Penn State's on-field success arrives at perfect time
LOS ANGELES — Penn State arrived at the Rose Bowl feeling as though it had restored the program's football tradition.
The Lions won their first Big Ten championship since 2008 to qualify for Monday's game, where they will play USC , for just the third time in school history.
And that historic run could not have come at a better time, as Penn State soon will embark on a transformative, and likely expensive, renovation of its athletic facilities, including 106,572-seat Beaver Stadium. As a result, Penn State hopes that the football team's success this season translates into a cash influx for the athletic department.
So far, Athletic Director Sandy Barbour said, Penn State's football success has produced tangible results. The program has sold 1,400 additional season tickets this year and sold out of its Rose Bowl ticket allotment in a matter of days. Penn State Head Coach James Franklin appreciates the demand.
"You walk around around our [football] building, there's a buzz and there's an energy, there's no doubt about it," Franklin said. "You walk around campus, there's a buzz. You guys know how strongly I believe in being positive. We had to overcome some of the opposite early on the first couple years. I really believe if we would have had more of this positive energy earlier, we would have had a little bit more success."
Fans certainly responded to that success in Franklin's third year at Penn State. Rose Bowl tickets quickly became a hot commodity after the team won the Big Ten championship in early December. Because of high demand, the athletic department said, none of the university's allotment of 22,000 tickets was made available to Alumni Association members or the general public.
Penn State sold its initial allotment to season-ticket holders in a matter of days and received about 1,000 extra tickets from the Big Ten Conference to fulfill its requests. Penn State students bought about 1,700 tickets, similar to the 2009 Rose Bowl, the athletic department said.
In addition, about 2,000 fans bought travel packages through event company PrimeSport, which coordinates the official Rose Bowl travel packages. Seven chartered flights arrived in Los Angeles from Harrisburg on Dec. 30-31.
Because of tremendous in-house demand, the remaining Penn State fans were forced to the secondary market, making Rose Bowl tickets more popular than those for either of the College Football Playoff games played Saturday. Tickets at online resellers such as Stubhub ($275), Vividseats ($311) and SeatGeek ($375) were more than double list prices.
"Certainly it's been very positive," Barbour said of the post-Big Ten title response. "You see it everywhere you go. You're seeing it here in Los Angeles in terms of how Penn Staters feel about their program, win or lose, but it's always nicer when you win. We're seeing that here. We're seeing it in every aspect of the community, in every aspect of the program."
For Penn State, now it's a matter of turning that success into a fundraising effort to help pay for the upcoming facilities renovations. In 2015, Penn State announced plans to conduct a facilities master plan of Beaver Stadium and the university's nearly 20 venues, used by 31 varsity sports teams. The study has taken more than a year.
"This is the largest athletic master plan, that I'm aware of, that's been undertaken in collegiate athletics," Scott Radecic, senior principal of the design firm Populous, which Penn State hired to conduct the master plan, said on a visit to the university last year.
The scope of that plan, scheduled to be implemented over the next 20 years, became much broader than Barbour first envisioned. It encompasses fresh looks at all of Penn State's facilities, including a new natatorium and sweeping changes to Beaver Stadium. Barbour said Saturday that details of the master plan will be released in February.
Penn State is expected to reduce fan capacity at the 106,572-seat stadium, the nation's second-largest, by widening seats and providing more legroom. In addition, Beaver Stadium, which has been at its current location since 1960, requires a significant amount of infrastructure upgrades, along with a new press box.
A Rose Bowl victory could help begin paying for all that.
"For as long as I can remember, people have been talking about what Penn State was," Franklin said. "Now, I think, for the first time in a long time, people are talking about what Penn State is. Which is good."
GOOD YEAR FOR JAMES FRANKLIN
Winning the Big Ten championship boosted Penn State coach James Franklin's paycheck this year. A look at his 2016 salary, which totaled $5.4 million.
BASE SALARY: $4.2 million
ANNUAL RETENTION BONUS: $300,000
BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP BONUS: $350,000
ROSE BOWL APPEARANCE: $300,000
NATIONAL COACH OF THE YEAR: $150,000
BIG TEN COACH OF THE YEAR: $100,000
TOTAL: $5.4 million
Source: 2014 contract terms sheet.