission to the bondholders is exempt from federal income tax. Bonds providing tax-free interest income normally sell on the market at a lower rate of interest than taxable bonds. The use of the financing arrangements for facility construction made possible by the Ohio Higher Educational Facility Commission is entirely voluntary. […] The Commission desires to assist eligible [independent, not-for-profit] colleges and universities in Ohio to the extent each institution wishes to take advantage of the services. [92]

Frericks was aware of the introduction of Bill 453 and was in contact with its most influential sponsor. How UD’s need for a larger arena influenced the passage of this state bill indicated the larger game Frericks was playing, one that makes clear the intersecting lines of local, state, and national events that come together in the UD Arena.