SBJ/Dec. 15-21, 2014/Facilities

Auburn examines adding premium seating in both end zones

Don Muret
Auburn University is studying the possibility of adding premium seats in both end zones at Jordan-Hare Stadium as part of major upgrades to the facility that most likely will cost more than $100 million, according to project officials.

JMI Sports, the consultant Auburn hired in May 2013 to develop a strategic plan for Auburn’s athletic department, is now working on a feasibility study of potential stadium renovations. JMI teamed with national sports designer 360 Architecture and local firm Infinity Architecture on the study — both of whom have done previous work for Auburn venues — and the results will be in the hands of Auburn Athletic Director Jay Jacobs by early January, said Erik Judson, JMI’s chief executive.

Nothing is set in stone to this point, but initial plans point to developing new club seats supported by indoor hospitality areas behind the end zones. The north end zone is much larger than the south end zone, which contains the home locker room and a recruiting lounge. The idea is to relocate Auburn’s locker room to the north end, where it would adjoin the visitors locker room. Auburn would then develop a high-end club on that end with a wider concourse, bigger, padded seats and better food and beverage options, Judson said.

Redeveloping the south end zone, where the stadium’s primary video board is situated and where the football team enters the stadium as part of its “Tiger Walk” tradition, most likely would come after the north end zone piece is completed, Jacobs said.

If necessary, Auburn could continue to use its current locker room if there were construction delays or if officials decided the switch was not feasible, Jacobs said.

In general, fan feedback has shown greater demand for premium seats, he said. About 5,000 club seats now sit along the east and west sidelines. Those patrons pay $2,600 a season, which covers game tickets, food and parking and access to lounges on the suite level.

Separately, about 750 regular seats are elsewhere in the stands, some at the 45-yard line and others at the goal lines, where fans pay club-seat prices for free food and parking but do not get access to the indoor hospitality spaces, Jacobs said.

All told, the net gain would be about 200 seats for the stadium, which now seats 87,451. Construction would start next December after the 2015 college football season, pending a plan to finance the project, Jacobs said.

> SUN SPOTS: The Phoenix Suns announced their new arena naming-rights partner last week, but that’s not all that’s new at the purple palace.

Talking Stick Resort Arena next year will replace US Airways Center, the facility’s old name, which means both arenas in Greater Phoenix will be named for tribal gaming communities. Gila River Arena is the name of the Coyotes’ venue in Glendale.

In downtown Phoenix, Levy Restaurants, the Suns’ food vendor, invested about $1 million this season to upgrade arena concessions, including the Coors Light Zone just outside the facility. It’s now themed more in the style of a beer garden patio, with picnic tables and a new barbecue smoker.

In addition, new Micros digital menu boards adorn revamped concession stands showcasing Fractured Prune Doughnuts and local brand Schreiner’s Fine Sausage and the Sixth Man Member Lounge, a space exclusive for Suns season-ticket holders.

Alaska Airlines Center GM Chris Orheim and wife Molly
Photo by: COURTESY OF GLOBAL SPECTRUM
Justin Hurd has taken over as Levy’s director of operations in Phoenix after spending six years at Staples Center.

> DOG SHOW: Alaska Airlines Center officials found a cool way to promote the recent opening of the new 5,000-seat arena in Anchorage.

Global Spectrum, the facility’s manager, brought two Iditarod dog sled mushers to the arena in conjunction with the Great Alaska Shootout men’s basketball tournament during Thanksgiving week.
The Iditarod, a dog sled race running more than 1,000 miles from Anchorage to Nome every March, follows one trail that runs less than a quarter-mile from the arena, the new home of University of Alaska-Anchorage men’s hoops.

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

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