June 8, 2006

Schools finding bigger not always better

Bigger isn't necessarily better. Size doesn't always matter.

After years of costly additions where stadiums were seemingly in a race to outgrow each other, two schools are taking a different approach.

The University of Tennessee's ongoing $107 million renovation to Neyland Stadium will create a small decrease to the seating capacity. Neyland, which is the third-largest stadium in college football with a capacity 104,079, will hold around 101,000 when the five-phase project is completed in 2010.

Instead of making room for more fans, the renovation focuses on making repairs to Neyland and improving amenities to the 85-year old structure, which has garnered a reputation for its small seats and cramped atmosphere. About 1,900 club seats are being added. The number of restrooms will triple and more concession stands and plazas are being created. Repairs are being made to the foundation, sewage, lighting and electrical systems as well.

"We want to produce a great experience for our fans," Tennessee Athletic Director Mike Hamilton told Rivals.com. "Neyland has fallen in disrepair and was in need of a full-scale renovation. Other than a fresh coat of paint and some additions, it has never undergone major repairs.

"In today's marketplace a new stadium our size would have cost around $600 million and we don't have the size on our campus or an adjacent area where it would have been feasible to build one. This renovation provided us with what our fans needed. It does come with a slight caveat, the loss of about three thousand seats, but we were determined to keep the capacity over 100,000."

Iowa chose a similar path. Kinnick Stadium, which is 75 years old, began an $86 million renovation in 2004 which is geared toward making improvements from within. The capacity of 70,585 will remain the same.

The Hawkeyes are building 40 suites, 1,410 club seats (1,100 outdoor and 310 indoor) and adding restrooms and concession stands. A new press box is being built, new scoreboards and sound systems are being added, and many of the seats are being widened. The south end zone seats were replaced prior to last season.

All the construction is expected to be completed for Iowa's season opener against Division I-AA Montana on Sept. 2.

"Our primary goal was for every fan who attends a game to benefit," said Iowa Senior Associate Athletic Director Jane Meyer, who is overseeing the renovation. "Having more restrooms and concessions are really critical for our fans. After 75 years we are trying to make Kinnick feel new to them."

Feeling new again required plenty of research.

Hamilton and other members of the Tennessee athletic department visited college stadiums at Wisconsin, Florida State, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Purdue. UT officials also visited the Green Bay Packers' Lambeau Field before deciding what to do with Neyland.

Meyer and other Iowa representatives went on a tour of their own, visiting or contacting officials at three of the same schools (Wisconsin, Ohio State and Purdue). They also visited Penn State, Virginia, Michigan State, Texas and South Carolina.

The Buckeye's Ohio Stadium underwent a similar $194 million renovation in 1999-2000 and Purdue's Ross-Ade had a $70 million renovation from 2001-03.

"We were concerned as to what Neyland would look like once the renovation was done," Hamilton said. "We wanted to get a greater grasp of what the fans would see once they entered the stadium."

Many of those new views will be coming from angles that fans aren't used to, especially at Iowa, where all season-ticket holders have to change seats and often move to completely new sections.

That news might cause some fan bases to riot, but Meyer said there have been few complaints from the Hawkeyes faithful - thanks in large part to an online system the university set up where fans can choose their new seats. The system shows which seats are available and what the view would be like from each one.

"It's really been a fabulous process," Meyer said. "The majority of our fans have access to the Internet and those that do not can come to the school and personally work with someone. We've gotten an extremely favorable reaction."

Tennessee and Iowa also have received favorable reactions when it comes to selling their club seats which fueled the cost of the renovations. Neither school needed any state funds.

Hamilton said the 414 club seats on the east side of the stadium, which will be completed by the start of this upcoming season, are sold out. UT officials have already received substantial interest for the south side seats, which won't be done until 2010 and recently became available for purchase.

The seats, which are padded, include access to hospitality suites with complimentary food and beverages. They are accessible by elevator and also come with parking privileges.

Four seats cost $16,000 annually and also require a $100,000 payment payable over a five-year period.

Meyer said all but one of Iowa's new suites which range in price from $25,000-$75,000 annually have been sold and about 150 outdoor club seats remain on sale.

With those type of deep-pocket reactions, facelifts to old stadiums may become a trend in college football.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Seven of the college football stadiums that host schools in major conferences are undergoing renovations this offseason. Below, we take a look at what at what is being done at each venue, the total cost (in millions) and when they will be finished.
School Renovations Price Date completed
Alabama Adding 9,000 seats (capacity will go to 92,000), adding club seats, new scoreboards, digital displays. $50M July 2006
Iowa Adding 40 suites, 1,400-plus club seats, new press box, widening seats, adding restrooms, concessions, scoreboard, replaced south end zone. $86M Sept. 2006
Michigan Adding 83 suites, 3,200 club seats, replacing bleachers, expanding press box, widening seats and aisles, adding restrooms and concession stands (capacity will increase 750 to 108,335). $229M 2010
N.C. State Adding 6,000-plus seats with new grandstand at north end zone (capacity will increase to 60,000), added luxury boxes, club seats, media facilities and enclosed south end zone. $97M Sept. 2006
Nebraska 6,000 seats added, Osborne Athletic Complex with coach offices, locker rooms and "Charles and Romona Myers Performance Center." Also includes "Championship Indoor Center" as well as a practice field. New scoreboard and luxury suites. $50M Sept. 2006
Okla. St. Adding brick to exterior, club seats, restrooms concessions, putting in new turf. $102M Sept. 2006
Stanford Eliminating track, demolishing seats (capacity will decrease to 50,000), enclosing stadium, lowering playing surface seven feet, adding turf, rest rooms, concessions, new video scoreboard. $85M Sept. 2006
Tennessee Adding 1,900 club seats (capacity will decrease to around 101,000), restrooms, concessions, repairing infrastructure. $107M 2010


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