The renovations to 99-year old Nippert Stadium have been underway in full force for over a month now, and are right on schedule. The backhoes and caterpillars were brought in mere hours after the Bearcats’ final home game of the season against Louisville. In fact, the old press box that once lined the stadium’s West sideline is now completely gone.
It’s an exciting time in the program. The renderings of the finished product are absolutely stunning. University President Santa Ono and former Athletic Director Whit Babcock deserve all the credit in the world for making it happen (and Gregory Williams and Mike Thomas should be ashamed of themselves for saying it was “impossible”). While it’s difficult to see another key figure in UC athletics leave for greener pastures, you have to commend Babcock for getting this project off the drawing board and into reality. I wish him the best of luck at Virginia Tech.
If you’re a UC alum or a Bearcat fan of any sort, it’s hard not to get excited when you look at the plans for the new Nippert. What “The Wrigley Field of College Football” lacks in amenities, it more than makes up for in charm. In about 17 months, it will have both. The new West side pavilion will be not only be UC’s crown jewel, but also a cash cow for the athletic department, complete with club seating, loge boxes, 20 luxury suites, and two 50-seat mega suites. Improvements to the East side will provide much needed additions of restrooms and concessions, and will vastly improve the flow of foot traffic on the concourse. The Sky Bridges link the West side club level and suites to TUC. Additionally, the East concourse’s upper deck will still be linked to O’Varsity Way, Sheakley Lawn, and the Tennis Courts with its own Sky Bridges.
The planned renovations look awesome, they’re much needed, and this is a huge step up for the program, but after delving into the details of the plans UC has released thus far, I’m a little disappointed about the project. Why am I disappointed? Let’s take a closer look at the planned seating capacity of the new-and-improved, 2015 version of Nippert Stadium.
UC released a very detailed, 21-page PDF document on October 3, 2013, and then released additional, more detailed renderings of the 300 Level on November 20, 2013 and January 14, 2014. The changes to the number of seats in the renderings released on November 20 and January 14 are minimal, so I think it’s safe to say that these seating estimates are pretty close to what the actual figures will be.
I grabbed a legal pad and a calculator and set out to determine the amount of seats that the new West pavilion will add to Nippert.
Here’s a breakdown:
- New seats in 300 Level (Club Seats): 1,170
- New seats in 400 Level (Loge Boxes/”Patio Mini-Suites”): 209
- New seats in 500 Level (Founders’ Suites): 283
- New seats in 600 Level suites (adjacent to press booths): 156
- Total seats added by new West concourse structure: 1,818
Yes, you read that right. Only 1,818 new seats. Add that to the current capacity of 35,097 and you get 36,915.
According to the athletics website, the luxury suites will “be able to accommodate 22-26 guests,” despite having only 16 seats. One suite has 24 seats instead of 16, so I’m assuming that is the one that could accommodate 26 people. I would assume the 16 seat suites would only accommodate a maximum of 22 people. So let’s say an additional 6 people can stand in each suite without seats. That still only adds 120 to the stadium’s capacity.
Final capacity by my count would be 37,035.
UC is spending $80-million on this project, all to see Nippert still not seat 40,000 fans. After doing this analysis, I had a conversation with a good friend and fellow alum whom I share season tickets with. He tried to reassure me that the actual number of new seats didn’t matter. “The important thing,” he said, “is that the prices of the new club seats ($2,500/season), loge box seats ($4,000/season), and 20 full size suites ($100,000/season) will bring in the revenue necessary for UC athletics to be nationally competitive going forward.” It’s a valid argument, but it’s still a tough pill to swallow. Yes, the goal of the renovations is to increase revenue, so these plans do accomplish their goal. That being said, it’s extremely disappointing to think that UC will still be playing in a stadium with less than 40,000 seats. To me, a 37,000 seat stadium still screams “small-time” and “second-rate.”
In looking at the plans, it seems to me that the designers are leaving a lot of space on the table in which more seats could have been added. It doesn’t make sense to me that the plans call for a “club lounge” in the Southwest corner of the stadium instead of more new seats. The new club seats abruptly stop at the corner of the end zone. They could have been extended further to entirely wrap around the Southwest corner to the student section.
Perhaps there are plans to expand the existing East upper deck, and that’s what will push capacity to 40,000. If those plans exist, they certainly haven’t been made public, and they aren’t reflected in the renderings of the new East side. Even so, it would take about 6 additional sections of East side upper deck to add 3,000 more seats (the East upper deck has 23 rows of 22 seats each, or about 500 seats per section).
I will be more than a little disappointed if Santa Ono and Whit Babcock’s claims of a 40,000+ seat Nippert Stadium prove to be unfounded. Hopefully, there are some unreleased plans somewhere on a desk in the Lindner Center that add more seats. Nonetheless, the Bearcats will return to campus against Alabama A&M on September 5, 2015, and that will be a great day for University of Cincinnati athletics, no matter how people are in attendance.