Stadium Expansion: Hot Ticket for the New Millennium
by Will Stewart,, 7/27/98

Stadium expansion.  The mere mention of those two words in concert with each other conjures up images of bowl-shaped stadiums filled with 100,000 screaming fans. Amenities abound, like luxury boxes, club-level seating, lounges, brightly-lit concession stands packed with goodies of all kinds, closed-circuit TV systems … and a Jumbotron replay system.

A luxurious, multimillion dollar facility with all the amenities listed above is fast becoming a badge of legitimacy in today's college football world. If you've got one, then your program is on the up-and-up, and brighter days are ahead. If you don't have one, then you're falling behind, soon to be relegated to the dredges of college football, where you can hang out with the other nobodies.

Where did this feeding frenzy get started? How come all of the sudden, every AD whose school has a 1-A football program is suddenly faced with the quandary of how to raise dozens of millions of dollars to (a) fund a stadium expansion, or (b) build a brand new one? Why is a topic that didn't even exist 10 years ago suddenly so hot?

The Roots of a Movement

I think the current movement in the NCAA has its genesis in the NFL. Some time in the 80's, in an effort to raise extra money to meet rising player salaries, the NFL started building elaborate stadiums designed to generate extra revenue mainly through the leasing of luxurious corporate "skyboxes," or posh, enclosed rooms with a club-like atmosphere where big corporations or the upper crust could wine, dine, and perhaps do business while watching the football game.

In the NFL, the motive was money. The owners had to make more of it.

Now the stadium expansion bug has crept down to the NCAA, and it's spreading like a bad cold. Whereas the NFL owners demand brand new stadiums from their cities (and they'll move the team across the country if they don't get 'em), college football athletic directors are mostly just looking to beef up their existing facilities. Most of them can't build a new stadium on-campus or off, and they certainly can't move their teams to a different city, so upgrading the existing stadium is more often than not the best option.

As with the NFL, the motivation is money. The more, the better, and skyboxes and Jumbotrons are revenue generators. They're cash-flow producers, year in and year out. Plus, luxurious stadiums impress the good recruits, and everyone knows that good recruits build winning teams, which go to bowls, and make more money, and get on TV more often, and make more money….

But more than that, a flashy new stadium (or a recently upgraded one) is a badge of honor and pride that alumni, particularly the big-money donors, can wear proudly. Like a victory on the field, a nice stadium is something to be proud of, and it's a sign that your program is one of the best and is moving onward and upward.

The flip side of the coin is that if you don't have a flashy stadium, then you're getting left behind, and your program is on the way down. The recruits aren't going to come to your school, and you're not going to bowls, and you're not going to get on TV, and before you know it, you'll be toast. You'll be Temple.

This article takes a look at stadium expansion projects around the country and answers the questions:

  • What's everybody else doing?
  • How much does it cost, and how are they funding it?
  • What should Tech do?
  • How should Tech fund it?

The answers to the first two questions will amaze you, and after you're done soaking it in, it will scare the bejeesus out of you.

Here at Virginia Tech, we're on the verge of finishing the $11 million Merryman Center, which was funded strictly through donations, and it was money that took an agonizingly long time to raise. It's going to be a great facility, and Hokie fans should be proud. It has taken a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to raise the money and build the building.

But around the country, other schools are spending multiple times that on their football stadiums. $15 million is the going rate to even think about expanding or upgrading a stadium, and some schools are spending $20 million or more. A very close neighbor of ours is spending $50 million, and a kindred soul to the north is blowing an eye-popping $85 million on stadium upgrades and expansion.

When I'm done giving you figures and you're done cruising the links I'm going to present to you, I guarantee that if you're even slightly prone to pessimism, then you'll have sweaty palms and a feeling of panic in your heart. To keep up with the rest of the college football world, we Hokies have another long, hard hill to climb.

The good news is that we have a smart, capable athletic director in Jim Weaver, a man with a plan, and the vision and energy to carry it out. I'll give you a peek into what I think his mindset is and what the future of Lane Stadium holds. And lastly, I'll give you some idea of how I think we ought to pay for it, and what we're all going to have to do as Hokie fans to make it happen.

Maybe that will dry your palms and slow down your heart rate. But until then, here comes the ugly part: we find out what our competitors are doing.

If Everybody's Doing it, Then What is it They're Doing?

When you start to dig into this subject, not only are you amazed to find out what other schools are doing, but you're floored to find out who those schools are.

It's not just the tradition-laden schools of the Big 10 and Pac 10, with their huge, loyal, big-money fan bases that are upgrading their stadiums. Some of the bottom-feeders of college football are getting set to move into luxurious new digs, including one of Tech's most hated former rivals.

And oddly enough, some of the hottest stadium projects are going on in a conference that even the Big East sneers at: Conference USA.

For now, I'm just going to look at what other schools are doing and how much it costs. I'll get into how they're funding it later.

First up: the Hoos

It's well-known around these parts that our neighbors to the north and east, the UVa Cavaliers, have just launched an impressive stadium expansion/renovation project.

The project will increase Scott Stadium seating capacity from 42,000 to about 60,000 and will enclose the stadium at both ends (actually, one end won't exactly be enclosed, although the famous "Hill" will be regraded and moved closer to the field).

In the process, all restrooms, concession stands, etc. will be renovated and upgraded, and a Jumbotron will be installed on the Hill end. When the Hoos are done, they'll have one of the most state-of-the-art facilities in the country.

They need it, in order to keep up with the UNC Tarheels, who have recently spent about $40 million on a refurb of Kenan Stadium. It appears to be money well spent in UNC's case, as their football fortunes have risen in lockstep with their stadium's capacity and luxury.

The cost for UVa? A cool $50 million.

Penn State: They're spending HOW MUCH?

$85 million, that's how much.

Boggles the mind, doesn't it? For that much, they're probably building a whole new stadium, right? JoPa Stadium?

Nope. They're just renovating venerable Beaver Stadium. And they're only getting 10,000 new seats in the deal.

I'm still trying to figure out how they're spending $85 million. Some of it is going into a brand new upper deck in the end zone, while another big chunk is going in to skyboxes along one side of the stadium. While they're at it, they're going to upgrade the stadium facade and improve access into the stands (I've been there, and brother, they need better access to the stands).

They're going to increase and improve the restrooms, add more concession stands, and improve the locker rooms.

And yep, they're getting a Jumbotron.

Anyone else see a pattern developing here?

Meanwhile, Down in Conference USA, They're Going Nuts

Would you believe that Conference USA is not just a hotbed of stadium expansion, but also a place where a brand new stadium is being built?

At ECU, they're adding an 8,000 seat upper deck that will increase seating capacity to 43,000, if I remember correctly. The new deck will have new concession stands and restrooms, of course, and will cost $14 million.

That's peanuts when compared to the goings-on at Louisville and Houston. Details on the Houston project are sketchy and hard to find, but I think that all you need to see are the artist's renderings of the project to get the idea.

I think this is "just" an expansion of their existing 22,000 seat on-campus Robertson Stadium to turn it into a real stadium (in the past, the Cougars have played a lot of their games in the Houston Astrodome). The word is that the Cougars are going to have a seating capacity of about 50,000 in their stadium, with 20 to 25 luxury boxes.

The College Stadiums and Arenas Home Page lists the capacity of Robertson Stadium as 53,000, but when you click on the link, the page you're taken to shows a rinky-dink facility and lists the capacity as 22,000.

I wasn't able to find any hard info about the project, but in my surfing, I did happen upon an unofficial page dedicated to their brand new Merryman-like athletic facility, which ran up a $29 million tab.

But the whopper project going on in C-USA is the construction of a brand new football stadium for a hated former Metro rival, the backstabbing Louisville Cardinals.

It's a sight to make you ill: the Redbirds are getting brand new digs called Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. The new stadium will only seat about 45,000 fans, but it's going to be posh, as you would expect a new stadium to be.

Cost? Only $56 million. That's right, the school known for basketball, the perennial football nobody from Conference USA, is putting together brand new digs for over $50 million.

But I've got to admit that the funding for the project is an education in how to pay for a stadium. More on that later.

Had Enough? Here's a few more

  • Alabama has added 13,000 new seats, including 3,000 new seats in 81 skyboxes, for $35 million.
  • South Carolina is adding 7600 seats and "club" seating for $13.5 million.
  • Kansas State is adding 7,000 seats for $12.8 million, and recently built a new Jumbotron for $700,000.
How Are They Paying for All That?

I can picture $15 million and what it takes to raise it. But when I hear that Penn State is spending $85 million, and that Louisville is dropping $56 million, my head swims. Not to mention that UVa is spending $50 million like it was nothing.

Where in the world does all that money come from? How is it that we can struggle to raise $10.7 million for the Merryman Center, but those schools can drop 5-8 times that much on their stadiums?

With Penn State, in addition to the winning tradition of more than three decades, they have sheer numbers on their side. What kind of numbers? Their official web site says that they have nearly 80,000 students on their 24 campuses, which means that almost 20,000 potential donors to the athletic program are graduating each year, over three times as many as at Virginia Tech.

At Penn State, about 95,000 fans make the pilgrimage to State College each and every Saturday. They pack a lot of fans into the seats, and those fans translate into ticket money. As I've said several times on the HokieCentral web site, at Penn State, you have to donate money just to be put on a waiting list for season tickets.

So, not only is football religion at Penn State, it's a large religion, and a lucrative one. How lucrative? The web page dedicated to the Beaver Stadium renovation states, "The cost of the estimated $84 million project, planned for completion in two construction stages by the 2001 season, will be totally met by anticipated new ticket revenue, suite- and club-seating receipts and private contributions."


Meanwhile, at UVa, there may not be as many pockets as there are at Penn State, but those pockets are deep. The University of Virginia is home to a law school, a medical school, and an MBA school, all of which rank among the finest in the country. Doctors, lawyers, and top-flight MBA's all make a lot of money, and they're not bashful about giving some of it back to their alma mater.

By now, the man named Carl Smith is legend. On a September night last year, Smith pledged $25 million to the UVa stadium expansion fund, all by his lonesome (and then he proceeded to talk about it on ESPN in a droning, rambling soliloquy that proved not only is he the most generous man in existence, but also the most boring. But that's another story).

As an aside, Smith's gift, contrary to popular belief, is not a single check written in one stroke. According to what a high-ranking person in the VTAF told me, Smith's gift is a pledge to donate about $2+ million a year for over a decade, and it's also a matching gift, meaning that UVa has to raise the same amount via other channels.

But you get the point. The $50 million stadium expansion fund, half of which was met by Smith's pledge, is part of a larger, ongoing fund-raising project that will net UVa about $750 million dollars when completed, which dwarfs the $300+ million raised by The Campaign for Virginia Tech. And Tech's six-year Campaign ain't no slouch, so anything that doubles it, and more, is amazing.

So in the case of Penn State, they do it with sheer volume of donors, and in the case of UVa, they do it with rich donors. But how in the world is Louisville raising over $50 million?

Pay close attention, because as much as I hate to admit it, the way Louisville is accomplishing the feat serves as a model for the way Tech will probably fund stadium expansion and renovation. The Cardinals are using a combination of big money, seating licenses … and corporate donations (aha!).

As of February this year (sorry, that's the most recent information that I have), the Cardinals had raised their money from these sources:

  • The CEO of Papa John's Pizza donated $5 million, hence the name "Papa John's Cardinal Stadium."
  • Over 4000 fans and alumni pledged $15 million in lifetime seating rights, for an average of $3750 each.
  • Corporate donations: $23 million from Anheuser-Busch, Bank One, Keil Brothers, Oil Inc./BP, UPS, McDonalds, Pepsi, Brown Foundation, Kentucky Kingdom, and the City of Louisville and Jefferson County.
  • As of early this year, Louisville was still taking donations to raise the remaining $13 million needed. I'm betting they'll make it, because they seem to know how to raise money.

Let's boil those numbers down to their essence: that's $20 million from individuals, and $23 million from corporate donations. If you consider the donation from the Papa John's CEO as corporate money, then it's skewed even further to $15 million from individuals, and $28 million from corporations.

The tradeoff is, not only is their stadium named "Papa John's Stadium," but it's going to be plastered with ads from the list of heavy hitters in the "Corporate Donations" paragraph above. In exchange for selling out, the Cardinals are getting a brand new, state of the art 45,000 seat facility.

The Louisville lesson proves that even if you don't have a zillion fans or Carl Smith on your side, it can be done, for big bucks … if you're willing to go corporate.

What Should the Hokies do to Lane Stadium?

Ahh, now the fun stuff. No more talking about what other people are doing, and how they're paying for it. Let's talk about what Tech should do, and how we should pay for it.

When you give it some thought, Tech's course as to what we should do to Lane Stadium as part of renovation/expansion effort is pretty clear. Some things need to be done, and soon, while other things are "wish list" items.

More on that later, but first, let's talk about what we're doing now. Are you even aware that we're doing something to Lane at this very moment? A lot of people don't know that Lane is currently undergoing a freshening up, both inside and out.

Lane is in the midst of a $1.9 million dollar refurbishment aimed at brightening the stadium, sealing some leaks, and replacing some seats. All of the concrete risers, or steps, in the stadium have been sealed (waterproofed) and coated. Small orange stripes have been painted on the steps to help them stand out. These changes will give the inside of the stadium a "cleaner" look.

The concrete in the lower south corner of the East stands (the student side, in other words) is being replaced. This section is over the visiting team's locker room. The concrete in the rest of the lower stands on the East side was replaced two years ago, and additional handicap areas were added. Those handicap areas will be extended all the way across the East side during the current project.

The oldest wooden seating on the West (press box) side has been replaced by new Locust board bleachers, a gift from Tech alumnus Mitch Carr and Augusta Lumber of Staunton, Va. Even more of the old wooden bleachers will be replaced next season.

Also, in a move that I soundly applaud, the sound system is being expanded to include speakers under the stands and in the restrooms. That means that when you go to the rest room or a concession stand, you won't be left totally in the dark about what's going on out on the field.

Next year, the outside of the stadium will be cleaned and coated to match the work that was done recently on Cassell Coliseum. If you haven't seen the Cassell lately, it looks great. When the roof was repaired a couple of years ago, part of the money for the roof was spent on cleaning up and repainting the Coliseum, so its grand arches and exterior walls are now sparkling white, instead of dingy gray.

This project is a good start and will give Lane Stadium a much-need freshening up. If you haven't really looked at Lane lately, the concrete has truly become a depressing gray, and in many places, it has some kind of green fungus growing on it. And as many of you know, it leaks like a sieve when it rains, so maybe the waterproofing will clean up a lot of the mess that occurs under the stands on rainy days.

But where do we go from here?

A Plan for Taking Lane Stadium Well Into the Next Century

I hear a lot about facilities, and in particular Lane Stadium, from many different sources. I don't pretend to see into the mind of Jim Weaver, so you shouldn't take any of this as gospel, but hearing as much as I hear, I think I've got a pretty good idea of how Lane Stadium's renovation and expansion is going to go, once it starts happening.

Jim Weaver has spoken from time to time about wanting to see luxury boxes in Lane Stadium, so I think you can bank on them appearing at some point, but I can't recall if he has ever said anything specific about having a Jumbotron. In addition to those two items, there is the issue of the visitor's locker rooms at Lane Stadium, which are small and underequipped.

Also, there are no media rooms and no space in which to conduct post game interviews of the visiting team. The interviews are actually done underneath tents that are set up on the Lane Stadium grass, which explains how the Miami of Ohio coach was being interviewed on the field after their upset of Tech last year and was heard to utter the phrase, "Their (Tech's) band hits harder than their football team." He said that because an overzealous Marching Virginian plowed into him in the middle of his post game interview.

Lastly, we're eventually going to need more seats, so they have to be included in the planning.

Here's how I think it's going to go, and what everything's going to cost:

1.) Build a facility housing visitor's locker rooms and media rooms in the South (scoreboard) end of the stadium.

You can just about bank on this happening first. It’s not glamorous. It's not 15,000 more seats, it won't make Lane Stadium a horseshoe, and it's not a Jumbotron. But it's priority number one.

Tech's current visitor's locker room has only 72 lockers, which is tolerable, but there are only six showers. When dozens of sweaty men have to share six showers, then there's something wrong with this picture. There may also be other things wrong with the locker room, evidenced by the fact that the concrete over the locker room is being replaced as part of the current project.

As I mentioned, there are no media rooms in that portion of the stadium either, so look for Tech to kill two birds with one stone and construct a building in the end zone that will house a new visitor's locker room and media (interview) rooms.

The question is, what else will Tech pack into the new building? I vote for concessions at ground level on the side that will face out of the stadium, towards the parking lot. Rent the space out at primo rates to national chains like Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and McDonald's.

Also, pack a killer Tech apparel store into the ground floor of the building, similar to the one under the East stands, only bigger.

Lastly, some athletic offices will need to go into the building. One of the offices I suggest is a VTAF donation center, one at each end of the building, so the VTAF can hit up people who are going into the game and coming out of the game. If 1000 of the 50,000 people walking into the stadium can be persuaded to donate $25 right there on the spot, that's $25,000 that the VTAF didn't have when the day started. Multiply that by six home games, and you've got an easy $150,000 a year, donated by Tech's best fans. But I could just be dreaming there.

So, the end zone facility, when it happens, will have visitor's locker rooms, media rooms, and athletic offices in it. And it should have concessions in it.

It ought to be built to fit in with future seating expansion, so when Tech encloses that end of the stadium into a horseshoe, the building will fit right into the base of the new seating, naturally. And perhaps it ought to be built to support a Jumbotron.

And for a really wild idea, wouldn't it be great to have at least one floor of the South End Zone building serve as hotel rooms? What Hokie fan wouldn't kill to spend the night in the end zone of Lane Stadium, wake up Saturday and "tailgate" in the room, and then watch the game through the picture windows lining the wall of their hotel room? "Room service" could be provided by the same kitchen and wait staff that serve the luxury boxes ("What luxury boxes?" you say. More on that later). A weekend stay at the "Lane Stadium Hotel" could go for as much as $1000 or more. Wow!

Estimated cost of the end zone building: $6-$10 million. UVa built a similar end zone facility, named Bryant Hall, in 1985 at a cost of $3 million. Tech's end zone facility should be bigger and better, so it will probably cost more.

2.) Build a Jumbotron closed circuit replay system.

If you're upgrading your stadium, a Jumbotron is a must. Don’t kid yourself - recruits want to be able to watch themselves on the replay system, and this is all about recruits, isn't it? If you get the good ones, then your football team will be good, and you'll go to lots of bowls and get on TV a lot, which means you'll make lots of money…you get the idea.

So despite the cries of the traditionalists, who shout "No Jumbotron!", a Jumbotron should and will happen. The great thing is, they're relatively inexpensive (about a million bucks), and once they're built, you make money off of them by selling advertising. Read about how Kansas State did it a few years ago:  Big-Screen TV's Hit KSU Stadium.

So not only is a Jumbotron easy to finance, but it makes money for the school that installs it. The only question is, in Lane Stadium, where are you going to put it?

I can't call this one. The common mode of thinking is that when Lane Stadium is finally enclosed in a horseshoe, the new seats will be added to the South (scoreboard) end. If that's the case, then you don't want to put a Jumbotron there, because the people in the horseshoe end zone will have to turn around and strain, looking almost straight up to see it.

But if you put the Jumbotron in the North end of Lane Stadium, then it might obscure the view of Cassell Coliseum and the Merryman Center, and besides that, the sun shines on that end of the stadium. You might not be able to see it in the glare.

So I don't know where the Jumbotron is going to go. Perhaps we'll wind up with two of them, one in each end. But my own opinion is that we've got to have one, both from a revenue standpoint and a cache standpoint.

Take a deep breath, you traditionalists, because I think the Jumbotron is going to happen.

Estimated cost: $1 million.

3.) Build Luxury Boxes.

Ahh, luxury boxes, also known as skyboxes or "club seating." These glass-enclosed booths are bona fide money makers, built to pamper corporations and big-money fat cats. Jim Weaver wants these, so we're going to get them. The questions are, how many, when, and where?

There are two places you can put luxury boxes in Lane Stadium, maybe three. Here they are, in descending order of likelihood:

  • Along the top of the West (press box) stands
  • In the South end zone
  • In the North end zone

The top of the West stands is probably the best place for luxury boxes. They'll fit nicely there, and aesthetically, they can be blended in on both sides of the press box. Up at that height, it won't really matter if they're located more towards one end of the stands, because the skybox residents will be able to see the game action just fine.

Of course, that side of the stands is not structurally able to support luxury boxes, so we're talking some mondo support construction here. I'm guessing that it would take $15 million to $20 million to build the necessary support structure and the boxes themselves in that location. It would take quite a while to make up that money in box fees.

But hey, remember that building we've already constructed in the South end zone, as Step 1 above? Why not put some luxury boxes there? As long as the lowest boxes are on the third floor of the building or higher, the view would be just fine (end zone seats aren't that bad, as long as you're sitting up high).

And the building that we just built already provides the support structure for it. Not a bad idea, huh? We could put 1-2 floors worth of skyboxes there for a mere $5-$8 million, probably.

The North (Cassell) end zone would be a pretty good location for some skyboxes, too. "Ground level" is already elevated fairly high on that end, so the view would be pretty good. And it wouldn't cost an arm and a leg to build them there, either. Again, $5-$8 million, depending upon how many you built.

Estimated cost: $5 - $20 million, depending upon how many boxes you build, and where. This is a tough call, because the West stands are the best location, but also the most expensive. Perhaps we could start with the cheaper end zone boxes, make money off of them, and offer their renters first dibs on West stands boxes, to be built later.

4.) Add More Seats.

And finally, we get more seats.

Years ago, when the topic of stadium expansion came up, all that was being discussed was additional seats. Luxury boxes hadn't been invented yet, and most people didn't know what a "Jumbotron" was.

In fact, in the 1977 version of The Bugle, the Virginia Tech yearbook, the Athletic Department had an artist's rendering of an 80,000 seat Lane Stadium inserted into the book. Take a gander at this monster (thanks to "Fredericksburg Hokie" for providing this scan):

(Click for a larger image)

Take a look at that. Not a luxury box in sight, and that thing at the top of the stands on the end of the horseshoe sure isn't a Jumbotron.

For another look at a larger Lane Stadium, take a look at this doctored photo produced by HokieCentral member Randy Pennington:

lane2020.jpg (53530 bytes) (Click for a larger image)

Randy produced this photo a couple of years back.  A companion photo, showing the interior of the stadium, is available in HokieCentral's Members Only area.

By the time the other improvements are added that have already been discussed here, there will hopefully be a need for more seating in Lane Stadium. The Tech football program is getting more popular year by year and currently averages about 45,000 fans a game in the 50,000-seat stadium. When regular visitors West Virginia, Virginia, Syracuse, and Miami come to town, Lane is filled to capacity, and we could sell more tickets if we had more seats.

In the next decade, the situation should only improve. Tech is stockpiling some exciting talent on the team, and the Big East rivalries with WVU, Miami, and Syracuse are building as the years go by. Meanwhile, Jim Weaver continues to schedule teams that will sell the stadium out, such as Clemson, Texas A&M, and possibly Penn State and Wisconsin (although PSU and WU are just rumors, at this point).

The only question mark where rising attendance is concerned is the conference situation. When conference realignment occurs some time in the next five years or so, if the Big East doesn't survive, then Tech's conference fortunes will either go up (to perhaps the SEC) or down (maybe to Conference USA).

If the Hokies wind up in the SEC, then Lane Stadium won't be big enough no matter how many seats are added. But if the Hokies wind up in Conference USA, well, maybe 50,000 seats will be just about right.

But let's assume that extra seats will be needed. They'll wind up in the South end zone, which has always been the plan, as shown in the artist's conception above. It won't quite take the form shown, there, though, due to the building that is going to be built there, and perhaps the addition of luxury boxes and a Jumbotron.

I think that when the new seats are added, there will be between 12,000 and 15,000 of them. At a minimum, there must be at least 12,000, so the newly expanded Lane Stadium will be as large, or larger, than state rival UVa's stadium will be after expansion.

Estimated cost: $15-$20 million. The good news is, the Jumbotron and luxury boxes will help fund the expansion.

5.) Other Things.

You don't just add new gizmos and new seats to the stadium without renovating what's already there. As the improvements and expansions discussed here are carried out, it will also be necessary to refurbish the existing rest rooms and concession stands in Lane Stadium.

I'd also like to see more apparel shops within the stadium, and a closed circuit TV system, so Hokie fans can watch the game action while waiting in line for a hot dog or the rest room. And if you want to really dream, how about escalators to the upper sections of the East stands? The escalators can be placed in the large grassy area that currently exists behind the East stands.

Estimated cost of these upgrades: at least $10 million, maybe as much as $20 million, depending upon what's done. These tasks can be done in bits and pieces over the next decade, much as the current $2 million refurbishment is being done right now.

Now the Big Question:  How Do We Pay for It?

How, indeed? I have just outlined renovations and expansions that will run up a bill of $37-$71 million, depending upon how all-out we go, and where we put things.

Let's go with the following estimates:

  • End zone building: $6 million
  • Jumbotron: $1 million
  • Luxury Boxes: $20 million (let's put 'em on top of the West stands, which is the $20 million option)
  • 15,000 more seats: $20 million
  • Other refurbishments: $10 million

Wow, that's $57 million, which is almost equal to the cost of Louisville's new 45,000 seat Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. And it's about the same amount that UVa is spending on their current project, which is not surprising, when you consider that the scope of everything I have outlined here matches the scope of what UVa is doing.

So back to the question: namely, how do we pay for it?

The way I see it, if Virginia Tech wants to fund this sort of stadium expansion project, and they want it done strictly through donations and normal revenue streams, then it will have to be a long-term project. Ten years minimum, probably 15 years total.

If it is done in 10-15 years, then it will take about $4-$6 million per year, in dedicated stadium expansion donations, to fund it. The VTAF is currently raising money at a $6.4 million per year rate, but not all of that can be spent on capital projects like facilities. Some of it goes towards scholarship endowment, for example.

And when you take the total facilities slice of the pie, not all of that will go towards football facilities. A large portion of it, of course, must go towards facilities for basketball, baseball, and the non-revenue, or "Olympic" sports. So, just because the VTAF is raising $6 million a year doesn't mean we're there yet. We're not close, actually.

But that's no reason to despair. The $6.4 million figure posted by the VTAF in the last fiscal year is a new record, and in recent years, donations to the VTAF have increased markedly. I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility for the VTAF to be raising $10 million a year within 5-8 years. Jim Weaver has a great reputation when it comes to athletic facilities and raising money to build them, which is one of the reasons Tech hired him.

So, if you don't mind our facilities playing second fiddle to UVa's (and WVU's, and Boston College's, and even Louisville's) for about 10-15 years, then we can do this, and we can do it on our own. You'll have to wait at least a decade, and you might even have to wait nearly two decades, but we can get it done.

But if you want to have your stadium renovation and expansion, and you want it soon, there's another route we can go: corporate sponsorship.

Let's revisit the Louisville numbers. Those backstabbing deadbeats that we used to share a basketball conference with drummed up $23 million from big corporate sponsors like Anheuser-Busch, Bank One, UPS, McDonalds, and Pepsi. They probably did it in a fairly short time period, say, 2-4 years.

And to put it simply, they are not a player in NCAA football. They're nobody. The Hokies aren't exactly Michigan or Notre Dame, but we have been to a couple of Alliance Bowls, and we've been a fixture in the Top 25 for about five years now. So I've got to think that if we gathered some big-time fund raisers and had them start hitting up corporate sponsors, we could raise a couple dozen million ourselves.

The tradeoff? "Worsham Field at Lane Stadium" becomes "Pepsi's Worsham Field at Heilig-Meyers Lane Stadium." And instead of bare white walls with orange and maroon stripes, you're going to have to look at some ads. You might even see the Pepsi symbol painted into the turf next to the VT's at the fifty yard line, and whenever a timeout gets called, that new Jumbotron will run a McDonald's ad or a UPS ad.

But that's what corporate sponsorship is all about. If you're afraid of playing second fiddle to other schools, most notably in-state recruiting rival UVa, for over a decade, then perhaps we should go the corporate sponsorship route.

I can't make this call for all of Virginia Tech, but I know one thing - I want what's best for the Hokies, and if corporate sponsorship can get us the stadium we need to compete in the next century, and if it can get it for us sooner, then I'm all for it. If we fall behind in the "stadium race" for too long, we'll get buried.

Some people can do it with sheer numbers (Penn State), and some can do it with deep pockets (UVa), and others have to do it by selling out (Louisville). We Hokies may have to go the last route to get where we need to be.


When I first started researching this article, and when I started learning what other schools were doing, I got a little panicky. But after breaking down stadium expansion and renovation into its component parts, and figuring out the cost of everything, I became more hopeful.

We can do this, and we will do it. We have no choice, and Jim Weaver realizes that. The questions aren't so much what we're going to do, but when, and how we're going to pay for it. We're lucky to have Jim Weaver on our side, because if anyone can figure it what to do and then provide the drive to accomplish it, he can.

These are exciting times to be a Virginia Tech fan, and to ponder the changes that are going to happen to Lane Stadium as we enter the twenty-first century. My advice to you is to take a lot of pictures the next time you're in Lane Stadium, because it's not going to look like that for much longer.

Heck, fifteen years from now, when you look at "Pepsi Worsham Field at Heilig-Meyers Lane Stadium," or whatever it's going to be called, you might not even recognize it.

Credits: many thanks to N2VTFTBL, Virginia Tech SID Dave Smith, Fredericksburg Hokie (Jerry Zekert), and Randy Pennington, who all provided material for this article.


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