Saturday, October 27, 2007

Husky Stadium Remodel

Last year the University formed a committee, and hired an architectural firm to explore a virtual rebuild of Husky Stadium. HOK architects came up with a fantastic plan to lower the stadium floor, remove the track, and modernize the whole facility for the next century.

The committee then had more meetings and discussions throughout the Summer to figure out how exactly they were going to be able to stage construction at the same time as SR-520, and the Sound Transit light rail station. After that they went to the press and said that sooner is better than later, and they wanted to get it done on a time frame that would finish the project in the 2011-2012 time range.

Somehow that has all changed because they came up with a price tag of around $450 million which shouldn't really have surprised anyone, especially the people who have been working on the planning for two years. Everyone knew that this was going to cost a lot of money, so I don't understand the surprise.

Would you pay double the money for your tickets?

Todd Turner, and his committee feel that they can raise $130 million through existing revenue sources such as ticket sales, premium seating, current donation streams, and get this, doubling the current price of football tickets over the next five years.

It's funny, I was just looking at my ticket stub, and at $65 per game I thought it was a bit stiff for the type of entertainment they were providing out there on the field. Of course I have been going to games so long that I can remember when it was well under $20. Getting back to the story, Todd thinks he can raise the price of that ticket up to $130 over the five to six years?

Don't you think it would be wiser to do that once you have a football team that is winning, and of course a football coach that is dedicated to winning? I like Willingham, but I am not seeing a lot of urgency going on by him, and his staff. The main way you turn this all around is by recruiting, and while I give him a pass on the first class, the last two have been very average by Washington standards. In other words I don't see an immediate return to the top ten under Willingham.

Anyway that $130 million won't lower the field, it won't remove the track, and it won't replace the aging bowl. What it will do is take care of pressing needs on the South side of the stadium. It will provide premium seating, a new press box, improved access, and offices for the football team, and athletic department. In other words it is a $130 million dollar band aid that fans may rebel against rather than rally around because they really won't see the improvements they want even though they are paying double to see a game.

Another thing I have found that is quite odd is that they haven't raised one dime for the project yet, and they currently don't have a plan in place to raise any money. You would think that since today is homecoming, and the public opening of the Husky Legend Center, that they would have kicked off a fund raising program to coincide with that today.

Would I eventually pay double? Yes, I probably would, but I wouldn't be happy doing it with the current product out on the field, and I certainly wouldn't be happy doing it if they don't come up with other funding sources that would get the entire job completed in a timely manner.

To me charging double just may be the final straw which brings the wrecking ball to Husky Stadium.

Naming Rights

Another piece of the pie would be to sell naming rights to the remodeled stadium. Microsoft Field at Husky Stadium etc... . For some reason this really isn't on the table either even though they need $450 million to get the job completely done.

The naming rights to Reliant Stadium, where the Houston Texans play, cost Reliant Energy about $10 million a year for 32 years. In 1999, FedEx Corp. paid $205 million for 27 years for the naming rights to the Washington Redskins home field in Landover, Md.

Closer to home the naming rights to Qwest Field in Seattle were sold for $75 million over 15 years with a renewal for another ten which puts that deal in the $125 million ball park over a 25 year period.

Gates Sr

Former Governor, and Regent Dan Evans who is Turner's right hand man on this project is not in favor of selling naming rights. He has a point, we all love it just as Husky Stadium, but there is no way you can do this project without it unless Bill Gates starts things off by plunking down $150 million.

Talking about Bill Gates, his father, Bill Gates Sr., who is also a UW Regent, wants to tear down the stadium, and sell the real estate. He feels the property can be better used as a world class waterfront medical center. Mr Gates is probably right on that one, but he obviously doesn't understand the value of Husky football to the community, and the University. Husky football when it is managed correctly pays for the entire operating budget of the athletic department. Husky football when managed correctly is the best form of advertising the University has on a national basis.

Think about this Mr Gates, what would a company pay for a three hour plus advertisement on national television 12-14 Saturdays per year? When you think about it in those terms Husky Football is a bargain for the University because the University doesn't put one dime into the football, or athletic program, it is all self supporting. Nothing the UW does generates the name recognition that football does. Being successful is all about branding, and having the UW brand out there on national TV is priceless.

So lets do a couple of quick calculations.

Let's say we have the $130 million Turner is talking about, and then add another $125 million for naming rights, that would give you $255 million which means you would have to raise another $190 million in private donations to finish the entire dream. $190 million isn't out of the realm of possibility. The Campaign for the Student Athlete which didn't have a lot of support because so little of it was being allocated to football raised around $90 million. You can't tell me that you can't find another $200 million out there if you tap all the resources available, and that includes the State of Washington. I mean if they can subsidize stadiums for the Mariners, Seahawks, and possibly the Sonics, they can kick a little in for the University of Washington.

What is really going on?

I think what is really going on is that the Regents gave the committee's plan the cold shoulder when it was presented to them. Gates Sr's reaction, and comments were very typical of that cold shoulder, and since he represents the funds of the worlds wealthiest human being his comments certainly can't be discounted. For some reason this man thinks wiping Malaria off the face of the planet is more important than six or seven football games on the shores of Lake Washington each Saturday. He thinks the goals of the University would be better served if the team simply moved downtown to play at Qwest which just happens to be the finest football stadium in the country.

I think the key here is not the remodeling of Husky Stadium, I think it is the beginning of the battle to preserve Husky Stadium from being torn down. I think there are quite a few people on the upper campus who would like the stadium to be torn down, and I think the battle lines are currently being drawn.

When you present a magnificent $450 million dollar plan with out a public plan to raise donations to fund it it makes me think that something funny is going on. Wouldn't fund raising be first and foremost if they are really serious about getting something done?

Maybe all this has been is window dressing to show that remodeling the stadium is a waste of money, and the University would be better served by playing it's games in Qwest in the future.

Dick Baird made a lot of sense today when he said the University missed the window about 15 years ago when the team was drawing 76,000 fans per game, and the cost to do it would have been around $200 million. You can blame Barbara Hedges for that one when she decided to upgrade the other facilites first with the Campaign for the Student Athlete. You can also blame her, and the administration again when they turned down Paul Allen's offer to find the entire project by allowing the Seahawks to play there for 15 years.

I don't think for a second that Todd Turner doesn't want to get this project completed, I just think he is running into some resistance from the upper campus.

I don't have the answers, but something doesn't smell right, it will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next year.

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