LSU athletic director says fan experience trumps additional seats
Massive cranes are hovering over Tiger Stadium this spring and summer, with crews working around the clock to complete the third major expansion of the iconic 90-year-old venue since 2000.
To Athletic Director Joe Alleva’s way of thinking, it may be the last.
The addition of suites, club seats and a 1,500-seat upper deck on the stadium’s south end is pushing capacity from 92,542 to just over 100,000 seats, Alleva said Monday during a speaking engagement with the Baton Rouge Press Club at the Belle of Baton Rouge Atrium.
It has been said doing a similar addition to the stadium’s north end could be problematic because of North Stadium Drive and other concerns, but Alleva said there may be no need to worry.
“We have plenty of seats now,” he said, referring to the stadium after this latest expansion. “Unless things change significantly, I can’t see us ever needing an(other) addition.”
Instead, Alleva said the current and future focus is about improving the fan experience, an attempt by LSU and other schools and professional franchises to stop or even reverse the gradual leaching of ticket-buying fans to seats in their living rooms in front of their massive high-definition TVs.
That’s why LSU isn’t just adding seats to Tiger Stadium. There is the improved sound system installed in the north scoreboard last season, two large high-definition video replay screens perched in the southeast and southwest corners of the new addition, and more and improved rest rooms.
Alleva said LSU is even looking into the possibility of converting some of the disused old dormitory rooms in the stadium into additional rest room space.
“We have the best fans in America, and when those fans come, they make it a tremendous atmosphere,” Alleva said.
“The game day experience our fans enjoy is critical to making sure they come back.”
He is confident the fans who come to Tiger Stadium this fall should make it even louder than ever.
“Tiger Stadium has always had a reputation of being loud,” Alleva said. “It’s going to be louder. The noise will be contained.”
One day, Alleva said Tiger Stadium’s capacity may be reduced by installing bigger, more comfortable seats.
“You take out bench seats and put in nice, comfortable seats,” he said.
“Again, fan experience.”
Alleva touched on a number of other topics during a question and answer session, including:
Traffic and parking: Alleva said traffic and parking at football games remain the two biggest areas of complaint for LSU fans.
As he said at an LSU Board of Supervisors meeting last week, Alleva said the athletic department is trying to come up with improved stadium access and parking plans in conjunction with city and state police and the sheriff’s office.
“Traffic is a community investment,” he said. “It’s something the parish and the city and the state need to invest in. I can’t control the fact that our infrastructure around Tiger Stadium really hasn’t changed in the last 30 or 40 years. The roads are the roads. So we really need the help of the police to expedite getting our fans in and out of the stadium.”
2014-15 athletic budget: Alleva said LSU’s athletic budget will again be over $100 million, including an annual $7.2 million donation to the academic side of the university.
Baseball regional: Alleva is hopeful of LSU again landing an NCAA baseball regional but said the Tigers will have to earn it on the field.
“The bid really doesn’t matter anymore,” he said. “You used to be able to buy a regional, not just in baseball but any sport. You really can’t do that anymore. The (selection) committee is supposed to give it to the top 16 teams. It’s pretty cut and dried.”
Alcohol sales: Currently alcohol sales at LSU games are limited to suites and club seats per an agreement among Southeastern Conference schools, Alleva said. Asked if he could envision beer sales being extended to the general seating areas in the future, Alleva said yes.
“I think at some point — I don’t know if it will be five or 10 years from now — but I think at some point it’s going to happen,” he said.
SEC Network: Alleva said LSU will eventually spend as much as $2 million dollars getting ready for the SEC Network, which launches Aug. 14.
The money is going into the purchase of high-definition cameras, wiring all of LSU’s athletic venues, and building an in-house studio.
Alleva said he is confident LSU and other SEC schools will ultimately realize a significant return on their investments, but that didn’t stop LSU from raising football ticket prices for 2014 to balance the 2014-15 athletic budget.
“I’m hopeful over time the funds we get from the network will significantly reduce the need to raise ticket prices in the future,” he said. “I’m not saying we won’t raise ticket prices, but hopefully we won’t have to raise them as much.”
Gay student-athletes: Alleva was asked if he believes LSU is ready for its first openly gay player.
“Absolutely,” he replied. “If they can play, they can play. That’s the only requirement. If you can compete on the field, your sexual preference is irrelevant.”
Tennis facility: Land is currently being cleared across Gourrier Avenue from Alex Box Stadium for LSU’s new tennis facility. Alleva said he hopes it will be completed by March.
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