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Volume 23 No. 17
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New tradition

After 86 years of bench seats for all, Notre Dame Stadium’s first premium seating is selling fast

Notre Dame Stadium, undergoing a $400M renovation, played host to the annual spring game April 16.
Photo by: MATT CASHORE /  UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME
Wake up the echoes and pass the appetizers. Sixteen months before Notre Dame Stadium opens for the 2017 season after a $400 million renovation, the school has sold nearly all of its roughly 3,000 new premium seats that will largely pay for the extensive upgrades.

The university is introducing a high-end game-day experience for its biggest donors and longtime season-ticket holders for the first time in the storied history of Notre Dame Stadium, which opened in 1930. New club seats and loge boxes will top the sidelines, supported by indoor hospitality spaces. The project, designed by HOK, is the second most expensive in college sports behind Texas A&M’s massive $485 million makeover of Kyle Field.

The sales campaign started in July 2014. As of late April, Legends, Notre Dame’s sales agency, had sold all 68 loge boxes and two-thirds of the 2,100 indoor and outdoor club seats, said Mike Behan, the group’s vice president of sales.

To date, 1,600 appointments have been made at Crossroads Experience, the preview center manned by Legends inside Joyce Center, Notre Dame’s basketball arena. The preview center contains touch-screen technology and mockups of the clubs and four-seat and six-seat loge boxes, as well as a closing room for signing premium-seat deals.

It’s a new era in South Bend for a fan base accustomed to a more communal experience in which up to 80,795 fans pack the stadium’s wood seats, well-heeled alums and cash-strapped students alike. The school’s philosophy revolves around sharing the Notre Dame experience without class separation in the seating bowl, and over the years it has turned down multiple proposals to develop premium seats. That tradition has cost the school in terms of a steady revenue stream as well as fan comfort.

It got to the point that some prominent alums such as ESPN’s Mike Golic thought Notre Dame might be in danger of falling behind in college football’s recruiting wars by not following the lead of dozens of schools with vintage college football venues that have completed upgrades. But that all changes in 2017.

The project also includes tech updates and will make the stadium more of a year-round hub.
Photo by: MATT CASHORE / UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME
Notably, a retrofit to add suites is not part of the project, and in that respect Notre Dame has kept true to its mission as Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick has articulated it in the past. Swarbrick did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Notre Dame officials have not made pricing public, but the new premium seats cost slightly less than Tennessee’s west club seats at Neyland Stadium, the venue where Notre Dame most closely benchmarked its products. Those seats at UT run $5,000 a seat annually, plus capital gifts of $35,000 to $50,000, according to Tennessee athletics’ website.

At Notre Dame, the annual fees for club seats and loge

Views of the Crossroads Experience preview center inside the Joyce Center.
Photo by: LEGENDS (2)
boxes exclude the cost to buy season tickets and a building fund donation for a total of $2,200 to $2,800 a season, said Rob Kelly, the school’s assistant athletic director for ticketing and technology. In addition, Notre Dame’s new premium seats carry one-time capital gifts of $20,000 to $40,000. Terms are all 20 years for clubs and loges.

By comparison, club seats and loge boxes that are part of Kyle Field’s renovation, another project Notre Dame looked at as part of its research, carry a $4,500 annual fee for the best locations and require capital gifts of up to $15,000.

Club seats cost $1,500 to $2,000 at Baylor’s McLane Stadium, which opened in 2014, in addition to capital gifts of up to $25,000. For TCU’s Amon G. Carter Stadium, where a $160 million renovation was completed in 2012, club seats have annual fees of $1,000 to $3,000 apart from the cost of season tickets. Notre Dame benchmarked those two schools as well, Kelly said.

Campus Crossroads

Notre Dame Stadium improvements are a broader project called Campus Crossroads, designed to reposition the stadium in the broader context of campus life.

A key part of the vision is the expansion of classroom and event function areas at the facility. Notre Dame’s philosophy department, for example, has 13 buildings spread across campus but will consolidate its operation into one large space at the stadium, said Mike Ondrejko, Legends Global Sales’ president.

“It’s a game-changer for using the footprint of campus in a more material way,” Ondrejko said. “Talking to alumni, they know what it’s like to trek around campus in the middle of January and have to go around the stadium to get to class. Now, the stadium truly becomes a destination for all students.”

At Notre Dame, for their investment, premium-seat buyers enjoy exclusive amenities such as all-inclusive food and drink and in-seat waitservice, plus ticket priority for bowl games and Shamrock Series neutral-site games. The loge boxes include movable chairs, table space and personal tablets. Alcohol will be part of the premium-seat package, but the finer points of that program have yet to be determined, Kelly said.

Notre Dame’s sports food provider, Centerplate, has a five-year deal coming to an end this summer, and the school is evaluating proposals to run both general concessions starting with the 2016 season and premium dining coming online in 2017.

All the major concessions firms are bidding for the contract, and a decision is expected sometime this month, said Chris Bigelow, the consultant managing the process for Notre Dame.

The premium experience is long overdue as Notre Dame plays catch-up in seating options as well as technology upgrades, said Golic, co-host of ESPN Radio’s “Mike & Mike” morning show and a former Notre Dame football player. A new video replay board and ribbon board package, technology the stadium has gone without up to now, are set to debut in 2017, along with a new audio system and improved broadband coverage. A reconfigured grand entrance to the stadium at the Frank Leahy Gate, all new metal bench seats and new food stands in the premium areas are also part of the project.

“I love Notre Dame with all my heart, but they couldn’t get to a Jumbotron fast enough,” Golic said. “It’s the same thing with the premium seats. To this point, Notre Dame has done nothing, which has always aggravated me. I understand the traditions, but it’s ridiculous when you can make the experience so much better.

“For a while there, Notre Dame was able to sell itself, but with the fierce competition in college sports, especially football … that’s the nature of the game right now. It’s what you have to do to get these four- and five-star [recruits].”