Autzen Stadium Expansion: Challenges and Benefits
What would you think if Autzen Stadium, already known for being loud, expanded and became a cradle for eardrum-splitting noise?
Silly question. You’re a Northwest sports fan, which, by default, means you are always seeking acknowledgement as the most raucous fan base in the country. Just spend five minutes witnessing a game at the Rose Garden (Moda Center) or CenturyLink Field, if you’re confused.
For years, Autzen Stadium has been widely recognized as loudest stadium “per capita” in the nation. In 2003, then-Michigan Head Coach Lloyd Carr said, “Autzen’s 59,000 strong collectively makes the Big House (then housing some 105,000 souls) sound like a pathetic whisper. It’s the loudest place I’ve ever been.”
Just imagine, as I’m sure you already have, expanding the stadium to compete with the capacity of Alabama, Michigan or Florida. This would eliminate the need to add the phrase “per capita” when calling Autzen the loudest college football stadium in the country, creating an atmosphere that would likely rival CenturyLink.
Naturally, the temptation to increase the noise level has been present for decades. In 1985, for instance, many pushed for a dome to be placed atop the stadium, nicknamed the “Duck Dome,” which would have increased the noise levels through the extremely large stadium roof.
Significantly expanding the stadium would be tricky, however.
While Rob Mullens, University of Oregon’s athletic director, has expressed interest in renovating Autzen, he has also stated funding and the risk of negatively impacting the game-day atmosphere as significant obstacles.
“We have an outstanding atmosphere already,” Mullens said. “I don’t ever want to lose that. And a lot of people don’t think stadium expansion would cost us anything. We have 3-4 games a year where our demand far outweighs our supply. Then, we have 1-2 (think Nicholls; South Dakota) where our supply outdoes our demand and its a challenge.”
This issue, however, would be negated by the price reduction that an expansion of the stadium would create. In recent years, ticket prices have soared, which has undoubtedly driven many fans away from attending games. Last season, a standing room only ticket cost at least $40 at the cheapest, though most games saw prices closer to $80.
With additional seating the demand for tickets would be less strong, which would allow Oregon to sell tickets at a much cheaper rate. It would also accommodate the rising number of students attending the University of Oregon, as well. Since Autzen was last renovated in 2002, enrollment has increased by more than 4,000 students. Four sections in the stadium is simply not enough for what is becoming an extremely large student fan base.
Another question surrounding stadium expansion is where the additional spectators would park. Anyone who has driven to Autzen on game day would concur that both traffic and parking are outrageously difficult. It’s hard to imagine the City of Eugene approving a large parking structure in addition to the stadium.
Multiple vacant parking lots sit on the east side of the University campus. Oregon could look into utilizing these lots at least on game day and establishing a shuttle service to the stadium. Though this wouldn’t completely solve the congestion issue, it would be a start.
As discussed, expanding Autzen Stadium would be extremely complex. This doesn’t even include the whopping amount of funding that would be required for the project. The State of Oregon would likely rather spend taxpayer money on other issues. Even Phil Knight would probably not be able to pay for the upgrade by himself.
While a stadium expansion should not be expected soon, the University should be looking into its feasibility at least once a year.
Meanwhile, Duck fans should certainly be proud to be called the “loudest fans in the country,” even if the “per capita” label comes with it.
Main photo by Gary Breedlove