SBJ/December 4 - 10, 2006/SBJ In Depth

Hosting game puts stadium to the test

Fans cheer players at the Walk of Champions
Four weeks before the Alabama-Auburn game, on a campus where the colors orange and blue generate a chorus of boos, Crimson Tide Associate Athletic Director Jon Gilbert met three Auburn administrators dressed in orange and blue track suits at Alabama’s stadium.

Gilbert led the men around the south end zone, highlighting how their team might best enter the stadium now that the new visitors locker room sits dead in the middle of the student section.

SLIDE SHOW
More sights from the 2006 Iron Bowl

“If we move you all 100 yards here,” Gilbert said, “I think we can avoid any altercations.”

The meeting was the first step in an effort by Gilbert and the Alabama staff to successfully host the largest football game in the state’s history — a duty so important that even the contentious rivalry between Alabama’s crimson and Auburn’s orange and blue could be set aside for a few hours.

“For us to get together and do that, it’s not normal,” Gilbert said later, “but this was a little different because we wanted to make sure everyone was comfortable.”

Patrons enjoy one of Bryant-Denny
Stadium’s new suites.

Other preparations for Alabama and Auburn began following the Crimson Tide’s home game against Mississippi State on Nov. 4. Immediately afterward, housekeeping set to work cleaning the skyboxes, club dining area and press room. A day later, a team of local charities removed the trash from Bryant-Denny Stadium.

The Monday before kickoff against Auburn, Gilbert met with officials overseeing ticket collection, security, parking, concessions and maintenance. Each offered updates on what needed to be done before the game.

Over the next few days, housekeeping returned to clean the facilities and stock the rest rooms, a crew lined and painted the field, and delivery trucks arrived with food for both the general concession stands and the skybox and club-level dining areas.

Alabama subcontracts its stadium concessions to Yarbrough Companies Inc. and collects 48 percent of sales. Owner Ron Yarbrough oversees 50 concession booths, which are staffed by local nonprofit organizations that collect 10 percent of game-day sales.

On Saturdays, those groups will stock the stands with hot dogs, cheese straws, candy and ice. Smaller stands will do $5,000 in business while a big one will do $18,000 on game day, Yarbrough said.

Stadium Skyboxes
East side
No. Capacity Annual cost
63
22 (16 seats)
$38,000
2
33 (23 seats)
$43,500
18
34 (24 seats)
$54,500
2
56 (40 seats)
$80,000
North end
30
22 (16 seats)
$35,000
4
22 (15 seats)
$35,000
4
28 (20 seats)
$42,500

Alabama also subcontracts its skybox and club-level food service. About Thyme Catering, a Birmingham-based company that also services Auburn, prepares meals selected from three menus that include everything from hot dogs to bacon-wrapped shrimp and legs of lamb.

Sysco delivers $45,000 worth of groceries to About Thyme the Wednesday before a game, and a staff of 110 people begins cooking 12 hours before games. During the course of a game, the crew will serve more than 5,500 people at 70 locations, owner Tom Longshore said, adding that no game is more demanding than the Auburn game.

“They order almost 20 percent more food,” he said. “People are bringing in guests. It’s an impression situation.”

For game-day security, the university hires two separate staffs. A group of local citizens wearing red shirts begins to monitor the stadium with eight people beginning Thursday. Their numbers surge to 250 on game days, and an additional 200 security personnel from Event Service Providers out of Birmingham join them.

The two groups tear tickets at the gate and check bags, and act as ushers inside. More than 100 officers from the city, university and sheriff’s department support them.

On the weekend of the Alabama-Auburn game, they work collectively to minimize potential altercations between the 7,000-plus Auburn fans and the 80,000-plus Alabama fans in attendance. This year, they ran into few problems.

Still, the atmosphere was raucous and the mood tense when the two teams took the field. As Finus Gaston, senior associate athletic director at Alabama, said, “You put crimson jerseys at one end of the stadium and blue and orange at the other end, you come ready to play. I don’t care if you’re a player, coach, manager, member of the band or a cheerleader, it’s a tremendous rivalry.”

Bryant-Denny Stadium renovation

The University of Alabama’s $50 million renovation to Bryant-Denny Stadium added several amenities around the north end zone area. The revenue streams enhanced or created as a result of the stadium expansion are expected to generate $5.5 million a year in new money for the athletic department, according to Finus Gaston, associate athletic director.

“The Zone” — This club level is capable of hosting 850 people. Buffet tables offer hot dogs, hamburgers and other food. A “pouring room” sits nearby where club members can rent a locker to store drinks or other amenities for the game. Membership costs $1,500, which contributes $2.4 million per game before expenses.

Suites — Perched above “The Zone” are three floors with 38 skyboxes. Most come furnished with black leather couches, a coffee table and two or more leather chairs. They also include a mini-fridge, bar and sink area and a Coca-Cola-branded refrigerator where drinks can be chilled. Owners can come into the box the Friday before a game from 2 to 7 p.m. to stock it with drinks. Suites range in price from $35,000 to $42,500, helping the school pull in more than $1.3 million per game before expenses.

Walk of Champions — This summer the university knocked down a fraternity house outside the stadium, cleared the area and built a new entrance into the stadium called the Walk of Champions. Approaching the north end zone, four bronze statues of national champion coaches Wallace Wade, Frank Thomas, Paul “Bear” Bryant and Gene Stallings tower above a sidewalk to the right. The team enters the stadium down a walkway adjacent to the Walk of Champions. Two hours before each home game, crowds collect on each side of the walkway and cheer as players walk more than 100 feet toward their locker room.

Field Suite — This 160-seat section literally is a few steps away from, and only four feet above, the north end zone. For $3,000 per game, fans receive 10 chair-back seats and access to a private club. The price doubles to $6,000 for the Auburn game.

Other additions — The expansion also added more than 10,000 seats, pushing the stadium’s capacity to 92,000. Two new Daktronics video boards measuring 20 feet high and 34 feet wide were installed on each side of the new end zone facility. LED ribbons that run 420 feet were put between the first and second levels of stands. The combined costs of the new Daktronics and LED systems were $3 million.

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