Officially, Stanford Stadium is historic, venerable—even, according to the athletics department website, “prestigious.” But ask a typical Stanford football fan about the stadium and you’re likely to hear a different set of adjectives. Sightlines are poor. Seats are too far from the field. Access is difficult (all those stairs!). And the restrooms—don’t go there.
All of that may be about to change. The Board of Trustees in June approved a plan to tear down the 84-year-old stadium and replace it with a smaller, cozier, amenity-rich facility on the same site. Head coach Walt Harris called the decision “the beginning of a new era and a new outlook for Stanford football.”
The proposal calls for a 50,000-seat facility, an artificial turf field and new restrooms and concession areas. “We weren’t sure whether to call it a new stadium or a renovation,” concedes director of athletics Ted Leland, PhD ’83, since virtually everything inside the earthen berm surrounding the original stadium will be replaced. However, he notes, “we’re doing it within the footprint of the current stadium.”
Opened in 1921, 85,000-seat Stanford Stadium is among the oldest and largest college-football stadiums in the country. But what was once a source of pride—an arena large enough to attract a Super Bowl (as it did in 1985)—has become a liability, if not an embarrassment. As football crowds dwindled over the past two decades, athletics officials took measures to disguise the vast expanse of empty seats, installing a large tarp over entire sections. Last season, attendance at home games averaged about 36,000 and no game drew more than 40,000.
“For TV and recruiting, empty seats are a nightmare,” says Jim Rutter, ’86, a season-ticket holder for more than 30 years and editor of The Bootleg, a monthly magazine devoted to Cardinal sports. “This isn’t so much a downsizing as a right-sizing.”
By removing the track that encircles the playing field and reducing overall capacity, designers can bring fans much closer to the action—the first row of seats will be just 50 feet from the sideline. Red-shirt senior linebacker Jon Alston says that will give Stanford’s players a home field advantage lacking in the current stadium. “The noise makes a difference when you’re out there. It heightens the whole football experience.”
Leland says there also are economic reasons to reduce seating. “Creating a ticket scarcity is a better financial model than having a ticket surplus.”
A few hurdles are left to clear. The trustees won’t formally sign off on the construction until their October meeting. Prior to that, the athletics department must raise an additional $25 million for the $85 million project. The $60 million already in hand comes from athletics department sources and private donors, led by John Arrillaga, ’60, whose earlier gifts have transformed Stanford’s athletic complex. And Santa Clara County must approve the plan. If all goes well, demolition will begin soon after the final home game in November and construction will be completed in time for the 2006 season.
Harris says the stadium plan immediately boosts recruiting. “This tells the nation that the school is behind the football program 100 percent. It will create an atmosphere of spirited enthusiasm we haven’t had here for quite a while.”