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Auburn Must Compete In Arms Race

How long before Jordan-Hare's next expansion?
How long before Jordan-Hare's next expansion?

In recent days, news around Auburn has centered on its new $16 million indoor practice facility set to open next year. Former Auburn Athletic Director David Housel once famously said that college football is an arms race. Everybody wants to be bigger and better when it comes to facilities and cash.

While the new facility is long overdue, it pales in comparison to what's happening up the road in Tuscaloosa. Even with a new basketball arena to go along its practice facility, Auburn finds itself in a shootout of sorts with other conference members when it comes to facilities.

It's a battle that Auburn must win to stay competitive.

There's a story in Sunday's Birmingham News that talks about the latest expansion of Alabama's Bryant-Denny Stadium. Even the most diehard Auburn fans have to admit it's one of the nicest facilities in all of college football - and that's before the latest renovation set to be unveiled this year.

A lot of Auburn people believe University officials should move quickly to expand Jordan-Hare Stadium to keep up with what has happened in recent years in places like Tuscaloosa, Gainesville and Baton Rouge. For nearly 100 years, Jordan-Hare has held the advantage over Bryant Denny when it comes to seats. That all changed with the last renovation a few years back.

Deciding to expand for the sake of expansion is obviously a dumb business move. Give Jay Jacobs credit, he knows how to manage money. He can also see that despite exceeding expectations last year and with an unbelievable home schedule this season, Auburn still didn't sell all of its season tickets for 2010.

Many will attribute this to the fact that Auburn has the highest ticket costs in the SEC. I'm not so sure. The current seating capacity of Jordan-Hare is 87,451. Walk around on game day and with the exception of the Iron Bowl, tickets can be found quite easily most of the time. Even with the scalper's rate, most big conference game seats can be had for $100 or so.

Instead of focusing on seat count, Auburn officials need to focus on skyboxes, aesthetics and amenities. Auburn currently has 70 luxury suites. For a stadium this size, it's on the low side of adequate.

While there's no wait for season tickets, you can expect to sit out in the elements for nearly a decade before working your way off the skybox waiting list. The University can make significantly more money adding luxury suites in each end-zone rather than focusing on seats. Jacobs has made this point many times in the past.

Most impressive about Alabama's recent renovation is not the number of seats (101,000), but the added amenities that put the facility on par with the NFL and MLB. In addition to adding nearly 8,500 more bleacher seats, Bryant-Denny is adding eight stories to its south endzone that will include a marketplace and two floors that will house restaurants for scholarship donors. At a cost of $65 million, school officials expect to recoup their investment quickly.

Here's a description from The Birmingham News of the additions coming to Bryant-Denny this fall:

The street level is a marketplace. Tickets aren't necessary to enter an open area with retail that will be part food court, part year-round hub for students and guests. An Admissions Welcome Center will occupy some of the space.

The second level will house a grand Donor Hall of Recognition and the offices of the Crimson Tide Foundation, an expanded fund-raising machine. The posh area features polished granite floors, wood paneling, interactive kiosks, a rotunda, board room and theater. On the walls, donors who have given more than $1 million will be recognized in special ways.

The third and fourth levels house the 16,500-square-foot Stadium Club, an upscale sports grill that features food, beverages and flat-screen televisions. There is room for 1,500 members, but membership for the upcoming season was cut off at 1,000 so the room can be judged for elbow room. "It sold out in one-and-a-half mailings," says Thad Turnipseed who oversees construction. The cost is $500 plus the price of a ticket. The target was a certain level of Tide Pride members who don't own skyboxes.

The fifth level is home to the South Zone Club, a deluxe space that is the counterpart of The Zone Club in the North End Zone. It's an indoor haven for fans who pay $2,000 plus the price of tickets for end-zone seats directly in front of large windows. Flat-screen TVs and a state-of-the-art sound system are featured.

On the sixth and seventh levels are 34 skyboxes and two 45-seat "party suites." They bring the number of luxury boxes in the stadium to 160. The costs for the new boxes are $30,000-$40,000, plus the price of tickets, plus a one-time six-figure donation.

Ride around Jordan-Hare Stadium today and you see a quality facility. It's more than adequate. Recent renovations have added more restrooms and concession stands. Auburn's field and scoreboard are second to none. Nobody is visiting Jordan-Hare and saying negative things about it.

However, places like Alabama, Florida and Texas have raised the bar. For better or worse, college football is corporate and will be so forever.  With it comes rising costs and the risk of many fans not being able to afford to attend a game on campus. It's unfortunate, but it's reality.

Jacobs has gotten many well deserved accolades in recent months. But the task ahead of him - to keep up and grow with the other top national programs - is no easy one. Auburn can't allow Jordan-Hare to fall behind much longer. It's a storied facility, but one that must continue to evolve sooner rather than later.