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The Future Of Football Stadiums Is Here; How Long Before An SEC School Follows Suit?

49ers-stadiumThe Southeastern Conference is the leader in terms of college football attendance in America.  That’s not likely to change anytime soon because the SEC boasts the biggest stadiums in the nation as well.  More seats, more rumps to fill them.

But leading the country in attendance ain’t what it used to be.  Last season, nine of the SEC’s 14 schools saw a decline in game attendance.  That trend can be blamed on many things — price of tickets and parking, lack of Wi-Fi and cell coverage in stadiums, high-definition TVs, more games on television than ever before, etc, etc.

The SEC announced in May that it had taken notice and created the “Working Group on Fan Experience.”  That team of SEC administrators found that cell and Wi-Fi service needed to be upgraded at each stadium (at a cost of about $2 million per).  They decided more replays were needed inside stadium.  Student attendance would have to be improved.  The quality of games was also a topic of discussion (which gets back to our old push for a nine-game conference slate).

All that is well and good, but at some point an SEC school is going to take the big dollar approach.  Instead of trying to appeal to the average Joes — who in many cases have already been priced right out of games — some school will eventually just go ahead and target the uber-rich.  The country club approach already exists in the pro ranks.

Most NFL stadiums seat fewer than 70,000 fans.  Yet those buildings boast more club seats and luxury suites than the typical college venues.  If you can’t get the little fish anymore, make sure you land the whales.

In Santa Clara — where the San Francisco 49ers will soon be moving — the new stadium under construction is at the forefront of technology, too.  In addition to massive boxes and suites for the wealthy, the 49ers new home is being built with the 21st century sports fan in mind:

 

Welcome to the Most Tech-Savvy Stadium in America

 

How long before an SEC school decides to replace 10,000 to 20,000 seats with larger, more opulent skyboxes?  How long before a school goes all-in with technology, as the 49ers are doing?

Our guess… give it 10 years and someone will have tried it.

If going to a game once again becomes a status symbol, an exclusive “thing to do,” it will drive up demand for tickets and put more money in schools’ coffers long-term.  Sounds good.  And it’s just a question of when, not if.

 


11 comments
coach54
coach54

Which information are you using to claim that the SEC has the largest stadiums and highest attendance? 

daneh77
daneh77

Re, the 49'ers new stadium (video): Why is the stadium lopsided? Pretty darn UGLY.

HoustonVol
HoustonVol

Don't forget when they renovated Thompson Bowling Arena, UT also took out a large chunk of seats (about 10%) to add a whole bank of suites to one side of the stadium. I do agree with you, how long until you see a school take a huge plunge. I  know GT reduced the size of their stadium, but that was 20 years ago. The first SEC school I see doing it would be Vandy. They have the money fans, and would be able to add suites and amenities without losing overall capacity. TN already has two huge bank of suites on both sides of the field. I don't see them making any major changes unless for some reason finances dictate more suites. Which I don't see anytime in the future. 

the_voice
the_voice

The club seating being discussed isn't like college stadiums have, almost all of which were built decades ago. These are boxes where you're use to seeing rows of seats (between the 20s). These aren't add-ons that get tucked into the nooks, crannies, end zones, and nose bleed sections. You will be rebuilding the core of the stadium to do this as a retrofit.  http://levisstadium.com/sites/all/themes/niners/images/official/interior05.jpg

Ironically the first appearance of obscenely opulent club boxes will not be at some college football mecca. It would be hard to tell 20,000 Alabama fans that their seats no longer exist so 2,000 fat cats can live like kings. Ripping out massive amounts of prime seating upsets way too many donors.  Now if you can add crazy good club seating for 2,000 without upsetting 20,000 fans, then it's worth doing. (Vanderbilt could, as an example.) Another factor is that the NFL teams have 10 (8 real ones) home games a year versus 6 - 7 (4 - 5 real ones) for major conference colleges.

High volume high tech stadiums could/should be done ASAP by the big boys. Filling those paid for but empty seats adds revenue (parking, concessions, etc.), and the marketing possibilities and knowledge gained are highly valuable.

Tierlis
Tierlis

The new Kyle Field will have some of these ridiculous club suites. It's going to be amazing!

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator

@coach54

The NCAA's very own website lists attendance figures each year.  The last year is 2012, obviously as this season isn't over yet.

http://fs.ncaa.org/Docs/stats/football_records/Attendance/2012.pdf

* 11 of the top 30 in attendance come from the SEC.

* The SEC had 7.4 million people attend its games in 2012, the largest number for any conference ever.  The Big Ten had 5.8 million in attendance.  On a per game basis, the SEC averaged 75,500 per home game... the Big Ten about 70,000.

* The SEC has only two stadiums that seat less than 60,000 and one of those (Mississippi State) is expanding.  The Big Ten has three stadiums below 60,000.

Thanks for reading the site,

John

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator

@the_voice 

It sounds in your first statement as if you think I misunderstood my own writing.  Just to be clear, yes, I do believe some school will eventually retrofit one side of their stadium, eliminate 20,000 seats and create exclusive club, luxury and "entertainment" seating.

Tennessee -- one example -- has already eliminated about 5,000 seats in order to create new club seats.  I believe someone will take this to another level as attendance continues to decline. 

Thanks for reading the site,

John

the_voice
the_voice

@John at MrSEC @the_voice I agree that the 100,000 capacity stadium is headed toward oblivion eventually. I just think it will be because the Alabamas and Tennessees will be playing catch up. Selling the concept as a way to keep competitive will be easier than it would be as an innovator. I think it will be someone with less to lose who will start the trend.

By the way, the same holds true for basketball. Louisville's arena makes Kentucky's, Arkansas', and Tennessee's seem outdated. The Staples Center in LA has the same dynamic. http://staplescenter.s3.amazonaws.com/seat-viewer/lakers/101.jpg

the_voice
the_voice

@John at MrSEC @the_voice Here's where the pinch is for the really big boys. If you do it right for the long-term, you will be uprooting 20,000 season ticket holders. If you're doing an expansion of traditional seating as part of the process it could be rational (like if you were enclosing one of the end zones at a school where there is little to no seating currently, then they're displaced but not left high and dry). But at Alabama and others this isn't an option. This is why so many of the big boys have put those suites in non-optimal locations. I think this will mean new stadiums for the Alabamas of the world. It would mean dislocation for all, which would camouflage what is happening. (Everyone is marginally reduced in seat location quality while upgrading amenities instead of 20,000 being majorly impacted.)

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator

@the_voice @John at MrSEC 

Gotcha.  And I agree with that.  

Someone though is going to go that route and I'll be interested to see how well it works.  A lot of folks will complain -- that's all we do as a society anymore -- but if the complainers aren't buying season-tickets anyway, it won't matter.  If a school thinks it can make more cash by going a smaller and better, that school would be wise to do it.  Rather than have empty seats all over the place with unsold concessions and merchandise.

As always, many thanks for reading,

John

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