Life in the Not-So-Cheap Seats
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com
TSL Extra, Issue #22

It's all so Ö un-Hokie-like.

Luxury boxes, stadium clubs, chairback seats, donations of hundreds of dollars required to sit in a certain section Ö these are all things that have arrived at Lane Stadium for the first time this season, thanks to the brand spanking-new 11,000-seat South end zone expansion that debuted in last Sunday's Arkansas State game.

Hokie fans pride themselves on being hardcore football nuts who scream at the top of their lungs and stay until the final gun sounds, whether the score is 63-0 or 0-63. They've never pictured themselves as fat-cat high rollers who pay extra dollars for the privilege of sitting in a luxury box or hanging out in an enclosed stadium club during games.

But with the advent of the new "SEZ" expansion, those opportunities have arrived, and Hokie fans are taking advantage of them. We even got a couple of those SEZ seats with stadium club access here at TechSideline.com, and for game one against Arkansas State, yours truly got a hold of the "company tickets," checked them out, and interviewed a couple of fans to get their impressions.

An SEZ Primer

There are 11,120 new seats in the South end zone expansion, divided up as follows:

  • 880 Zone Club Chairback Seats, $750
  • 321 Touchdown Terrace Chairback Seats, $500
  • 1,160 Goal Line Bleacher-Back Seats, $200
  • 8,759 Upper & Lower Deck Bench Seats, no charge

The Zone Club, Touchdown Terrace, and Goal Line sections require an annual "gift" per seat in the amounts shown. That means that if you want to buy a seat in the Zone Club, for example, you have to "donate" $750 and then buy a $252 season ticket. So that comes out to $1002 per seat for the 2002 season, and the $750 has to be paid every year.

The Zone Club and Touchdown Terrace seats come with access to the two Stadium Clubs available in the SEZ expansion; the $200 Goal Line seats do not provide access to the clubs. The stadium clubs, one on each end of the SEZ, are each 5,000 square-foot clubs that provide full food and beverage service, multiple television monitors, custom seating areas throughout the lounge, private restrooms and glass walls for watching the game from inside the club.

I checked out the clubs, and yes, they're nice. They're carpeted and are nicely appointed without being lavish. Among the food offerings, they have standard fare like hot dogs, candy bars, and the like, just like what you would find at any concession stand around the stadium.

They also offer a nice buffet, including (for the Arkansas State game) mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, rolls, pork barbecue, and sliced-to-order turkey.

But note that your $750 or $500 donation doesn't buy you the right to cheap food. In the stadium clubs, food prices are sky-high, just like everywhere else: $3 for drinks, $5 for chicken wings, $3 for a jumbo hot dog, $2 for a candy bar, and $2.50 for a big chocolate chip cookie.

In the buffet line, mashed potatoes and gravy, baked beans, and green beans will all set you back $1.50 per serving. Barbecued pork on a bun goes for $4.50, and carved-to-order turkey costs $4.75.

As a Zone Club or Touchdown Terrace occupant, your ticket stub is your access to the Stadium Club. Game tickets issued to those with Stadium Club access have special gold-embossed end stubs (it makes for a very sharp-looking ticket, I must say). When you enter the stadium through the SEZ gates, they do not tear your ticket; instead, when you first go into one of the Stadium Clubs, they tear one of your gold ticket stubs off, punch a hole through the ticket, and stamp a star on the back of your hand.

If you leave the Stadium Club and try to re-enter, a ticket with a gold-embossed stub is the first thing the Stadium Club doormen look for. The punched hole is in case you lose your other gold ticket stub, thus making your game ticket look like an "ordinary" game ticket. And the stamp on the back of your hand is a third line of verification.

So, What Do the Fans Think?

VT grad Les Sutherland isn't a season ticket holder, but his company, Lopez and Associates out of Abingdon, Virginia, decided to buy some tickets in the $750 Zone Club section, "to do something fun with clients," he says.

Sutherland was lucky enough to score the company tickets for game one. For this particular game, he brought Robbie Blevins (not a VT graduate) with him. The two of them didn't check out the Stadium Club until half time, purchasing some concession food elsewhere and bringing it into the club with them.

They liked their seats in section 202, tucked right under the upper deck overhang, in front of the row of luxury boxes in the SEZ. "I think they're good," Blevins notes. "We've got a good angle, because we're over to the side a little bit, so we're not blocked by the goal post."

Indeed, the SEZ is steeply banked, enough so that only the lower rows of seats suffer from severe depth perception problems. By the time you get up to Row J, the first of six rows in the Zone Club section, the visibility is good.

As for the Stadium Club, both Sutherland and Blevins like it, but you can tell that they treat it as more of a place to spend half time than a place to spend the entire game, or even a good portion of it, despite the fact that the club is roomy and climate-controlled, and the glass wall offers a good view of the action on the field.

"It's less crowded than I figured it would be," Sutherland said, "especially during half time, considering it's the first game. But we're going back outside [to watch the rest of the game]."

Karen Shelor and her friend, Cindy Cunningham, didn't make it into the Stadium Club until half time either, just like Sutherland and Blevins. Neither Shelor nor her husband are Hokie grads (he's from Floyd and went to school at Duke, and she's from Maryland, where she attended college), but they have been Virginia Tech season ticket holders for over twenty years. They have had four seats at the top of section 12 on the West side for years, and like many Hokie fans in that position, they bought additional seats in the SEZ, without giving up their old seats.

"My husband wanted to try it and see if he liked it," she explains, and immediately starts rattling off what she likes about the new digs. "The folding seat is really comfortable, and we like being out of the sun and the weather [the top three rows in the Zone Club section are under the cover of the upper deck]. It's nice to be able to come in to the Stadium Club, catch the first half highlights, and get some food."

The view from the end zone is also perfectly acceptable to Shelor. "We're in section 205, right in front of the [luxury box] windows, the third row down. It's great, you can see the whole field. No turning your head like a tennis match. You can see everything."

Having experienced the South end zone and the Stadium Club, Shelor's vote appears to be for the South end zone over her Row WWW seats in section 12. She's sold on the visibility and being under cover, but the Stadium Club isn't much more than a half time diversion for her.

"We'll probably just use it at half time," she says. "I usually stay outside. I feel like you're missing out [inside the Stadium Club]. It's not like being at the football game, because there's windows between you, and you can't really hear the crowd."

Cunningham agrees. "You donít hear all the excitement or the band."

Nothing Beats the Great Outdoors

Maybe it sounds odd to you that someone would spend $750 per seat for access to a Stadium Club and then not use it heavily. But the Hokie fans we talked to, and the general traffic pattern throughout the day, indicated that it's not likely that those with access to the Stadium Club will do much more than hang out in it during half time.

I was in the East Stadium Club at kickoff, and there were a grand total of five people in the club when the Hokies ran out of the tunnel and when they kicked off. The clubs stayed mostly deserted during the first half, got some use at half time, and then were sparsely populated during the second half. Had the game been close, the fans may have completely cleared out after half time and gone back to their seats.

Sure, the clubs didn't seem to be getting heavy use during the game action, but it was 85 degrees and relatively comfortable outside. What about if it was 25 degrees outside?

Robbie Blevins laughs. ""We'd still be outside in our seats. We'd just have some anti-freeze."

 

TSLX Home

Copyright © 2002 Maroon Pride, LLC