This week’s Offseason Topic Du Jour around the Auburn-Alabama beat: Stadiums.
More specifically, the size of those stadiums. Even more specifically, the size of one stadium, viz. Tuscaloosa’s Bryant-Denny, as compared to the size of the second, viz. Auburn’s Jordan-Hare. And most specifically of all, that the size of the first has now come to outpace the size of the second in terms of total capacity by around 14,000 seats.
The odds of a fact like that going un-commented upon by the state’s columnists were always, what, 1 in 10-to-the-47th power or so? The only question was “Who?” and the answer ended up being Scarbinsky:
Can Auburn keep up without building up its own house?
The gap between Bryant-Denny and Jordan-Hare hasn’t been this large, in Alabama’s favor, since 1969. The next year, Auburn expanded its stadium to make it bigger than Alabama’s.
Both schools expanded more than once in the interim, but from 1970 until 2006, Auburn owned the largest on-campus football stadium in the state.
Clearly, those days are over.
Auburn has made some attractive cosmetic changes to Jordan-Hare in recent years, but the stadium hasn’t undergone a full-blown expansion since the upper deck and luxury suites were added to the east side for the 1987 season.
That’s 23 years and four head coaches ago.
In the last five years alone, Alabama has decked both end zones, adding close to 20,000 more seats. That’s close to 20,000 more voices raining down on opponents and, more importantly, lifting up the home team.
You don’t need the biggest and nicest house on the block to win a championship. If you did, the Duke basketball program wouldn’t have acquired yet another banner to hang in the rafters of the quaint fixer-upper known as Cameron Indoor Stadium. [That’s an interesting reference. Where have we seen K-Scar and Cameron mentioned at the same time? Oh, right, here. Hmmm.–ed.]
But a bigger and nicer stadium doesn’t hurt, especially on official recruiting weekends and unofficial visits, and nobody has done more in recent years to make its stadium bigger and nicer than Alabama.
This may be true. But there’s obviously a ton more to recruiting than just being able to show off the biggest stadium possible, or it’s a good bet Gene Chizik would have asked for that $16 million to go towards a J-Hare expansion rather than the new indoor practice facility.
What’s also true is that, frankly, there’s just no need to expand Jordan-Hare at the moment. Sadly, it’s hardly a state secret that Auburn’s had trouble of late selling out Jordan-Hare’s current capacity, much less an expanded capacity. The AUfficial site has been hocking tickets to certain games right up until kickoff, more-or-less, the last couple of seasons. If there really is an arms race for the state’s largest college football stadium, it’s one Auburn’s best off simply conceding. It’s a brutal admission to have to make. But adding 10,000 seats for them to just sit empty four, five, six times out of seven or eight home games is just throwing good money after bad. We can talk again in a few years if/when Chizik and Co. have the program back in the SEC title mix, but for now … no.
So what does Auburn do to keep up the crimson Joneses? Scarbinsky’s right about one thing–we have to come up with something, if for no other reason than pure pride. We are not second-class football citizens in this state, and the stadia shouldn’t reflect that. Jay Coulter has an excellent start:
Instead of focusing on seat count, Auburn officials need to focus on skyboxes, aesthetics and amenities. Auburn currently has 70 luxury suites. For a stadium this size, it’s on the low side of adequate.
While there’s no wait for season tickets, you can expect to sit out in the elements for nearly a decade before working your way off the skybox waiting list. The University can make significantly more money adding luxury suites in each end-zone rather than focusing on seats. Jacobs has made this point many times in the past.
Most impressive about Alabama’s recent renovation is not the number of seats (101,000), but the added amenities that put the facility on par with the NFL and MLB. In addition to adding nearly 8,500 more bleacher seats, Bryant-Denny is adding eight stories to its south endzone that will include a marketplace and two floors that will house restaurants for scholarship donors. At a cost of $65 million, school officials expect to recoup their investment quickly.
In a word: Word. Auburn may not be able to have the state’s biggest stadium … but there’s no reason Jordan-Hare can’t be the nicest stadium, the most charismatic, the most welcoming. Screw it: there’s no reason it can’t be the best college football stadium in Alabama.
It’s going to take more luxury boxes, for a start. But it’s going to take more than that. It’s going to take the kind of innovation, vision, and commitment that’s already given us the Auburn Arena. Maybe my expectations are too high for that facility, but I think that’s the aim here: to have a football stadium whose concourses, amenities, and overall feel are every bit as unique and uniquely Auburn as the Auburn Arena’s. That building is going to be capital-S Special. J-Hare already is in a lot of ways, of course, but could it be more special? I think it could be. I think, sooner rather than later, it kind of has to be.
It’s all very easy for me to sit here and write this, I know. I’m not an architect and don’t know how to accomplish goals like those. I’m not an accountant privy to Auburn’s finances and don’t know exactly how much money Jay Jacobs might have to play with. But what I am is an Auburn fan who believes and believes fervently that Auburn can– and will–find a way to have a first-class college football stadium that bows to no one’s, regardless of capacity and regardless of what palaces our counterparts across the state are building.
There are many audiences you are trying to consider here.
First: Is the purpose purely recruitment? Will a restaurant or two for fat cats at Bryant-Denny or anywhere else bring in a slew of blue chippers? That sounds more fan-driven to me. The day a coaching staff walks a group of high schoolers onto the field and points out the skyboxes is the day we should think the coaching staff is tired and might have run out of recruiting ideas.
Second: Is the purpose for the fan base? These things would probably help. And there’s probably a world of ideas beyond them insofar as the program wants to explore and invest them.
Considering how we as an audience have come to understand, gripe and begrudgingly accept how expensive everything is when you are in a captive audience situation I think it’ll take more than a pricey restaurant to get more people inside Jordan-Hare. Remember: the problem is already in bringing in people to the games. We’ve seen ample demonstrations the past few years that we’ve reached a price point that fans are comfortable ignoring. Giving them more expensive options will only go so far in the present situation.
Third: If the two purposes are intertwined — and clearly they are when we have our biggest in-season pushes during the big home games and not the La-Monroe games — then maybe we should consider filling the stadium as is. People are beginning to vote with their wallets and the demand just isn’t that great, particularly when you figure in travel from Birmingham, Atlanta or wherever, a days’ worth of food and beverages and so on. It takes the WVUs to fill the place. Understandably so.
Considering the players spend eight days a year inside, and certainly won’t be in a restaurant those days, I doubt that’s going to matter to them.
Fourth: Is the audience other schools, viz a viz the arms race? The universities are figuring this out. I believe it was Jacobs who recently said that ticket sales weren’t as brisk for many schools. That trend will only continue. I can see almost every game every year on television. I have a beautiful television screen with an unobstructed view. No travel, no traffic, no crowds, no distractions that I don’t want. My guess is audiences are figuring that out too.
But I’ll still be in the stadium on Saturdays.
You say Auburn doesn’t need to enlarge the stadium because we don’t sell out all of our games. True, we have never done that. Not even in 1987 when we added the last upper deck. Or in the 70s when we added the first one. Or at any other time in Jordan-Hare’s history. If we stuck to that logic, we’d still have a 60,000 seat stadium.
On the one hand, I agree with you. We don’t need the biggest stadium in the state. JHS is a great facility. It’s certainly not a dump. But if we’re really going to make it the nicest stadium in the state or the SEC, it has to be done not just with aesthetics but also with more seats. South Carolina is set to begin construction on its new additions next year I believe. That expansion will take the Gamecocks to just about 90,000 in attendance. Then, we’ll be 7th in the league in stadium size. Behind UT, UAT, UGA, UF, LSU, and USC – a team that has never won a national championship, an SEC championship, or even appeared in the SEC championship game in football. I’m sorry, you can call it LBS or whatever, but that will bug the s**t out of me and plenty of Auburn fans if that happens.
The fact is, Auburn CAN accommodate a larger crowd at JHS. Its not as if there are only 87,451 Auburn fans in the world. The more tickets you can make available to the public, the more people will come. Granted, we probably won’t sell out every matchup featuring powerhouses like UT Chattanooga or Furman, but there won’t be 10,000 empty seats in the stadium either. Attendance percentages have stayed roughly the same through the years regardless of wins or losses on the field. When we’re still consistently getting better than 90% attendance even for terrible matchups and selling out the big ones, I don’t think we need to be labeling Auburn fans as sad or uncommitted.
This whole topic is idiotic. Look at the list of stadium sizes:
I can’t help but notice UF’s stadum holds a few toddlers more than JHS, yet that doesn’t seem to hurt them in recruiting, performance on the field, or the stadium’s reputation as one of the most hostile in all of CFB, far exceeding that of it’s bigger cousin in Knoxville.
I also chuckle at this myth that AU has an attendance problem. Check the stats:
AU is consistently int the top 15 (or better) year in, year out in overall attendance and percentage of stadium filled. Now, we’re not in that rarefied air with Michigan, OSU, PSU, or Texas but we are comfortably next to some tradition rich places like UF, ND, OU, Wisc, and yes, even the mighty Tide. IMO we should hold our heads high and be proud of where we are, not envious of where we are not.
el carg says
Bama’s home field will always be Legion Field to me, no matter how much tradition they try to stuff into B-D.
Hey, if people are lining up to give AU ludicrous amounts of money for luxury boxes, rather than ridiculous amounts of money for normal seats, than we’d be stupid not to cater to that. As long as the 80,000+ people in the normal seats and the team make J-H one of the most difficult places for opponents to win, then the stadium’s size ranking doesn’t matter so much, does it? Unfortunately, we have some work to do on that front.
My vote: wrap the luxury boxes around the end zones to form a continuous ring. Add SRO plazas on top of the end zone boxes with concessions and facilities for upper deck people. If you do it right, you could also add temporary seating for big games (UA, UGa, UT, UF).
We need to add more chair back seats and boxes. Make fan friendly corners in the upper endzones and for the upper deck. You could add 4-5k seats and upgrade exterior of J-H North endzone. Future expansion of upper deck in the endzone would bring capacity to 100k easy. Move all visiors to upper deck corners or upper deck endzone when that is built.
“Mr. President, we must not allow a mineshaft gap!”
-General “Buck” Turgidson
When does football season start, again?
Acid Reign says
…..I’d be willing to REDUCE the number of seats in the stadium. As it is now, if you get two or three people on a row with a size 40 or larger waist, it causes PROBLEMS. If your butt is bigger than about 13 inches wide, you’re lapping over into the next person’s seat.
…..We’ve been really lucky the last couple of years. Most games I’ve gone to since 2006 has had one person or more in our group not show up. That makes things a whole lot easier, especially since there are a crew of militant “down in front” nazis in the row behind us!
Even if we never fill it up, I’d rather us add an upper deck in the North endzone, just so we can stick all the opposing fans up there, instead of giving them primo-real estate in the bottom corner. Every away game I go to I’m stuck in the butt-crack of nowhere in the stadium, while we give the majority of turds, corndogs and leghumpers a quarter of our bottom bowl.
Auburn could do A LOT to improve its gameday atmosphere in the stadium. The most important thing is concessions. I started school there in ’98, and they’ve been horrible every year since. Long lines waiting for cold hot dogs. Incompetent service. I don’t think the folks running the show realize how much money they could make by selling GOOD food, with GOOD service, and short lines. These aren’t impossible things to ask for. All it takes is a little investment. Alabama might have the biggest stadium, but we could have the best food. Hell, we’re an Ag. school. Let’s serve some Auburn grown tomato sandwiches. Or Masters style pimento cheese and egg salad sandwiches. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Just make it GOOD.
IMO a few things could be done to generate revenue and increase the amount of fans that attend games. First, supply and demand sets your price point. If we can’t sell out lamo etc then those upper deck seats or whatever should cost about half of what they do now. getting some money is better than none as those extra 5-8 thousand would spend money on concessions etc. also, we need to improve the concourse for ingress and egress of the stadium. i think the work that was done on the north end and filling in that bowl will help as fans should now be able to exit there instead of heading east or west. finally, we need a large green space in the center of campus. i know that is precious real estate, but could you imagine if they tore down the old foy union and put in a giant park from behind samford all the way down to haley? they could do the whole thing in “grass pave” so that it could be driven on and charge 20 bucks a car for tailgating and it would pay for itself in no time. pay a couple people a hundred bucks to direct traffic and make sure people park tightly for a few hours. the rest of the year it would be a great recreation spot for students with maybe a volleyball pit and frisbee gold etc. the expensive self setup tailgate at the eagle cage area is crap imo. i guess the ones that can afford it love it, but lets not forget about the casual auburn fans and not make them walk from the back 40 every time. they screwed things up when they stopped people from parking on campus. i know some damage was done, but there was just something awesome about coming out of a 7am calculus class in parker hall on a WEDNESDAY morning and seeing some dude in boxers and nothing else drinking a beer next to his RV that was parked on parker front lawn just waiting for the big SEC matchup that weekend. THAT was a hardcore fan! closer parking, easier access, and better ticket pricing would increase the overall revenue as i see it. also wouldn’t hurt to have more concession stands, but i’ve never been much on getting more than a drink and maybe a hotdog and my expectations of that are not gourmet food. eat good at the tailgate and the get a halftime snack. you start putting more people in the seats you do two things. increase revenue for expansion and create the need for expansion. til we do those two things we haven’t the need. War Eagle!
I’m a student and we have trouble selling out because the student section is so small! There are empty seats sometimes and PLENTY of willing Auburn students who were screwed out of getting tickets.
agreed josh. it was absolutely miserable in the student section when i was there because it was so crammed. if we did move the visitors into the upper deck or just shrunk the size of their area we could increase the student section to the whole south endzone. that would add a lot of LOUD voices.
There is no need for more GA seating. Adding more club level seating and suits is a a different story. That would generate a lot of revenue, and there is certainly a market for more of both.
One of the other things I’ve heard from multiple folks regarding expansion is the difficulties in placing footings for an upper deck in either endzone due to the creek that runs underneath the stadium means that it will be very expensive. I don’t think they are in any rush to do it.
As Marcus pointed out, JH is still the 10th largest on-campus facility in the nation, so it’s not like we have anything to be embarrassed about. It’s a big stadium, and constantly rated as one of the best gameday atmospheres in all of college football. I’m glad we’ve spent our money elsewhere (like the new Auburn Arena, the upcoming indoor facility, etc), and I’m pleased with the aesthetic improvements they’ve made to JH. I used to hate the way that chain link fenced looked around the outside. It gave the West side of the stadium an institutional look. Almost prison like. The new plaza looks really nice, and they’ve done a good job of upgrading concessions and restrooms. Now if they could just upgrade the food they serve at the concessions we’d be in business.
Marcus, good links and good points. Too often we swallow what the turds feed us about not selling out our games and having an inferior stadium. We still have one of the biggest in the country, and have some of the largest game day crowds in the country to boot.
Josh, great point! It hasn’t been that long since I was a student waking up a couple of hours earlier than normal to buy football tickets online the first day they went on sale before they sold out. The student section is the most intimidating, active, and crowded part of the stadium. I still wish I could buy student season tickets (even at the price alum season tickets cost) because the atmosphere is so incredible, and I don’t have to worry about some old man yelling at me to sit down because I like to stand up the entire game.
Expand the student section by about three thousand seats or more and the stadium will get louder, more intimidating, and full.
I’m a huge Auburn fan. We have sold out many games this 2010-2011 season, and we have proven that we are a national championship team as we face Oregon next month. I believe Auburn should upgrade the South endzone by 10,000 to 15,000 in capacity, because there is plenty of room in that area. If we were to add an extra 15,000, Auburn would be the largest SEC football stadium. Auburn has proven themselves that they can sell out the big games by going undefeated, so why not? Lets upgrade JHS!