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Topping the Lucky Horseshoe: Expanding NCAA Football Stadiums

Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium south end zone expansion and renovation rendering

Riffing off the traditional horseshoe stadium design found in many NCAA football stadiums, college programs are looking to turn underutilized space at the open end of facilities into enhanced areas offering an elevated fan experience.

You see the traditional horseshoe design throughout NCAA football, in stadiums both old and new, ranging from Ohio Stadium (which opened in 1922) to TCF Bank Stadium (opening in 2009). There is an advantage to the horseshoe: most seats are facing the action, even those in the corners and at the top of the curved horseshoe. And even in college football stadiums with a different design–whether it be two main grandstands along the field, a design implemented in venerable facilities like Husky Stadium, or the traditional oval bowl–the areas in the end zones, particularly at the top of the horseshoe, tend to be underutilized.

Enter a new breed of college football stadium design, which takes this underutilized space at the top of the horseshoe (the lucky part; you hang a horseshoe with the open space at the top, so it can collect luck) and turns it into a premium space. The efforts can be modest or grand. For instance, Oregon State upgraded a space at the Reser Stadium north end zone into The Terrace, a 13,000-square-foot area featuring a selection of Oregon-based wines, beers and foods. Fans with VIP membership (600 capacity) in the Terrace enjoy reserved chairback seating, all-inclusive food and exclusive gifts. In addition, up to 900 additional fans have the opportunity to experience the Terrace as an upgrade.

On the other end of the spectrum is the upcoming DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium expansion and renovation at the University of Texas, shown at the top of this page. The $175-million expansion and renovation will take place on the stadium’s south end. The design of the new south end zone will fully enclose the stadium for the first time in DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium’s 95-year history, carrying over the architecture of the north and east sides through new entry towers and filling in the corners with concessions-equipped terraces. One of the project’s crown jewels lies inside the seating bowl. A Longhorn-shaped balcony designed into the end zone seating will be visible from the air and is the first time a logo will be carved into a seating bowl. Along with new facilities for coaches and student-athletes, the space will include a student seating section with multiple corner patios, providing a unique game-day vantage point. Construction on the seats, clubs and additional amenities will be completed by kickoff in 2021.

Kinnick Stadium renovation

Other notable end-zone developments include an end-zone expansion of University of Arkansas’ Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, which opened this season, an ongoing expansion of the University of Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium (shown above) set to be completed in 2019, and an upcoming renovation to Ross-Ade Stadium at Purdue University.

Projects like these are a departure from past college football stadium expansions, which were less an exercise in architectural excellence than an engineering effort to cram as many fannies in the stadium as possible. But in this age of the modern fan experience, folks shelling out big bucks to watch a college football game want more than just a narrow sliver of space on a metal bleacher: many want decent concessions, a place to entertain, and some elbow room. There will always be a place for the hardcore fans who will be very happy with that small space, but college programs are seeing growth on the higher end. It’s no surprise you see some major programs, like the University of Florida at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, look at downgrading capacity and improving the fan experience as they contemplate stadium renovations.

This isn’t an automatic panacea for NCAA programs seeking to boost revenues.  The University of Wisconsin quietly scrapped a plan to upgrade the open end of Camp Randall Stadium with premium seating tied to renovated sections of the Field House, determining there was not enough demand for such a plan among donors and fans. And plenty of other universities have decided just to fill in the top of the horseshoe with additional seating and a smaller structure for premium seating. But for college programs looking to add a little financial luck to their football stadiums, filling in the top of the horseshoe is proving to be a worthwhile strategy.

This article first appeared in the weekly Football Stadium Digest newsletter. Are you a subscriber? It’s free, and you’ll see features like this before they appear on the Web. Go here to subscribe to the Football Stadium Digest newsletter.


August Publications