Anchorage — UAA's new on-campus sports arena will be named the Alaska Airlines Center, the school revealed Thursday when it announced a 10-year, $6.3-million agreement with its long-time corporate sponsor.
And if the wish of Seawolves athletic director Steve Cobb comes true, opponents will equate their results in the arena, set to open in August 2014, to harrowing territory in "The Princess Bride.''
"I hope our visitors come to know it as The Pit of Despair,'' Cobb cracked at ceremony announcing the new agreement with Alaska Airlines.
The deal, which takes effect July 1, includes $1 million to establish a new scholarship endowment for UAA athletes and $5.3 million in sponsorship, much of which will be used to cover travel for the school's sports teams.
"We are proud to honor Alaska Airlines' historical and future financial commitment to UAA by naming our newest facility the Alaska Airlines Center,'' UAA Chancellor Tom Case said in a press release. "Once open, the Alaska Airlines Center will provide tremendous opportunities for our students, and will be a significant community asset, both locally and statewide.''
The $109 million arena, which will seat about 5,600, is located at the corners of Providence Drive and Wellness Street, just east of Providence Alaska Medical Center.
University officials, Alaska Airlines executives and community members gathered at the construction site Thursday afternoon to unveil a large placard announcing the arena as the Alaska Airlines Center, and later announced the new deal at a campus event near the library.
At the construction site, as two lifts hoisted workers and equipment, a crane loomed nearby and construction workers in orange vests walked along beams, Bill Spindle, UAA's vice chancellor for administrative services, and Scott Habberstad, director of sales and community marketing for Alaska Airlines, christened the arena.
Each man swung a bottle of champagne suspended by rope. The bottle swung by Habberstad exploded on impact and he raised his arms like a basketball player celebrating a game-winning 3-pointer. Spindle required two tries -- in hoop parlance, he scored on a put-back of his own shot.
UAA's men's and women's basketball teams, and its volleyball and gymnastics teams will compete in the arena, and all the school's athletic programs will have some training facilities available there. The arena is also expected to be the venue for high school and college graduations, concerts and other events.
Cobb said Alaska Airlines' commitment to help the Seawolves with travel costs is critical because the school's athletic teams travel Outside frequently and travel costs are the athletic department's largest single expense.
"It's absolutely huge for us,'' Cobb said. "We have to spend two and half times to three times as much on travel than the rest of the world. It wouldn't be an overstatement to say it's a game-changer for us.''
Marilyn Romano, Alaska Airlines' regional vice president for Alaska, said the company was eager to continue its relationship with UAA.
"We're very proud to continue supporting young adults with this new scholarship endowment and the community at large by having our name associated with a beautiful new arena that will host sports as well as other community events,'' Romano said in a UAA press release.
Alaska Airlines has sponsored UAA athletics for more than 30 years.
"I think it's a good deal for them and a good deal for us,'' Cobb said. "Alaska Airlines is a very respected business in Alaska in survey after survey. We've dated for years and years, and now we're getting married. In this day and age, that kind of loyalty is unheard of.''
UAA said the Alaska Airlines Scholar Athletes Endowed Scholarship, when fully funded, will generated about $40,000 annually in scholarships. Cobb said that is the equivalent of aid to about seven athletes, given that the average Seawolves athlete is on a half-scholarship.
Currently, all of the school's athletic programs are housed at very close quarters in the Wells Fargo Sports Complex.
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