Correcting the record: U of L stadium expansion

Got an email today that people on one of the message boards were discussing a comment I’d made in today’s C-J webcast with Rick Bozich that U of L didn’t need to expand its stadium. (Click here for the video, then hit “On Demand” and select from the choices)

Not exactly accurate. A transcript of my comments, in response to a question over whether U of L really needs football stadium expansion:

I don’t think they have the crowd demand now. I think what they’re looking at is a revenue situation . . . If you look at where the revenue is coming from at U of L, it’s pretty much maxed out in everything but men’s basketball and if you want to keep growing — and everybody keeps spending more — then you’ve got to find ways to keep adding revenue. And that’s what you do. Every other year WVU helps you fill that place, Kentucky helps you fill that place, maybe Pittsburgh gets good and brings people,and you put in some big crowds and pretty soon you’ve added 60,000 or 80,000 fans a year.

In other words, I agreed that while they might not be drawing the fans now to fill a 56,000-seat stadium, the move is geared more toward generating revenue, and that plan is a good one.

For a full treatment of U of L’s decision to expand its stadium, see this column I wrote on the subject, which I still consider my personal definitive statement on the rationale for expansion:

Papa John’s: Better stadium, better football
April 25, 2008

If you remember the days of free tickets to University of Louisville football games — or to be more accurate, free handfuls of tickets — the final state approval of a 21,000-seat expansion for Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium last week is tough to fathom.

In fact, one question that has come to me more than any other since UofL athletic director Tom Jurich unveiled the expansion is this: Why expand to more than 60,000 seats when you averaged less than 40,000 last season?

The answer is easy.

This is how growth works.

In its first year in Papa John’s, U of L’s season-ticket base grew by 10,000 before a single game was played.

In fact, of all the building that has taken place under Jurich’s watch — and that now includes a new facility for every varsity sport at the school — nothing is likely to be more important to the athletic program’s future than this new section at Papa John’s, which is planned to increase stadium capacity to 63,600 with 45 new luxury suites.

The economics are pretty simple. Sell out home games against Kentucky, West Virginia and one other opponent, and you’ve added the revenue equivalent of another home game every other year. Do it on a more regular basis and you’ve started to put yourself on a more level playing field with college football’s national powers, though that field will never be level. And that’s not even talking about the longer-term revenue of suite rentals.

You might wonder how the project will fly after a disappointing season, a 6-6 finish in which the Cards were one of a handful of eligible teams that didn’t go to a bowl.

The season was disastrous. Arguments otherwise are more spin than substance. But to abandon this project would be to admit, in a way, that the program has maxed out. Don’t hold your breath waiting for that admission.

Those around the Cardinals’ football program will admit this: Everything they have accomplished has been achieved by doing more with less. They’ve hired great coaches on the way up. They’ve taken national television appearances whenever they could get them. They’ve taken some second-chance players and many others who didn’t even get a first chance from big-time schools.

And as much as anything, they’ve capitalized on an unprecedented boom of football talent in this city while drawing major players from around the state, including some on the rebound from established powers. Michael Bush, Brian Brohm, Mario Urrutia, Eric Shelton.

But a time will come, has come, when the backyard isn’t always so well-stocked with that kind of emerging player. And a time comes when trying to do more with less eventually catches up with you.

So U of L football now will try to do more with more. Fund raising has steamed along, which in the face of last season says as much as anything about the commitment of fans and boosters.

U of L has done all it could to capitalize on its recent boom times. It climbed into the top 10, won a BCS bowl game and built an indoor practice facility.

This expansion is the last step of that capitalization and perhaps a necessary step toward continuing momentum.


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