HEISER: Future of Beaver Stadium will come down to cash


Sandy Barbour has a huge job in front of her.

The Penn State athletic director knows full well that aging Beaver Stadium is in desperate need of a face lift — at minimum.

That's why she and other PSU officials are discussing whether the stadium should be renovated, or completely rebuilt. It's part of a bigger discussion about the athletic department's long-term plans for all of its campus sports facilities. They've even hired an outside firm to appraise the options.

There have been three town hall meetings on the subject, and Barbour has already heard an earful from the Blue and White faithful. Nittany Nation, which has a very sizable contingent right here York County, has strong and varied opinions on the subject.

Barbour, who said she prefers the renovation option, said the argument has caused some "panic" in her personal network of friends and acquaintances.

Beaver Stadium has been in its current location since 1960. In the 55 years since, it's undergone a series of expansions and renovations to the point where it now has a listed capacity of 106,572 (third largest in the nation). It also now has a few of the modern amenities that fans crave, such as a jumbo video board and some luxury suites.

Still, there's no arguing that the largely steel structure, as a whole, is a relic of the past.

The tight quarters with the bleacher-style seating is a constant source of irritation among many fans. If you're unfortunate enough to be on the end of a row, you may only have half a seat at your disposal.

Adding more comfortable chair-back seats throughout the stadium, however, would almost certainly reduce capacity.

That may cause angst among some fans, who take great pride in Beaver Stadium's enormous seating capacity.

At this point, however, reducing capacity for the sake of increased comfort would not be a bad thing.

After all, since the Sandusky scandal, sellouts have been few and far between. In fact, since 2012, attendance has topped 100,000 just eight times in 27 games.

Reducing capacity and improving other amenities and infrastructure, however, will not be Barbour's biggest problem. They are pretty much no-brainers that need to be done.

Money is the real problem: The real difficulty comes down to one word — money.

An extensive renovation will certainly cost tens of millions — probably hundreds of millions — of dollars.

A complete rebuild will likely soar even higher.

For example, the Big Ten's last newly built football venue, Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium, cost $288.5 million when it opened in 2007. And that stadium seats just 50,000, or less than half of Beaver Stadium's capacity.

Where will the cash come from?

Barbour can ask the state for help, but that's probably a pipe dream. The Penn State administration has had a frosty relationship with the state legislature over the years. And the days of governments just forking over gobs of money for sports stadiums disappeared with the Great Recession. There are lots of folks who rightly believe that the government has better things to spend its money on.

That leaves Penn State with the task of footing the bill – a daunting endeavor, especially for an athletic department and university that is still struggling to emerge from the shadows of the Sandusky debacle.

Remember, the university had to fork over a $60 million fine levied by the NCAA after the Freeh Report was released.

In addition, the decreased attendance in recent years also resulted in lower net income from the cash-cow football program.

Good news: There is some good news, however. PSU will receive more than $6 million in bowl revenue this season, something the university has not received since the scandal-related sanctions took place in 2012.

In addition, revenue from the Big Ten Network and renegotiated media and licensing agreements (including Nike) are expected to increase significantly.

That will certainly help.

Philanthropy will also play a role, according to Barbour.

Maybe, if she's really lucky, Barbour will find another Terry Pegula, a Penn State grad and energy magnate whose $102 million donation helped Penn State build the 6,000-seat Pegula Ice Arena when the school decided to elevate the ice hockey teams from club status to the NCAA Division I level.

Of course, that's a pretty tall order. There aren't a lot of folks out there who: A) have that kind of cash; and B) are willing to part with it.

A single donation of that size seems unlikely. But smaller donations from multiple sources could combine for a similar total.

Increased prices for tickets, concessions and parking, which almost always follow such projects, may also help, although the fans will likely protest — loudly.

The school would also potentially need to take out a long-term loan to help finance the project.

"We are not going to take on anything that we can't afford to build," Barbour said.

Renovation the more likely option: In the end, Beaver Stadium will likely be renovated, not completely rebuilt. Still, the cost will almost certainly reach into the hundreds of millions. And it's a burden that Penn State will almost certainly have to bear by itself, with a big assist from some wealthy donors.

Barbour will have to schmooze like she's never schmoozed before in an effort to get some wealthy boosters to open up their check books.

Yes, indeed, Barbour has a huge job in front of her.

— Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com.