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Beaver Stadium: From Farmer’s College to Cash Cow

by on March 16, 2017 11:30 PM

The last time Penn State decided to renovate Beaver Stadium was almost two decades ago.

A lot has happened since then.

This is how that decision was announced, via a Penn State press release dated May 21, 1998:

"Beaver Stadium Expansion OK'd; 10,000 Seats to be Added by 2001

"To meet the ever-increasing demand for tickets to Penn State football games, the University's Board of Trustees on May 15 approved a major renovation and expansion of Beaver Stadium. The expansion will add nearly 10,000 seats, greatly increase and improve rest-room and concession facilities, improve handicap access and pedestrian circulation patterns, upgrade locker rooms and add new scoreboards with instant-replay capability.

"President Graham B. Spanier, noting the many benefits of the expansion, stressed the access that the University will be able to provide to additional fans.

" 'The football program at Penn State is one of the most popular in the country,' said Spanier. 'This expansion will allow more fans to get tickets, and it will make going to Beaver Stadium a better experience for everyone, with greatly improved restrooms and concession stands. And the good thing for current fans is that the project will be completely self-supporting and will not take funding away from academic programs.'

"The cost of the estimated $84 million project, planned for completion in two construction stages by the 2001 season, will be met by revenue from the lease of skyboxes, club seating receipts, ticket sales from the new seats and other contributions...

"The proposed expansion includes the addition of a second tier in the south end zone that parallels the north addition of 1991, but which includes all chairback seats. It will provide approximately 6,000 general seats and an estimated 4,000 club seats. The construction also includes a minimum of 58 enclosed skyboxes in a three-level pavilion behind the east stands. Revenue from the lease of the skyboxes and the club seats will substantially underwrite the cost of the general seating, as well as the overall amenities, including restrooms, concession stands and circulation patterns...

"The expansion will bring the stadium's seating capacity to approximately 103,500. This will make Beaver Stadium the second largest collegiate stadium behind The University of Michigan, which is expanding to 107,000 seats.

" 'This is an important commitment on the part of the University to the future of Penn State football,' said head Coach Joe Paterno. 'We have the best fans in the country, and now even more of them will be able to get in and see the games in person.' "


By June 27, 2001, the project looked like this, according to another Penn State press release

"Beaver Stadium Expansion and Renovation Project Continues

"The $93 million Beaver Stadium expansion and renovation project continues to move forward on schedule for completion prior to the 2001 season. The seventh expansion of the facility in the Joe Paterno era will add more than 12,000 seats, giving Beaver Stadium the nation's second-largest capacity at 106,537. The first game in the expanded stadium will receive substantial national attention, as the Miami Hurricanes visit on Sept. 1 for the 2001 season opener. The contest will kickoff at 8:00 p.m. and will be an ABC split national telecast. The Penn State-Miami contest will be just the sixth night game in Beaver Stadium history and first since the Nittany Lions hosted Rutgers on Sept. 25, 1993.

"The Beaver Stadium expansion, the seventh since the facility was moved from the West to the East campus in 1960, will include 60 private suites in an East pavilion and 4,000 club seats with access to a South end zone lounge, the Mount Nittany Lounge. The $93 million project includes many improvements to the stadium infrastructure, including new restrooms and concession stands; a new upper concourse; new gates for improved traffic flow into and out of the stadium; upgraded facilities for the team, officials, cheerleaders and other game day activities; an All-Sports museum and improvements to meet ADA standards. The Nittany Lions will have a new locker room and there will be a new media room for the hundreds of media representatives which cover Penn State football.

"As of June 27, only six of the 60 suites were still available for sale. The Beaver Stadium Roar Suites have 12 permanent seats and four portable seats. They are equipped with a leather sofa, a club chair, a cocktail table, an end table, two television sets and a kitchen serving area including a refrigerator with an ice maker. Approximately half of the Club Level locations have been sold..."


So, Penn State re-built it. And the fans came. Attendance soared.

After averaging 95,476 fans per home game in Beaver Stadium in 2000, Penn State jumped to an average of 107,576 in 2001. Beaver Stadium attendance hit its apex in 2007, when Penn State averaged 108,917 fans per home game.

The dollars poured in. By the buckets full. In 2006-07, Penn State athletics made a $4 million profit off of gross revenues of $76.3 million. Football brought in $44 million, had just $14.6 million in expenses, and made a tidy profit of $29.4. 

That was only the beginning. In the words of Keith Jackson, then came a "gully washer"— of money.

Five years later, revenues for Penn State athletics had jumped by a cool $40 million, to $116.1 in the fiscal year 2010-11, against expenses of $84.5 million. That left an excess of $31.6 million. JoePa and football hit the mother lode. In Paterno's last full season as head coach (FY 2010-11), Penn State football brought in $72.7 million and spent just $19.5 million. That's a profit of $53.2 million. It's also 70% of the entire budget from just five years prior. Compare that to when Paterno was Penn State's athletic director in 1980-81, when the entire athletic department had a budget of $8 million.

Then, just a year later, the coffers ran dry. In 2011, Penn State instituted its STEP ticketing and seat licensing initiative — the Seat Transfer and Equity Plan, or STEP. Then, the Sandusky scandal hit. And that was that.


Beaver Stadium attendance bottomed out at 96,730 for the 2012 season. In 2012-13, the athletic department, besieged by fines and declining football revenues — "just" $52.8 million, but still netting $34 million — reported a loss of almost $6 million.

Over the next few years, buttressed by a $30 million loan from Old Main, growing football revenues and a new management team, Penn State athletics found its feet. It reported an excess of $3.4 million in 2014-15, not counting its debt load, and at the beginning of March 2017, PSU athletics reported that it was about $3 million to the good on revenues of $132 million, an all-time money-making high for Penn State.

But it has come with a price — an all-time spending high. In the fiscal year 2015-16, everything cost more than it did in 2012-13. A lot more:

Coaches' salaries are up 23%, from $20 million to $24.7 million (over $11 million of that is for football, nearly $2 million is for men's basketball and almost $1.7 for women's basketball).

Salaries and benefits for administrators and staff are up over 50%, from $15.1 million to $23 million.

And the money spent on student-athletes — the raison d'etre, after all — is on a big upswing as well. Penn State athletics' spending on tuition, room and board, and books is up over 25%, from $14.8 million to $18.8 million. Meals and snacks now have their own line item, which they did not in 2012-13. Last year, PSU spent $1.346 on athletes' meals and snacks (when not traveling for competition). There's the NCAA-mandated cost of attendance; Penn State pays around $4,800 to the equivalent of each full-time student-athlete (one of the highest rates in all of college sports), at a cost of almost $1.75 million.

So, what was left in the Penn State Intercollegiate Athletic Department coffers on June 30, 2016? A total of $2,898,927, according to the most recent report Penn State filed with the NCAA.

When a near-total reconstruction of Beaver Stadium will likely cost, at minimum, a half-billion dollars — based on what Texas A&M paid for its 90% re-do of Kyle Field a few years ago — that doesn't leave much left as a starting point for any campaign by Sandy Barbour to rebuild Beaver Stadium.

It may take awhile.

Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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