COLLEGE PARK—- The white wine was chilling on the counter. The chicken Parmesan, flank steak and Caesar salads were soon to arrive.
Rick Jaklitsch's second-level Byrd Stadium suite had a swank look and a new-car smell.
The University of Maryland had long-term commitments for 41 of its 64 new suites as it unveiled the stadium's upgraded Tyser Tower on Saturday for its football home opener against James Madison. The university had also secured seven single-game suite leases.
Inside Jaklitsch's suite, guests wore Terps gear or business casual attire. They sipped wine and inspected the indoor and outdoor seating, the bar, the red carpeting, the flat-screen TVs and their field view from about the 5-yard-line. They offered theories about why more fans had not signed up for suites, whose pre-game functions seem a cross between wine-and-cheese receptions and tailgate parties.
It comes down largely to wine, wins and the wavering economy, guests said.
The wineWhen Jaklitsch, an Annapolis personal-injury lawyer, signed up for his $40,000 suite - to be split among 24 people - he did so with a contingency.
Jaklitsch wanted to be certain that the suites could serve wine and beer. "Let clients get a glass of wine," he said. "It's a selling point."
Alcohol is a sensitive issue in college stadiums. The student section consists of 10,000 seats at Byrd, or about one-fifth of the stadium. Many students are too young to drink legally. Jaklitsch said the suites would be clearly separate from the stands and that alcohol sales would be strictly monitored.
The university deliberated for weeks, studying the example of other schools. It announced last October that beer and wine could be sold in the suites from the stadium's caterer, but nowhere else in the stadium. It placed limits on purchases. Suite holders aren't permitted to bring their own beer or wine.
Jaklitsch said Maryland might have lost momentum by delaying its decision on alcohol. The school sold 28 suites by the end of October 2008, but about half that number since. The suites cost $40,000 to $85,000 a year.
"If they'd allowed alcohol at the very beginning when the rush of excitement was there, they would have been fine," said Jaklitsch, 50, a Maryland graduate and president of the Terrapin Club, which provides scholarships for athletes. "There was a unanimous recommendation from the Terrapin Club that [beer and wine] be sold."
Jaklitsch's own suite had sold 19 of its 24 "shares" before the James Madison game. Each share costs $1,667.
By the time the game ended, Jaklitsch said, he had sold the remaining five shares to guests who enjoyed the game - Maryland won in overtime - the ambience, and the view.
The winsFrom a marketing perspective, Maryland was cresting at just the right time. It was nearing the end of the 2008 football season, and the rumble of construction could be heard as Tyser Tower rose.
Maryland was 7-3 as it headed into the Florida State game with a chance to clinch its Atlantic Coast Conference division title with a win and a Boston College loss. But the Terps lost badly and Boston College won. Then Maryland lost to Boston College to finish the regular season at 7-5.
Many fans said suite sales would have been bolstered by a season-ending flourish. Others said the nonconference schedule should be upgraded.
"They've got to play a better-caliber team - Pitt, West Virginia, even Navy," said Joe DeMino, a guest in Jaklitsch's suite.
West Virginia will return to Maryland's schedule beginning next season. So does Navy, although the game will be played at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium.
The wavering economyOnce the economy strengthens, Jaklitsch believes, corporations will be freer to buy up remaining suites.
In the meantime, the university remains in selling mode.