More than 1,000 miles south of North Philadelphia, a 30,000-seat on-campus football stadium sits in the middle of New Orleans.
Tulane University spent $73 million to open Yulman Stadium on its campus in 2014, leaving its days of playing at the Superdome, home of the New Orleans Saints, behind.
“It’s such a huge, huge stadium, even if you had a great crowd, it was hard to develop that excitement and energy you can get in an on-campus stadium,” said Barbara Burke, Tulane’s deputy director of athletics and COO.
“You’re really trying to draw fans to campus and giving them the opportunity to be at Tulane and be on campus,” she added.
Temple is currently making a push to build an on-campus stadium of its own. The stadium is set to cost up to $130 million and seat 35,000 people.
Tulane is one of three universities in Temple’s athletic conference, the American Athletic Conference, to put tens of millions of dollars into a football stadium in the past few years.
Houston University’s $128-million, 40,000-seat TDECU Stadium, which was originally budgeted at $105 million, opened in 2014. The University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium reopened in 2015 after an $86 million renovation to expand its capacity to 40,000 seats.
Temple’s administrators saw a closeup view of both stadiums this season when the football team traveled to Cincinnati for a game on Sept. 12, 2015 and played The American’s conference championship game at Houston on Dec. 5, 2015.
“Temple was here with their leadership this fall when they beat us for the opener,” said Cincinnati Director of Athletics Mike Bohn. “They were here and taking notes and asking a lot of questions.”
Paying the bills
At a Feb. 8 meeting, The Board of Trustees said the expected cost of building Temple’s proposed on-campus stadium would not exceed $130 million.
Theobald told The Temple News in a Feb. 11 interview he expects to receive $50 million from donors and $20 million from the state to help cover the cost of the stadium. He also said Temple will save $72 million from its contract with the Philadelphia Eagles for Lincoln Financial Field—$12 million up front and $2 million per year for 30 years, putting the university $60 million in debt.
Private donations covered Yulman Stadium’s costs. Former chairman and owner of Serta International, Richard Yulman, and his wife Janet, who the stadium is named for, initially donated $15 million. In August 2015, one month before the stadium was set to open, Richard Yulman pledged another $5 million in order to spark other donors to fund the final $15 million of the stadium’s costs.
Houston funded TDECU Stadium through a $45 increase in student fees, private donations and the naming rights to Texas Dow Employees Credit Union. Student fees covered about $34 million, about $15 million came from annual revenue bonds, about $61 million came from private donations and the deal with TDECU for naming rights was worth about $15 million over 10 years, the Daily Cougar reported.
Cincinnati covered half the cost of Nippert Stadium through donations and gifts through suites and club seats. USA Today reported those will bring in a combined $4.5 million per year over 20 years. The university used bonds to cover the other half of the stadium’s costs, which will be paid off through revenue generated by the stadium, Bohn said.
Building up a fan base
Houston and Cincinnati had consistent football followings prior to their multi-million dollar investments. Both teams also had winning seasons in four of the five years prior to their respective stadiums’ approval.
The Cincinnati Board of Trustees approved the renovation to increase Nippert Stadium’s capacity from 35,000 in June 2013 after averaging crowds of more than 30,000 people in four of the previous five seasons.
Prior to the construction of TDECU Stadium, Houston played at Robertson Stadium, which seated about 33,000. After drawing an average crowd of 21,518 during the 2008 season, Houston drew crowds of 25,242, 31,728 and 31,731, respectively, to Robertson Stadium in the 2009-11 seasons, before the TDECU project was approved in August 2012.
“The final year, 2011, which kind of sealed the deal, the stadium was at capacity throughout the year,” said David Bassity, Houston’s athletic director for Strategic Communications. “When you’re reaching capacity on a consistent basis, you’re going to want to build a bigger stadium. It can’t be a knee-jerk reaction. You’ve got to have that for a consistent basis.”
Tulane saw its home attendance drop from more than 23,220 people per game in 2010 to 19,726 in 2011. The attendance at the Superdome stayed less than 20,000 until Yulman opened in 2014, one year after its first winning season in 11 years.
In its opening season, Yulman drew an average of 25,012 people per game, the program’s highest attendance since 2009. That number dropped to 22,930 in 2015.
“You know the first year you’re going to knock it out of the park,” Burke said. “We kind of expected a little bit less attendance in the second year, and we’re working really hard to get that back now and build it back up.”
“I think everybody understands it’s much easier to market a team that has some success and energy and people want to come,” she added.
Temple’s 10-3 season in 2015 drew an average crowd of 44,159, its highest attendance since the team started playing at Lincoln Financial Field. The Owls drew more than 69,000 people for games against Penn State and the University of Notre Dame. In the team’s other four home games, Temple drew an average of 31,623 and only had a crowd less than 30,000 once.
From 2011-14, when the Owls went 21-27, Temple’s season average for attendance peaked at 28,060 in 2011 and was as low as 22,473 in 2013.
Making multipurpose facilities
Temple has proposed other uses for its stadium in order to generate additional revenue. The facility could be potentially used for high school football games, lecture halls and concerts, Theobald said.
Tulane currently does not have any other uses besides home football games, but Burke said the university is looking into other opportunities.
Other uses for TDECU Stadium include classes and offices for its music school, and campus events like commencement. The university has also generated additional revenue through hosting high school football games.
Cincinnati, similarly, uses high school football games to generate additional revenue. The university also allows a United State Soccer League team to use Nippert Stadium for its home matches.
“It generates additional revenue, but there’s also accommodations that we make to pool that together,” Bohn said. “Long term it’s a win-win. It’s bringing people to campus … and engaging new fans and the community, and sponsors and having people come see what’s going on at the University of Cincinnati.”
Owen McCue can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Owen_McCue.