Yesterday the University of Cincinnati approved of going full-steam ahead on renovating Nippert Stadium. Complete plans have not been released to the general public, only to a select few in the athletic department’s inner circle. I have not been privy to seeing any details of the renovation but in all likelihood the press box is going to be demoed for a swanky, new one. Early indications suggest it will include 28 luxury boxes and over 1,400 premium seats. In addition I’d expect them to add more general seating. While the surrounding buildings prevent an outrageous expansion Cincinnati can add a few thousand more seats. The renovation will probably call for an addition of 5,000 – 10,000 seats bringing Nippert’s capacity to between 40k and 45k.
The project will be quite the undertaking from a financial standpoint, amounting to a final bill of between $60 an $70 million, but it’s the right thing to do for the Cincinnati football and lightyears better than moving the program down to Paul Brown Stadium. Why is investing in Nippert Stadium the correct decision? Well I have highlighted the 5 main ones below.
1) Keeping UC Football Profit In House
Other than being a lifeless, concrete box in order for the Bearcats to play football at Paul Brown Stadium they must give a portion of their profits to Mike Brown. Based on the deal struck for the game with the Oklahoma Sooners in 2010, Paul Brown Stadium must reach a capacity of 45,000 in order for the game to be as profitable as a sold out game at Nippert Stadium, which makes UC about $1 million each time. Adding suites, private boxes, and premium seating in general would only increase Cincinnati’s profits at Nippert Stadium, exponentially even considering how pricy luxury seating can be. Optimally, based on the numbers in the Oklahoma deal, UC would expand/renovate to the point where it would be equally as profitable to play games at a sold out Nippert Stadium as it would be Paul Brown Stadium after giving the Bengals their cut. For example, a sold out Nippert Stadium with 45,000 seats makes as much as a sold out Paul Brown Stadium with 66,000 seats. At that point Nippert would be the clear winner because it would be easier to fill.
To make a long story short, why would you pay Mike Brown and the Bengals a portion of your profits when you can keep 100% of them in house?
2) Making Connections (Increasing Donations) From Corporate Donors and Ultra-Involved Alumni
Piggybacking off of point 1, expanding Nippert Stadium does more than just add seating and bringing more immediate revenue to the athletic department. It opens up doors for donations beyond buying tickets to the actual game. The problem with playing UC football games at Paul Brown Stadium is the luxury boxes and premium seating which might be leased by valuable corporate donors are owned by the Bengals. Those corporations don’t have one ounce of a connection with the Bearcats, they’re working in conjunction with the Bengals.
These companies buy luxury boxes because their executives, vice presidents, and anyone about 12 levels higher than me want to experience the game in their own way. Sure Nippert Stadium attracts the masses but the corporate bigwigs don’t like mingling with peasants like us. They want to sit on padded seats, have a spread of food and drinks just feet away, and a private bathroom. Before the venue didn’t offer these luxuries and as a result they stayed away. They never truly connected with Bearcats athletics, at least on the football side of things. Now with luxury boxes those corporate donors would have an incentive to further invest in UC football beyond their private suite at Nippert.
As far as the alumni are concerned it was clear that they were less than pleased with Cincinnati using Paul Brown Stadium to host West Virginia and Louisville in 2011, the latter of which was a homecoming game. Alumni like Nippert Stadium because it gives them a reason to return to their old stomping grounds. There’s a nostalgia there that has absolutely nothing to do with the Bengals’ stadium along the river. In keeping UC football on campus and more importantly bringing Nippert into the 21st Century, they will have something to be proud of and call their own, especially if said alumni contribute a good amount of donations to the project. And, like the corporations around the Cincinnati the money doesn’t just stop at Nippert Stadium. It opens doors to further private investment in the future.
3) Increased Homefield Advantage
Nippert Stadium has long been known as one of the most difficult stadiums for opposing teams to visit in college football. It’s only seats about 35,000 but generates sound levels of double that since the field is buried in the ground and sound resonates off of the surrounding buildings. Basically it gives the Bearcats the homefield advantage similar to teams with 70,000-seat stadiums. This critical aspect of UC football has been instrumental in earning the team 4 Big East Championships in the past 5 years. During that time Cincinnati is an incredible 23 – 5 in games at Nippert Stadium. Opposing teams simply can’t win here. Potentially adding more seats to enclose the bowl and creating a taller press box that might stretch the length of the Western sideline will only add to Nippert’s imposing presence.
4) Driving Cincinnati Into A Better Conference
President Ono said it himself:
I know what they [ACC] were looking for from us. The things that we’re doing are aggressive addressing those concerns.
If that doesn’t give you a clear indication of UC’s intentions nothing does. They want an ACC (or Big 12) invitation, plain and simple. In flirting with the ACC two weeks ago when Louisville ultimately got the call, it seems like they basically told Cincinnati what they were doing wrong. As a result the UC administration moved aggressively to make a heavy investment in football first and foremost addressing the outdated stadium.
Remember that $160 million master plan that Whit had been working on? Well his originally his idea was to renovate both Nippert Stadium and Fifth-Third Arena at the same time to save costs. Makes sense. But it looks like the ACC has given Cincinnati a roadmap to receiving an invitation and it calls for the football venue to be addressed before the basketball arena. Then UC would be heavy favorites to getting pulled out of the Big East into a better conference.
5) Appropriate Near-Term and Long-Term Solution
Some antagonists of this move point to expanding Nippert Stadium as a short term solution, throwing good money after bad if you will, and stating that Paul Brown Stadium is the future of Cincinnati football because of it’s larger capacity. That’s a glass-half-empty point of view.
The fact is Cincinnati struggles to sell out a 35,000-seat stadium despite winning Big East Championships 4 of the past 5 years. The last time they did besides Pittsburgh at the beginning of this season was in 2009 when the Bearcats were undefeated and ranked in the top 10. Seasons like those are rare and while UC is more than capable of being ranked, drawing fans (maybe not sell outs), and making Nippert an impossing environment for opposing teams, the Cincinnati fanbase still has a long way to go to before they sell it out easily on a consistent basis. Increasing capacity to 45,000 is more than enough for UC football right now and is absolutely appropriate for the next 5 – 10 years or more. And if Cincinnati runs into the “problem” of easily selling out Nippert Stadium they can take the Fenway Park approach by increasing ticket prices. This would not only drive revenue but would indicate to casual fans around Cincinnati that Bearcats football was a hot commodity further driving interest in the program.
And if that doesn’t work, i.e. they anticipate a big name opponent to draw 50,000 or more, Cincinnati can still use Paul Brown Stadium on a game-to-game basis. Of course this would have to be planned out weeks, months, or a season ahead of time but working with the Bengals on a situational basis is still an option for UC football.