Schools add amenities to make end zone seating more attractive

Wisconsin season ticket holder Kim Heiman had heard all the stories about the downsides of sitting in end zone seats.

He recognized the potential obstructions to vision created by sitting behind a goalpost. But when he saw Wisconsin’s plan to transform the South End Zone into a premier experience, Heiman bought a package.

Now he thinks he has one of the best seats in the house.

“If you’re able to sit in those seats and look at the view of the field that we have from here, that’s an excellent view,” Heiman said. “Nobody’s blocking your view. You can see how each game develops. It’s awesome.”

The situation in Wisconsin is not unique. Several colleges have added amenities to make their end zone seating more attractive and expensive.

“The days of cheap seating right at the end zones with poor visibility have changed dramatically now,” said Sharianne Walker, who teaches a course in stadium and arena management as a professor of sports management and dean of the College of Business at Western New English University. “It’s more like premium seating.”

Converting such seats into premium experiences helps colleges engage fans at a time when attracting viewers is becoming increasingly difficult. The average attendance for Football Bowl Subdivision games has fallen every year since 2014, falling to 39,848 last season, the lowest level since 1981.

End zone seats are traditionally hard to sell.

“If you find that there may be stock shortages – seats aren’t being sold or aren’t being sold at the level the university wants – find out what you can do creatively with that space so you still get a big home field advantage,” notes the Arkansas Assistant Athletics Director of external engagement, said Rick Thorpe.

Wisconsin assistant athletic director Jason King said fan surveys indicated a need for premium seating that would give spectators the option to stay outside rather than spending the entire game in a suite.

“That would allow people to enjoy the amenities of a first class space but still be in the bowl and enjoy the traditions that make our stadium so special,” King said.

Wisconsin removed 7,190 standard end zone seats and replaced them with 2,734 seats that could be sold at higher prices. Fans there have wider seats with more legroom, dedicated restrooms, and access to expanded food and beverages in an indoor club area.

Seasonal package prices range from $700 for patio access with standing room to $4,500 per person for the top-of-the-line boxes, each seating four to six people. Field-level boxes bring fans as close to the action as possible.

Wisconsin officials said they sold out all 2,734 seats to generate $6 million in revenue.

Arkansas completed a $160 million renovation of Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in 2019, which included an expansion of the North End Zone with 70 box boxes, 32 suites and approximately 2,400 club seats. Fans with access to the indoor club can watch the Razorbacks walk from the locker room to the field before the game.

Mississippi’s South End Zone has 18 six-person lodge boxes that cost $10,000 per box and provide access to an indoor field house with a full-service buffet. Fans who already have tickets for other seats in the stadium can pay an additional $850 per year to gain access to a field-level club with an outdoor patio to stand on at the back of the North End Zone.

“Players will come by when they score and high-five fans,” said Mike Richey, Mississippi State’s executive senior associate athletic director.

Walker noted that the indoor clubs, which feature many of these premium end-zone seats, offer a sort of sports bar vibe.

“You think of younger alumni coming back,” he said. “They may not quite be able to afford the suite yet, but maybe they can afford the premium seating in the end zone and they can visit their friends and network.”

Richey said the Mississippi State suites on the east side of the stadium cost $50,000 a year and can accommodate up to 30 people. The premium end zone seats still offer indoor club access at a lower price.

“What we’ve found over the last eight or 10 years is that everyone has different ideas about what their viewing experience is going to be like and how they’re going to enjoy the event,” Richey said. “For some people, especially younger people, it’s not so much about ‘I want to be on the 50 yard line’ or ‘I want to be at a lower level’ or ‘I want to be in a certain place.’ It’s more about the social aspect. It’s more about having freedom of movement and not being tied to a 22-inch piece of metal in a grandstand.”

It’s also about having the ability to access indoor venues, especially in northern stadiums where weather becomes an issue.

“We have hot weather in September and cold weather in November, so most of the season there’s a reason to go in,” said Ryan McGuire, Iowa State’s senior associate athletics director, whose school opened its club in the South End Zone in 2015 .

Nevertheless, care must be taken to ensure that the packages offer a good view of what is happening.

According to Richey, fans like the Mississippi state boxes because they are close enough to the field for players to hear what those spectators are saying. In Wisconsin, school officials gave Heiman a 3D presentation that showed the favorable perspective he would have from his seat.

Heiman says he got everything he was promised.

“You can sell these seats for premium dollars for the luxury that you have in them,” Heiman said.

That’s what the school authorities want to hear.

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