Is the Expansion of Pro and Collegiate Stadiums Still a Good Idea?

Notre Dame
Notre Dame announced a $400 million expansion plan for their football stadium this week.

It was announced this week that the University of Notre Dame would be expanding Notre Dame Stadium in a project that will cost around $400 million according to the University president. This could potentially move the stadium to around 84,000 seats. Over the last decade, we’ve seen schools like Michigan and currently Texas A&M take on massive upgrades to their stadiums at monumental costs.

Even in the pro ranks we’ve seen shrines like Cowboys Stadium go up with over 100,000 seats all while stadiums like ones in Oakland and Jacksonville cover large sections of seats with massive, team colored tarps. Fielding competitive, tradition-rich teams certainly helps fill seats but even when those teams struggle or are average, they can lack butts in seats too.

Green Bay needed a last-minute save to avoid a blackout due to unsold tickets for their playoff game.

Take Green Bay for example who needed local companies to purchase tickets for the NFC Wild-Card game against San Francisco in order to avoid being blacked out locally. This is something that no one would have ever dreamed of in Green Bay but it happened.

It happened prior to Cincinnati’s Wild-Card game against San Diego as well yet colleges and professional teams still seek to expand their stadiums. The problem is that the places that expand and gain success are usually putting in things like massive video boards, free wi-fi and even food service brought directly to your seat.

The idea is to make coming to a game an experience that far exceeds just watching the game itself. People want to be entertained and feel they deserve as much as they possibly can get for the prices they are sometimes forced to pay to attend.

The problem is that even places like the University of Michigan who pack upwards of 114,000 people in Michigan Stadium, are seeing problems. Michigan had several games this season where hundreds of seats around the upper rim went unused. In the pro ranks, proud teams like the Steelers saw their final two or three home games unattended by as many as 15,000 people.

Stadiums can only do so much to keep people attending games and I fear they are no longer doing enough. People are starting to realize that with 60″ HDTV’s, bathrooms and refreshments just feet away and with no traffic to deal with that going to games just isn’t what it once was.

This isn’t to say people don’t still enjoy the atmosphere at stadiums but is it really worth it? I was in a very well-attended NFL game this year and for the most part had a great time. What I didn’t like was the over-intoxicated “fans” who clearly come to the games to socialize and be a spectacle themselves rather than watch the game.

I’ve been around long enough to know this type of thing isn’t going to go away anytime soon but I still can’t help but wonder why schools and franchises continue to get bigger with their stadiums when it gets tougher to fill the seats.

Fans don’t want the inconveniences of heavy traffic and large crowds for bathrooms anymore. Maybe it’s better to say they they’ve grown tired of them, especially for games where there isn’t a lot of meaning. Throw in the fact that going to a game as a couple or family of four let’s say, is financially impossible for millions of people.

Prices for tickets and beverages aren’t going to come down anytime soon because contracts keep getting more and more lucrative. At some point, I have to wonder if only the very wealthy will be able to attend top sporting events anymore?

If I’m a university or professional organization then I have to think long and hard about just how important adding seats is to my future plans considering the way things are going.