Latest Kansas football stadium news offers cause for excitement and concern

LAWRENCE, KS - SEPTEMBER 24: A general view during the first half between the Duke Blue Devils and the Kansas Jayhawks at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium on September 24, 2022 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Jay Biggerstaff/Getty Images)
LAWRENCE, KS - SEPTEMBER 24: A general view during the first half between the Duke Blue Devils and the Kansas Jayhawks at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium on September 24, 2022 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Jay Biggerstaff/Getty Images) /

Yesterday, more details regarding the upcoming renovations to the Kansas football stadium and the surrounding “campus gateway” project were announced in a piece from the Lawrence Journal-World.

The article covers all kinds of updates including proposals from the outside consultant that KU has hired as part of the process. There is also a rendering of what the new area could look like once the project is completed.

The unnamed consultant is recommending a 55,000-square-foot conference center, a 175-room upscale hotel, and a 2,500-seat concert and event venue among other facilities as part of the project.

However, in order to fit those additional structures, the consultant is recommending that KU reduce seating in Kansas David Booth Memorial Stadium to 39,839 seats, which would be a decrease of more than 7,000 seats from the stadium’s current capacity.

The consultant’s recommendations would also eliminate the parking lot and grassy area directly east of the stadium – a key location for parking and tailgating for fans.

Understandably, many KU fans took to social media to voice their concerns with some of these changes, but there are pros and cons to the suggested proposals released yesterday.

Reasons for excitement

First and foremost, the new football stadium is happening. Finally, after all these years, it’s happening.

Kansas Athletic Director Travis Goff and his staff have put in a lot of work and effort to turn this into reality. And thus far, it’s hard not to trust his judgement when it comes to making the best decision for KU Athletics.

Having been a KU fan and student himself, Goff has shown in multiple ways in his two years on the job that he has a great feel for what matters to the fanbase.

While a reduction in seating capacity isn’t exactly something many fans were clamoring for, it’s not hard to see why it makes sense and why it could be beneficial on game days.

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Having a stadium with seats closer to the field should make for a louder, more exciting environment when the game is underway. That’s an enhancement for both fans and Kansas players on the field who have rarely experienced an intimidating home field advantage since stepping foot on campus.

It also makes for better sight lines for fans and a better fan experience overall once in the stadium.

“We wanted to create a more intimate feeling in the stadium, make it louder and improve the quality of the fan experience,” said Karla Leeper, vice chancellor for strategic communications and public affairs.

This past season, attendance averaged less than 35,000 per game despite having the best season in more than a decade. From 2015-19, the average attendance was approximately 26,000.

So, a reduction in seating shouldn’t really impact fans’ ability to attend games based on recent attendance numbers, coupled with the fact that people aren’t attending college football games the way they used to.

Nowadays, fans have unlimited entertainment options, many of which are available from the comfort of their own homes.

To get people in seats, you need to have a stadium and atmosphere that makes fans have the best experience possible. In today’s world, that includes things like “premium seating” and “club seats” and other items mentioned in the proposal.

It’s also important to remember that these are just recommendations from the consultant – they are not set in stone. Goff even clarified that point on Twitter and said that seating would not dip below 40,000.

And the surrounding non-football facilities like the convention center and hotel may seem unnecessary, but the university told us they would be included as part of this project from the beginning.

“We want that football stadium to appropriately reflect KU’s commitment to athletics and KU’s argument for remaining in a Power 5 Conference … But financially it doesn’t make sense to make that type of investment in something that is only used seven days per year,” said Leeper. “Part of this proposal is to identify how to activate that development 365 days per year.”

The fact that KU is thinking bigger picture with this project is not a bad thing, and this project should be a win for both football fans, the university, and the Lawrence community alike.

The surrounding buildings and a reduction in seating is not what should concern fans about these proposed plans.

Reasons for concern

What should concern fans about these proposals (in this writer’s humble opinion) is what will tailgating, parking, and premium seating looks like.

Having a stadium that is more upscale and more intimate can make for a better game day experience if done right, but tailgating is a big part of the KU game day experience too.

Based on the proposed renderings shared in the article, the surrounding structures would eliminate the main tailgating area closest to the stadium on the east side. The bottom part of the hill on the south side will also be impacted by the proposed healthcare space and event/concert venue space.

That leaves very few options for fans to tailgate directly near the stadium except for further up on the hill and in the parking lot behind the Spencer Museum of Art.

The university has said that this is more than just a football project and that’s okay, but eliminating the majority of tailgating space can’t be the answer when plans are finalized.

Parking will also be a huge question mark.

Based on the proposals and renderings released yesterday, there doesn’t appear to be any allocation or room for any type of parking structure to go along with the new stadium and surrounding facilities.

And with how restrictive the university is when it comes to parking in certain lots on game days, that leaves very little options for fans except for parking on already-crowded neighborhood streets or parking at a further location and trying to catch a shuttle.

Nothing deters people more – especially Midwesterners – from wanting to go somewhere than bad parking situations.

Luckily, Goff has already reassured fans that parking and tailgating options will be “key priorities” as this project continues. But what that looks like based on the consultant’s recommendations are unclear.

The last major remaining concern should be about the premium and club seating options once they are implemented.

Will tickets still be affordable for the average fan? Will the increase in premium seating impact the student section and their ability to attend games as easily?

It will be interesting to see the breakdown of premium seating versus non-premium seating and how much of each will be available. It could certainly impact attendance if it’s not balanced and affordable to go to a game.

Final thoughts

With any project of this magnitude, especially one that has been discussed and teased for so many years, there’s going to be aspects of the change that aren’t appealing to everyone.

And the good thing is, none of the proposals shared yesterday are finalized. They’re simply recommendations.

No matter how this shakes out, Kansas fans should have faith that Goff and his team are doing their due diligence to ensure that the final product of the renovated stadium will fully meet the needs of fans and players alike in this day and age of college football and sports entertainment.

Look for finalized plans to be released by this fall as construction is scheduled to begin on the stadium following the upcoming 2023 season.