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Bigger is Better for Stadiums

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From Bloomberg News

When Joe Paterno came to Penn State in 1950, the football team played in a 30,000-seat steel stadium with no locker rooms, one scoreboard and a handful of bathrooms.

Paterno, then an assistant under Rip Engle, will coach in a far more spacious and luxurious stadium on Saturday when the Nittany Lions open their season against the University of Miami.

A 20-month, $93 million expansion and renovation has boosted Beaver Stadium’s capacity by 11,000 seats to 106,537, making it the second-largest college stadium in the country behind Michigan’s 107,501. The stadium has 60 luxury suites, 4,000 club seats, 58 restrooms, expanded locker rooms, a video replay scoreboard and a 28,000 square-foot lounge with a scenic view of Mount Nittany.

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“It’s like going from a Piper Cub to a 747,” said Lou Prato, director of the new Penn State All-Sports Museum inside the stadium. “We used to be a mom-and-pop operation. Now we’re a big, fancy supermarket.”

Paterno, who needs one win to tie Bear Bryant’s record for major-college victories, has witnessed the evolution of stadiums throughout the country.

In the past five years, Michigan, Tennessee, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Alabama and more than 20 other Division I-A schools have completed major expansions or renovations of their football stadiums.

At least 15 other major-college programs are planning to expand their stadiums in the next few years or are in the process of doing so, according to Revenues from Sports Venues, a Milwaukee- based publisher of information on stadium and arena revenue.

“The college market has really exploded in the last few years,” said Jim Grinstead, RSV’s editor and publisher. “They’re doing the same things as the pros - adding club seats, luxury boxes, lounges and other extras to bring in more revenue.”

Unlike the National Football League, where teams are building new stadiums rather than fixing up old ones, colleges are choosing the less expensive route of renovation and expansion to meet increased ticket demand, cater to wealthy alumni and raise money to fund their athletic programs.

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The projects cost from $5 million at the University of New Mexico, which recently added about 6,000 seats and upgraded its bathrooms and concession stands, to $187 million at Ohio State, which just completed a three-year facelift and 10,000-seat expansion.

While new NFL stadiums are usually financed by a mix of private and public funds, most of the major-college projects are funded by private donations and anticipated revenue from luxury suites, club seats and increased ticket and concession sales.

“We pay our own way,” said Tennessee Athletic Director Doug Dickey, whose school spent $18 million to add 78 skyboxes to Neyland Stadium for the 2000 season. “No state dollars or university dollars were used to improve the stadium.”

That doesn’t impress Robert Glenn, a former president of the school’s Faculty Senate who said the luxury suites show that Tennessee’s football program has gotten too big and too expensive.

“All this spending on stadiums and players and coaches distorts the whole mission of the university, which should be education,” said Glenn, a professor of speech communications who’s been at Tennessee for 30 years. “I see streets named after kids who can only catch and pass a football, and I wonder what we’re doing here.”

Andrew Zimbalist, an economics professor at Smith College, said building bigger, fancier stadiums on college campuses increases the pressure to win and inevitably leads to more cheating and corruption.

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“When you’ve got 100,000 seats, you’re expected to fill them every game,” said Zimbalist, author of “Unpaid Professionals: Commercialism and Conflict in Big-Time College Sports.” “And the way you fill seats is by winning, sometimes at any cost.”

The revamped Ohio Stadium, which hosts its first game on Sept. 8 when the Buckeyes play the University of Akron, will seat about 100,000 and feature 81 luxury suites, 2,600 club seats, wider aisles, more concession stands and bathrooms, and a new state-of-the-art scoreboard.

“As long as the demand is there, these stadiums will keep getting bigger and better,” said Rick Burton, director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon. “College football is big business and it’s good business to please your customers.”

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