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The Dollars and Sense of Renovating Beaver Stadium: A National Roadmap

by on March 05, 2017 10:30 PM

Next Monday afternoon we'll know the long-anticipated long-term fate of Beaver Stadium.

That's when Penn State plans to release its Facilities Master Plan.

The plan will cover all of Penn State's athletic facilities, but the crown jewel of the report -- and PSU sports overall -- is Beaver Stadium.

Built in 1960 at a cost of $1.6 million, while repurposing over 1,000 tons of steel from New Beaver Field that was moved by train tracks from nearby Rec Hall to its present location, Beaver Stadium is likely to get the bulk of attention when Penn State's 20-year plan is released to the public next week.

For good reason:

Beaver Stadium is the cash register that runs Penn State's athletics. According to its 2015-16 budget, as submitted to the NCAA and recently released, the biggest chunk of Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics' revenue came from football ticket sales. 

(See the report to the NCAA, all 76 pages of it, by clicking here.)

To be exact, $31,399,691 of the $132.25 million generated by PSU sports last fiscal year came from 2015 football ticket sales. That's almost 24%. More than alumni and booster donations ($26 million), more than media rights ($22 million), and more than licensing, royalties and sponsorships ($12.7 million). That's pure football ticket sales, not even counting donations made just for the right, ostensibly, to buy tickets.

We already know that Penn State is going to renovate, not rebuild, Beaver Stadium. Fixing -- and fixing up -- the stadium won't be cheap. Based on what has been spent on renovating and constructing stadiums for elite college football programs over the past decade, the price tag for upgrading Penn State football's home field and stadium could be stunning. A half-billion dollars wouldn't be surprising.

The gold standard for stadium renovations is Texas A&M's Kyle Field, which was completed -- and almost completely redone -- over 18 months to the tune of $485 million. Remember that number. Nearly 90% of the stadium was new, by the time construction was completed. Its 102,000 seats were sold out in 18 minutes.

The company that engineered the A&M total makeover was Populous, the same firm that is behind Penn State's master plan. Former PSU linebacker Scott Radecic is a principal of Populous. He was the lead for Penn State's last $100 million re-do of Beaver Stadium back in 2001, when Radecic was with HOK. It won't be that cheap this time around, that's for sure.




Here's a look at recent price tags for college football stadium renovations:

$485 million -- Kyle Field, Texas A&M, completed in 2015.

$400 million -- Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame. Termed the "Campus Crossroads Project," it is slated to include a new student center, space for its anthropology, psychology and music departments, as well as premium seating and suites, to be completed in 2017.

$321 million -- Memorial Stadium, University of Cal-Berkley, completed in 2012. Current Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour was AD at Cal at that time and oversaw the project, complicated by the fact the stadium was situated on a fault line and required a seismic retrofit, and was hindered time- and publicity-wise by tree-sitters who protested the project.

$285 million -- Husky Stadium, University of Washington, completed in 2013.

$268 million -- Sun Devil Stadium, Arizona State, ongoing.

$226 million -- Michigan Stadium, University of Michigan, completed in 2010. (That's about $260 million in today's dollars.)

$164 million -- Amon J. Carter Stadium, Texas Christian University, completed in 2012.

$160 million -- Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, University of Oklahoma, completed in 2016. (The stadium co-namesakes gave over $50 million to the university, some of it earmarked for stadium improvements).

$150 million -- Camp Randall Stadium, University of Wisconsin. According to Wisconsin's master plan, released in January 2017, the cost to renovate Camp Randall, based on three different options, could range from $39.6 million to $150 million.

$132 million -- Memorial Stadium, University of Illinois, to be completed by 2020.

$63.5 million -- Memorial Stadium, University of Nebraska, completed in 2013.

$42 million -- Ohio Stadium, Ohio State University, to be completed by 2020.




As mentioned above, Barbour is experienced at stadium reconstructions. (Watch a time lapse of the construction at Cal here.) Her deputy athletic athletic director and chief operating officer, Phil Esten, oversaw the construction of a brand-new on-campus stadium at the University of Minnesota. As associate athletic director at Minnesota, Esten was the point person for the $300 million TCF Bank Stadium, which opened in 2009. Esten played a key role in securing funding for about $90 million in individual and corporate support.

For her part, funding the stadium renovation at Cal was much more complicated for Barbour, as the university faced a debt load of over $450 million following the stadium expansion and a corresponding $153 million student athletic center.

The sources of funding for any renovation of Beaver Stadium are likely to be multi-faceted. At Texas A&M, the funding was broken down this way: $232 million in seat license revenue, $75 million in student ticket revenue and fees, $18 million in a facilities access agreement, $35 million that was undisclosed and $125 million from the school's booster club, the 12th Man Foundation.

Penn State hopes to pay for at least some of the renovations by maximizing the football game day experience at Beaver Stadium -- meaning everything from suites with grills, open-ended "social setting areas" and possibly premium alcohol sales. According to the aforementioned 2015-2016 budget submitted to the NCAA, Penn State made $5.3 million from football-related novelty, program, parking and concession sales in 2015-16.

In addition, look for Penn State to make much greater use of a renovated Beaver Stadium than just eight times a year -- the Blue-White Game and seven regular season games.

That actually begins later this year, on Saturday, July 8. That's when Blake Shelton and the "Happy Valley Jam" will take the stage for the first-ever concert in Beaver Stadium. (Arts Festival begins July 13.) Managed and promoted by Basis Entertainment, the concert features ticket prices from $31 (obstructed view) to $209. Basis promoted a Blake Shelton concert at Iowa's Kinnick Stadium last August, which included an appearance by Ashton Kutcher, and had an announced attendance of more than 45,000.

Penn State has indicated that it hopes to host outdoor NHL games, like the one at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field in late February between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers, which drew 67,318. The current stumbling block, Penn State officials have said, is that Beaver Stadium is not weatherized. Temperatures in Pittsburgh were in the 70s a few days before the game, although it was 36 degrees for opening face-off.

(Which brings to mind two of the most wintery and non-weatherized games I ever attended in Beaver Stadium: the Nov. 21, 1987, contest between Penn State and Notre Dame, won 21-20 by the Nittany Lions in 25 mph winds and minus 20 degree wind chill conditions, and the Nov. 18, 1995 Snow Bowl, when 18 inches of snow was dumped on Happy Valley three days before the Penn State-Michigan game. Inmates from Rockview helped shovel out the stadium and about 80,000 fans were bused in from satellite lots.)


New revenue opportunities will likely be under the purview of Esten and Michael Cross, who in 2015 was hired by Penn State an as assistant athletic director for new business development. Cross, who was the athletic director at Bradley University for five years, is "charged with identifying new business and revenue generation opportunities, engaging with various constituencies within the Penn State communities and intercollegiate athletics."

In the future, Beaver Stadium could host state high school football playoffs, big-time soccer friendlies -- Michigan Stadium drew 109,318 and made $3 million for a Manchester U-Real Madrid game in 2014 --and even stadium golf, which has been all the rage at Petco Park in San Diego the past two years.

The golf idea is no laughing matter -- night-time tee times went for $450 for a twosome and $900 for a foursome, as over 2,700 golfers played the The Links at Petco at last year. (The White Course is 20 bucks...if you walk.)

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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