How We Got Paid to Watch the SEC Tourney from a Suite


A little venture out of the baseball world as March Madness falls upon us all.  Don’t worry you have Tampa Bay and Yankees previews to read if you need baseball today.

The following was written by our good buddy Franco who runs Next Level Ballplayer. Franco is a former teammate of mine and is nice enough to write for Diamond Hoggers from time to time. You can follow him on twitter here.

This won’t touch the level of Epic-ness from our game 7 of the 2011 World Series, but still passes as a pretty entertaining weekend that started at a relaxing Friday afternoon happy hour and ended with T-Strick and I getting paid $45 to watch the SEC Quarterfinals in a suite and the SEC Championship from awesome lower level seats. Maybe some of you guys can put this model to good use for the NCAA tourney coming up.

It started at Friday night happy hour in East Nashville with a bunch of our friends. Best weather of 2013 by far + Outdoor patio= Awesome. T-Strick is still a little high on live basketball from witnessing Belmont’s OT buzzer beater in their tournament championship a week ago. He throws out the idea of heading down to Bridgestone arena for the late Quarterfinal SEC game between Mizzou and Ole Miss. The girls aren’t big fans of the idea, but T-Strick, Kelt, and I (Franco) decide to give it a whirl.

We meet back at my house after happy hour. T-Strick lives close to me and Kelt lives on the other side of town. T-Strick suggests we just ride with Kelt and embark on a “logistical challenge” to get home from the game without a car. Only a stats major would use the phrase “logistical challenge”. I look past the math talk and hop into Kelt’s car.

Quick Character intro:

TStrick: The level headed, responsible, analytical, low key guy, with a master’s degree in Statistics. Our wives are close friends. TStrick is a huge sports fan and still one of my best friends despite feeling like I made him sound lame in the WS Game 7 story I wrote that went viral.

Franco: Me.  Founder of Next Level Ballplayer (shameless plug). Huge baseball fan, but college basketball and college football are a close second and third. Have multiple friends that call me by the nickname, “Dupree” (from the movie, You, Me, and Dupree) for my aptitude of sleeping on couches and making big trips work on little budgets.

Kelt: Flips houses for a living, knows everyone in Nashville, and I swear will be Mayor someday… He’s the buddy who is always up for anything or any trip. Guarantee he couldn’t name one basketball player in the entire SEC, yet agreed to go to the Mizzou/ Ole Miss game with no hesitation… Don’t have to know SEC basketball to be the Mayor.

When we start driving to the stadium, Kelt announces that he knows a place where we can park for free. We also decide we are willing to spend $30 per ticket (Face value was $65, but we didn’t know it at the time).

10 minutes later we’re in downtown, Kelt has made about 12 turns and keeps asking us questions about how to get to his “free parking” right by the arena. My confidence level in this free parking is a 1.8 out of 10. No stadium in the country has secret free parking right next to it!

5 minutes later we turn down the road right next to the arena. Confidence level .4 and trending downward.

1 minute later: Low and behold there is a church right next to the arena that I never noticed. He starts to pull into the lot, but has to stop at a keypad. Of course he rolls his window down and types in a code. BEEP. The gate goes up and we are parking for free about 50 ft from the arena… Only the future Mayor of Nashville could pull that off.

Shortly after we start walking towards the front of the arena, two guys come out of these random side doors. We light jog over there to see if the door is open, but find it locked. I knock.

T-Stick: “Are you seriously knocking on this random side door thinking that someone will let the three of us in?”

Franco: “You never know.”

That’d be cool if that’s how we got into the stadium, but unfortunately nobody answered my knock. Off to the front of the arena to try and find tickets to buy.

The problem with a lot of tournaments is that they sell tickets in two game batches and the first game of the night was Kentucky who travels tons of fans and sold the game out. Then you have the no reentry rule to keep anyone from entering with a used ticket. When the first game is the main event (UK game) and nobody cares about the second game, then you get a “sold out” arena looking like a high school girls JV game for the late game. That was the Mizzou/Ole Miss game.

So UK got rolled by Vandy in the first game and that caused a sea of UK fans leaving the stadium as we were walking up. The UK fans had ignored the fact that their team was awful this year and bought seats to every game of the tournament expecting to be in the championship game. This led to us walking into a ticket fire sale. Entrepreneurship/opportunistic Franco kicked in and 5 minutes later we had 7 tickets for $50. Two for Saturday’s semi finals and five for Sunday’s championship including 2 in the lower level, section 107 row C… only problem was, there were no tickets available to the Mizzou/Ole Miss game.

Once our seven tickets were secured, we turned our attention back to getting into the coveted Mizzou/Ole Miss game. The initial plan was to try to sneak out while UK fans were coming out. Bridgestone arena security were just too smart for that. There was a minimum of one security person at EVERY door. We pressed on, searching for other options.

At some point during our casing of the place, T-Strick got split up from Kelt and I. We’ve been in enough similar situations to know it’s every man for himself…  It’s much easier for one to sneak in somewhere than three.

Kelt and I decide to work on the Mizzou Will Call guy who is off in the corner behind a table watching the tip off on a nearby TV.

Franco: “Hey man. Are there any tickets to this game still available?”

Will Call Guy: “No, sorry. The UK fans bought all the tickets and then left after their game. It’s too bad cause there are tons of open seats in there.”

Franco: “Any chance you have any extra will call tickets you could hook us up with?”

Will Call Guy: “I have tickets, but I can’t help you out man. I’ll be honest with you guys- It’s going to be impossible to get in here tonight. Sorry.”

Literally at the same time Will Call Guy said “Sorry”, my cell phone rings. I look down and see that it’s T-Strick.

Franco: Hey

T-Strick: I’m in.

Franco: What?!?! How’d you get in?

T-Strick: Go outside and head around the arena to the left. Eventually you’ll see a side door slightly cracked open. Head inside, go up the stairs to the second floor and I’ll open the door for you guys to get in.

I give the Will Call Guy a smirk and thank him for his “help”. Kelt and I head outside and sure enough find a side door slightly cracked. We enter into a concrete, storage type room that had a few doors and then some stairs. As we are making our way up the stairs we see a guy in a black security looking jacket at the top of the stairs and back track before he sees us. Crap! We try every door on the first floor but they are all locked.

Franco: “We’re just going to act like we belong and take our chances walking upstairs.”

Kelt: “Yeah man. We own this dark, concrete, back stairwell.” (The Mayor knows sarcasm well!)

I’m cracking up to myself as we start up the stairs with swagger. As we get to the top, we see that the guy in the black jacket is smoking a cigarette, clearly not allowed inside the stadium. He looks surprised as we walk up, but greats us with a “You guys want to get in here?” as he opens the door for us. What service! Still not sure whether he was a rouge security guard sneaking a smoke or a random fan, but all that’s important is that T-Strick was on the other side of the door and all three of us were standing in the suite level of Bridgestone Arena five minutes after tip off.

We start doing a lap around as I’m looking for a lightly inhabited suite. Suite 26 – Bingo. There was one lady standing and a guy sitting in one of the seats. I walked right in as T-Strick and Kelt opted to stay in the hallway.

Franco: Hi, I’m Franco. Was Jim in here?

Suite Lady: Jim? I don’t think so. There were a bunch of UK fans in here, but they all left.

Franco: Oh, well my buddies and I were looking for Jim, but it sounds like he took off. Any chance we could just watch the game with you guys?

Suite Lady: Sure, no problem.

I wave in T-Strick and Kelt and introduce them to my new friends Lisa and John. In a matter of 10 minutes we’ve made it inside the stadium AND successfully commandeered a suite. Quickly becoming a solid Friday night.

Flashback to 6:00am that Friday morning. T-Strick and I were at a men’s bible study put on by our church. My wife and I just moved back to Nashville, so I don’t know many of the guys. Post bible study, conversation moves to standard sports talk and then turns to the Ole Miss game that night. One guy is noticeably overly hyped for 7am. Turns out his name is Gray, he’s like 6 foot 6 and he was super proud that he had scoured all of Nashville to find a $60 ticket to the game. Everything else he said started around $100 per ticket.

Gray @ 7am to us: Are you guys going to the game also?

T-Strick: That’d be fun, but probably out of our price range since we aren’t Mizzou or Ole Miss fans.

Gray (Clearly fired up): It’s going to be awesome.


Flash forward to us walking into the booth. Who is sitting in the row in front of our booth? Yep, Mr. 7am Ole Miss himself! He was standing and has already broken a sweat midway through the first half from excessive cheering. The look on his face when he turned around and saw us in the suite was worth the price of admission. Ok, bad joke, but seriously he gave us that “I thought you guys weren’t coming because tickets were too expensive and now you are in a suite? I’m so confused and not sure if I even like you” look.

Gray: Dang, how much did you guys pay for these seats?

Franco (Probably should have lied): Actually we didn’t pay anything. We just snuck in.

Gray (Really confused): Well, can you get me in up there?

Franco: Yes, but you’d have to go back outside, in the random side door, up the shady concrete stairs…

Gray: Never mind.

Back to the game. Lisa and John are sitting in the first row of the suite seats. We clearly have made ourselves at home as Kelt just helped himself to his first beverage out of the suite fridge. He’s the freaking Mayor, and he can do whatever he wants!!

A few minutes later the suite waitress (Stacy) comes in and gives us a funny look.

She b-lines it straight to Lisa and John.

Stacy (loud enough for us to hear): Are these guys with you?

Lisa: Sure

Not the biggest vote of confidence, but it was good enough for Stacy. We were good to go. Thanks Lisa and John. You guys rock.

The half ends with Mizzou up 31-24 and looking in complete control. Lisa and John inform us that their calling it a night and that that suite is all ours. We promise to hold down the fort.

We spend almost the entire half time breaking down what is more entertaining- the actual game or watching Gray react to every play as if it’s life or death. It was only later that we found out ESPN showed him multiple times throughout the game. If I were them, I would have just left an entire camera on him. In a span of five minutes he would fist pump, high five everyone around him, grimace as if dealing with an awful tooth ache, put his hands over his head in disbelief, give the “get up” motion to the crowd, yell at the ref, and much more… and it continued on repeat for the entire game.



Is it possible to get kicked out of a 6am bible study? I might be walking a fine line here, but hopefully Gray will be cool with all this attention.

Well, the second most entertaining person in the arena had to be Marshall Henderson. I swear there are two assistant coaches who are responsible for getting him to the bench as quick as possible during timeouts. MULTIPLE times, when a time out was taken, he would run the long way to the Ole Miss bench so he could skip by and taunt all the Mizzou fans. We started looking forward to breaks in the action just to watch the assistant coaches sprint after Marshall and prod him to the bench. Priceless.


Somehow Ole Miss makes a run at the end to tie the game with :29 seconds left. Mizzou has a chance to hold for the last shot… or turn the ball over trying to get the ball in bounds. Ole Miss ball.

Gray and the rest of the Ole Miss faithful are on their feet waiting for Marshall Henderson to heave up a last second, highly contested, fade away three pointer, but he doesn’t end up taking the shot. Their other guard knocks down a game winning jumper. Ole Miss crowd goes crazy. Gray seems to be kissing anyone wearing red in his section. Unbelievable game and ending.

Now that the Ole Miss faithful are high on victory, it’s time to try to unload our two tickets to the semis for Saturday that we aren’t able to go to. We find one fired up fan who ends up paying us $80 total.

Not a bad night. Just to recap- Free parking. Free Arena entry. Free Suite. Paid $50 for 7 tickets. Sold two for $80. It doesn’t take a stats major to figure out that not only did we watch a great game for free, but we made $30 AND still had 5 tickets to the championship game. Beyond solid, it was a border line epic Friday night.

Championship Sunday

If I were to do it all over again, I would have gone down to the Arena for the semis on Saturday and tried to sell some of the championship tickets to Ole Miss fans high on their victory over Vandy. Instead when T-Strick and I get down to the stadium early for Sunday’s championship game, we discover that there are a million scalpers, each with stacks of tickets. Evidently Florida/Ole Miss isn’t a big draw in Nashville. We finally found a scalper willing to buy our 3 extra tickets for $15 total. Sucked we couldn’t sell them for more, but we wanted to get inside to our lower level (Row C) seats before tipoff.

T-Strick made it very clear after Friday night that we couldn’t sell the Row C seats for less than $100 each. Since tickets were going for as low as $5, it goes without saying that nobody bit on the $100 price tag. We’d never sat three rows from the court and were pretty pumped to be that close. Well, when we got to our seats we discovered that Row A starts about 20 rows from the court. Crap. They were still great seats, just not right on top of the action like we had hoped. Either way it’s a great spot to watch a game that is almost sure to be a blowout after Florida jumps out to an early 15-4 lead.


Florida is up 12 at the half. Ole Miss has no chance. We head to the one level of concession stands in the arena that serve beer.

As we were standing around enjoying our beverage, T-Strick says: I think that’s Brent Dougherty over there. One of the guys on the 3HL Sports Talk Show who interviewed you that one time.

Franco: Awesome. Those guys were hilarious. Let’s go say hi.

T-Strick: I’m not 100% sure it’s him, hold on.

Franco: Are you seriously Googling him right now? Let’s just take our chances.

T-Strick: Just pulling up his Twitter picture. Here it is.

He holds it up towards the guy we suspect is Brent. Wouldn’t you know it, he is literally wearing what appears to be the exact same outfit he has on in his twitter profile picture. Boom, that’s gotta be him.

He seemed to be having a good time with his three boys, so we just went to say a quick hello. He had interviewed me over the phone after the WS story came out, but I’d never met him in person.

What a great dude. Super nice and cool to chat with. The first question he asked was, “Did you guys pay to get in here?” We spared him all the details, but he got a good chuckle when we said we had snuck in Friday night and practically gotten the championship tickets for free… A few minutes later we were heading back to our seats for the second half.

If you’re reading this on a sports blog, you probably know that it was an unreal second half, highlighted by Marshall Henderson hitting a big three and then taunting the gator fans with his own version of the Gator Chomp. The assistant coaches on “Marshall Watch” were too slow on that timeout! Ole Miss took the lead down the stretch and held on for the huge upset as Florida missed a potential game tying three as the buzzer sounded.

Two great games from awesome seats… And we ended up making $45 in the process. Not a bad sports weekend in Nashville.