The University’s intentions to renovate the Big House have seeped into the public domain over the past few weeks. Constructed in 1927 with a seating capacity of roughly 84,000, the Big House is often considered the University’s defining symbol of pride and tradition. Over the past 78 years, the stadium has undergone numerous expansions resulting in the ever-increasing ability to host hundreds of thousands of supportive maize-and-blue fans. With the recent talk of renovations, students and alumni have expressed concern that the proposed luxury and club seats will subtract from the ability to secure season tickets and further diminish the traditional Big House environment. While the proposed renovations bring about much-needed changes, the plans must heed the concerns of students and alumni and be carried out in accordance with the integrity and tradition of Michigan Stadium.
University President Mary Sue Coleman and the University Board of Regents have acknowledged the importance of public input throughout the process of renovation. The motivation behind the stadium renovations is the need to modernize the stadium’s archaic infrastructure. Much-needed renovations include increasing handicap accessibility, adding restroom facilities, widening aisles, expanding seat sizes and creating more space for vendors. Modernization of Michigan Stadium is strongly encouraged to enhance the average Michigan fan’s experience and safety while in the Big House, but should not come at the expense of current seating capacity.
Opponents of the renovations have focused their critique on the addition of luxury boxes and club seating. These additions risk reducing the number of seats for season ticket holders and students, while also chancing the professionalization of Michigan Stadium. The Big House is unique for its tradition and collegiate atmosphere — an environment where students, alumni and others join together, not for a commercial transaction, but to belong to the cultural essence that is Michigan football.
The inclusion of luxury boxes and club seating will not only generate enough revenue to pay for the entire renovation project, but also will significantly increase overall athletic funds — helping smaller teams and maintaining facilities. Currently, each Michigan home football game produces $4 million in revenue; with the proposed luxury seating, an increase of $2.5 million per game has been estimated. The increased revenue stream should help support the rest of the University’s athletic programs — possibly providing much-needed improvements in equipment and facilities for underfunded teams.
The physical structure of the Big House will change; however, if the boxes and club seats are constructed tastefully, the stadium will not lose its collegiate environment and the athletic department will enjoy needed financial benefits.
The central focus of the renovation process must be the fans. There is no Big House or Michigan football tradition without diehard students, alumni and fans chanting “Hail to the Victors” in the freezing cold. It is essential that the University does not contract seating for students, alumni and season ticket holders. For the University community to embrace stadium renovations, the University must proceed cautiously and transparently by actively informing and involving students, alumni and all other Michigan fans.