Rice Stadium gets a bath for the upcoming season
Rice Stadium will be getting an update next season, as the Rice athletic department announced the first phase of a new renovation project for the 72-year-old stadium. The renovations will include a new wall around the field, a new scoreboard, upgraded premium seating options and a thorough cleaning. According to Assistant Athletic Director for Facilities and Events Dan McGarry, the upgrades should provide a significant improvement for fans on gameday.
“I think that when you look at the needs of fans coming into stadiums, having a modernization helps you to always drive fans in if there’s a comfort level in the seats that you’re sitting in, if the stadium looks better, all that stuff [helps],” McGarry said.
One of the most noticeable pieces of the renovations will be a new brick wall bordering the field, which itself was just redone last season. The stadium will also get a new scoreboard above the south endzone. According to McGarry, the current scoreboard was overdue for a replacement.
“I believe that scoreboard was at one point given to us as a used board that we’ve had for however many years,” McGarry said. “We’re going to take that one down, use the framing that’s there, and put a brand new board on.”
The stands will also see upgrades. In the stands behind the home sideline, the chair-back seats that occupy a handful of rows at the top of the lower bowl will be replaced by more modern chair-backs. Behind the visitor’s sideline, the chairback seats will be replaced by premium seats that McGarry said will resemble outdoor boxes. However, according to McGarry, the benches that take up the majority of the seats in the stadium will remain in place since the current construction of the lower bowl doesn’t allow for chair-backs.
“The tread depth in our seating area does not allow us to put an entire chairback section unless we completely redo the concrete,” McGarry said. “Most of the stadium will stay benches and the student section will stay benches as well.”
This means that the student section will also not be getting seat-backs this season. According to McGarry, the athletic department is considering improvements to the student section and has put together a focus group of students, but as of now, no improvements are planned.
“As of right now, [the student section] will be staying on the visitor sideline as is,” McGarry said. “I don’t anticipate us changing it for this next year, but we’re always having conversations about how we can make things better for our students.”
The concourses will also see new flooring and lights, and the entire stadium will be washed, which, according to McGarry, is long overdue.
“One of the really really big pieces to it is pressure washing everything,” McGarry said. “It’s a 72-year-old stadium, and it’s been this thing that’s built over time. Every time we have work going on on campus and it rains, you get dust and dirt flying around and it starts to look bad and show its age. We’re going to pressure wash everything from the top of the building all the way down. [It will] make it look clean, make it look good, make it look nice.”
According to McGarry, the athletic department anticipates that the renovations will improve attendance. Last season, the Owls averaged just over 18,600 fans at their home games, despite the stadium’s capacity of 47,000. According to Duncan College senior John Fu, while he is excited to attend games in the improved stadium, he can’t imagine that the renovations will draw his friends who don’t normally attend games into the seats.
“Rice Stadium does look pretty old so giving it a more modern look with the scoreboard, brick walls, and seats surely will improve the in-game experience for the fans,” Fu said. “With that being said, I’m not sure these renovations would convince someone who does not traditionally go to Rice football games to suddenly want to attend them on Saturdays.”
The improvements are scheduled to be done by the start of the upcoming season, and will precede Rice’s move to the American Athletic Conference, which is expected to take place in 2023. According to McGarry, the move to the AAC played a role in prompting the renovations but Rice’s desire to renovate also played a key role in getting the move to happen.
“The AAC move [and the stadium renovation] worked with each other,” McGarry said. “Our willingness to invest in the stadium helped us with our move to the AAC, but at the same time the AAC move helped us with the investment into the stadium.”
In the next few years, the athletic department expects more improvements, but no plans are currently in place. According to McGarry, the first step was to cut the maintenance costs of the stadium, and now they can begin to look at other potential improvements.
“I think we’re calling it phase one because we’re still in a fact finding area of additional phases,” McGarry said. “The stadium is one of the largest buildings on campus in terms of deferred maintenance needs. What this phase one is doing is really addressing those deferred maintenance needs while also modernizing the building as much as we possibly can. [For] phase two and everything beyond, we [still] need to figure out what else we can do.”
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