Chris Bahn: Razorback Stadium Expansion Would Make Sense If…

Did you see the 74-page study released last week by the University of Arkansas showing the value of athletics to the state economy?

Technically, it isn’t quite that long. There are about eight pages of introduction and a lengthy table of contents (which reminded me a lot of some of my constitutional law papers from college). It’s an informative, but lengthy read complete with bar graphs and pie charts and numbers.

Sooooo many numbers.

Feel free to read it. If that’s not your thing, there’s a one-page summary of the economic study provided on the athletic department web site.

Or, you can just let me sum it up here: We’re working to justify the $75-90 million it will cost to expand the stadium.”

A proposed Razorback Stadium expansion will come on the heels of — as we detailed in Arkansas Business last year — another $35-50 million spent on the baseball/track indoor practice area, an academic center/dining hall and the basketball practice facility. (Side note: I really want to see Nolan Richardson’s name on the court at Bud Walton Arena. That seems, to me, like a more fitting tribute than naming a practice facility after him. What do you think?)

So within the next five years you’re looking at as much as $150 million in new construction. This does not count the $40 million spent on the football operations center that is set to open in the summer and put Arkansas’ facilities on par with what you’d find at, say, Western Kentucky. (Confused by the comparison? Go here.)

Included in the economic impact study press release is a note that the construction projects could generate as much as $239.7 million for the state economy. An estimated 2,016 jobs could be generated by the construction (There’s more on the specifics at Arkansas Business).

All sounds great, right? But what does all that construction do for the Razorbacks? That’s the question you’re asking yourself as you read this.

Of all the projects, the only one that will eventually provide a tangible return on investment is the north end zone project.

On the surface, expanding the stadium is a head-scratcher. It didn’t sell out for the final Fayetteville home game in the careers of Ryan Mallett and DJ Williams. A top-10 matchup with South Carolina didn’t draw a capacity crowd in 2011.

So why expand a stadium that doesn’t sell out regularly?

Primarily the plan for north end zone is to house a collection of 5,000 or so premium seats. These aren’t going to be additional bleachers like those green death traps high atop the south end zone. Donations — big ones — will be required to sit there. Ticket prices — after the donation for the right to buy the tickets — will be high.

Plans for the premium seating include Jerry Jones-inspired suites at field level and a view of the team leaving the locker room as it makes its entrance into Razorback Stadium.

Think those won’t go fast?

They could. And they’ll — in theory — help generate revenue to pay for the expansion and those other projects planned by the athletic department.

Arkansas isn’t — directly at least — going to benefit financially from an academic/dining center or baseball/track facility. I suppose you could argue the caliber of athlete attracted to the school could improve, thereby improving on-field performance and generating more good feelings and a willingness to donate among the fan base.

But eventually, the stadium expansion could bring in revenue for the Razorbacks.

That’s the study I want to see and suspect we’ll see at some point as the groundwork is laid for such a significant investment. Let’s get an evaluation of how quickly these north end zone seats will pay for themselves and then pump money into the athletic department coffers. There is real potential for these seats to be a moneymaker.

Provided, of course, the team is competitive in the SEC. We don’t need a 74-page study to tell us that.

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