SBJ/Sept. 23-29, 2013/Facilities

Baylor and Populous giving new stadium some room to grow

Don Muret
The downward trend in college football attendance has architects designing smaller stadiums that can grow in future years.

The sport has seen a 2 percent decrease in average attendance over the past four years, according to NCAA figures. It’s a small number but one that concerns athletic administrators as they take a harder look at how to fill seats by improving the fan experience.
On the design side, sports architects are developing new facilities that have infrastructure in place to expand depending on ticket demand.

Baylor University’s new stadium in Waco, Texas, is one example. It opens in August with 42,500 fixed seats and standing room for 2,500 more.

Baylor’s new stadium on the Brazos River, shown in a rendering, will be expandable to a capacity of 55,000.
Image by: POPULOUS
The stadium has the potential to add 10,000 more seats, most likely in the end zones and upper deck along the east sideline for a capacity of 55,000, said Jeff Spear, a senior architect and principal with Populous, the project’s design firm.

“People aren’t going to games as much,” Spear said. “Nobody wants to play in an empty building. Schools are looking at [the trend] and if there is a surplus of demand, there are strategies in place to grow.”

Baylor officials are aware of capacity issues. Floyd Casey Stadium, the Big 12 school’s home now, opened in 1950 with 50,000 seats. Over the past 10 years, that number was reduced to 47,000 after Baylor removed 3,000 seats in the south end zone and put a tarp over that space. (School officials stopped short of saying the tarp was added to cover unsold seats. It was done more as a “beautification project,” said Nick Joos, Baylor’s executive associate athletic director of external affairs.)

Last year, Baylor’s average football attendance was 41,194 for six home games. Over the past 62 years, only five crowds have reached 50,000, including a record 51,385 for the Texas A&M game in 2006.

The tarp was removed for that game, and Baylor expects to do the same Dec. 7 against Texas, an event expected to fill the building for the stadium’s final game. The south end zone will be sold as general admission, Joos said, with tickets priced about $50.

For the new stadium, the demand for premium seating among current donors has exceeded the number of suites, club seats and loge boxes planned for the facility, said Doug McNamee, Baylor’s assistant athletic director for premium sales and services.

The seats that could be added later are not premium seating, but that could change, for example, by introducing a new higher-end product in the end zones, Spear said.

As it stands now, there are six founders suites, 39 regular suites, 1,200 club seats and 77 loge boxes. All premium seats are tied to annual donations, including seven-figure gifts for the 20-seat founders suites.

All told, donations from premium seating have exceeded $100 million, McNamee said. Baylor has exceeded its goal of raising $125 million to $130 million for a project with a cost totaling $250 million, Joos said.

The balance is being funded through a city bond issue and television revenue Baylor receives from multiple sports networks, he said.

Baylor is not the first college stadium development with room to grow. Spear was project designer for Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium, a building that opened in 2009 with 50,000 seats that can expand to 80,000.

In Charlotte, DLR Group designed Jerry Richardson Stadium, the University of North Carolina-Charlotte’s new football facility. It opened last month with 15,000 seats. There is room on the east side to expand to 40,000 seats after UNCC moves up to the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2015.

> ALL’S WELL: Seating Solutions, the New York vendor tied to the 2011 Super Bowl seating fiasco at AT&T Stadium, recently signed a three-year deal with the Dallas Cowboys as their exclusive rental seating company.

The agreement is proof the two parties have put the unfortunate events of the NFL championship behind them, said Scott Suprina, Seating Solutions’ owner.

The first project tied to the deal is installing 2,628 temporary seats for the Baylor-Kentucky men’s basketball game Dec. 6 at the stadium.

For Suprina, there’s a silver lining after 1,250 Super Bowl ticket holders were left without seats when several sections of temporary seats were not usable for the game. Seating Solutions now tops the list of Google searches for “portable stadiums.”

“Even bad press is good press,” Suprina said.

Don Muret can be reached at dmuret@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @breakground.

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