“How was your tour? Did we do well?” asked University Athletic Director Dave Brandon at the conclusion of the media’s look at the renovated Michigan Stadium on Wednesday.
“I have 226 million reasons why I hope you enjoyed what you saw.”
And now that the three-year construction project is set to be completed in time for the 2010 football season, the Michigan fanbase has 109,901 reasons to celebrate again: The new capacity of Michigan Stadium, announced on Wednesday, will once again make the Big House the largest stadium in the United States for either college or professional football.
Adding to the capacity are the 81 suites and 2,952 outdoor club seats that act as the standout features of the renovations. Among the other changes Brandon touted are more stadium access points, more restrooms, wider aisles, wider bench seats and more handicap-accessible seats. In addition, a new 152-seat press box is in place for the media on the west end of the stadium. Brandon said fans can expect to have an easier time leaving their seats during the game, thanks to different circulation space around the stadium.
A 30-percent noise increase on the field level was also promised, which will be tested by a sound engineer early in the season.
While not every suite and club seat has been sold, Brandon noted that the University is already coming ahead financially on the project through sale revenue.
“In the economic cycle that the country’s been going through and certainly Michigan and southeastern Michigan has gone through, I’m amazed we’ve done as well as we have,” Brandon said.
Still, Brandon said, “Our support from our fanbase has been amazing. You wouldn’t know there’s been a recession.”
About 60 percent of the 61 suite sales to date have come from individuals while the remaining 40 percent have come from corporations, according to Associate Athletic Director Joe Parker. He added that most people in the department had assumed the corporation sales would be higher.
While there have been some decommitments from the suites, Parker said that most individuals who decommitted eventually converted to the club suites rather than take nothing. The price of the suites vary between $55,000 and $85,000 annually for a minimal three-year commitment, based on location. Club seats require an annual gift of between $1,500 and $3,000 per seat, in addition to the price of a season ticket.
“I feel very good about where we’re at,” Parker said. “If you look across other university’s experiences I think it’s taken them two or three seasons to reach full occupancy.” Parker added that the club seats at Yost Ice Arena took three seasons to fill after being built in 2001.
Brandon said that the athletic department has not considered selling suites or club seats on a per-game basis.
The public was given their first look at the renovations, as well, with an all-day open house allowing access to the club seats on the east side’s upper deck. Michigan fans of all ages turned out in swarms to get their feel of the new seats.
“I don’t know how to put it into words how cool this place looks,” said incoming freshman Joe Oren, who attended every home game last season from Grand Rapids. He added that being able to afford a suite or club seat would be “something to strive for” in the future.
“It’s remarkable. I think it’s going to be fabulous,” said 1972 School of Education alum Beverley Parke, who was touring the Big House with her daughter as part of a college visit. She gestured to the empty bench seats at the front of the stadium. “You’re not stuck down there where you can’t see a single thing.”
Parke, who is physically disabled and confined to a wheelchair, also praised the University for their efforts to add more handicap-accessible seats.
“A lot of facilities aren’t really equipped (at other stadiums), and you feel like a second-class citizen,” Parke said. “I appreciate that they follow the law.”
With the new Big House nearly ready for its debut in Michigan’s home opener against the University of Connecticut on Sept. 4, the athletic department is already looking ahead to future expansion projects, with Brandon expressing an interest in renovating the scoreboards next.
“They look really old now, and they look undersized,” Brandon said. “The work and the planning never stops in terms of how we continue to grow and make Michigan Stadium better.”
For now, Brandon hopes that the athletic department has succeeded in their mission to improve the Michigan game day experience.
“You still walk in there and it’s still the Big House, and I’m really pleased about that,” he said.