Wisconsin season ticket holder Kim Heiman had heard all the stories about the downsides of sitting in end zone seats.
He realized the potential viewing impairments that come from sitting behind a goalpost. But seeing Wisconsin’s plan to make the South End Zone a premier experience, Heiman bought a package.
Now he believes he has one of the best seats in the house.
“If you get a chance to sit in these seats and look at the field view we have from here, it’s an excellent view,” Heiman said. “There’s no one blocking your view. You see every game develop. It’s fantastic.”
The situation in Wisconsin is not unique. Several colleges have added amenities to make their end zone seats more attractive and more expensive.
“The days of the cheap seats at the end zones with poor views have now changed dramatically,” said Sharianne Walker, who teaches a stadium and arena management course as a professor of sports management and dean of the college of business at Western New University of England. “It’s more of a premium seating arrangement.”
Turning such seats into first-class experiences allows colleges to appeal to fans at a time when attracting spectators is becoming increasingly difficult. The average attendance for Football Bowl Subdivision games has fallen every year since 2014, falling to 39,848 last season, the lowest since 1981.
Seats in the end zones are traditionally a hard sell.
“If you notice that there might be some stock that’s in distress — seats that aren’t selling or not at the level the university would like — discover what you can do creatively with that space so you’re still creating a great home advantage Arkansas deputy director of external involvement athletics Rick Thorpe said.
Wisconsin senior associate director of athletics Jason King said surveys of fans showed a need for first-class seating, giving spectators the option to stay outside instead of spending the entire game in a suite.
“That would allow people to have the amenities of premium space, but still be in the bowl and enjoy the traditions that make our stadium really special,” said King.
Wisconsin removed 7,190 standard end zone seats and replaced them with 2,734 seats that could be sold at higher prices. Fans there have wider seats with more legroom, special toilets and access to extensive food and drink in a covered club room.
Prices for seasonal packages run from $700 for patio access to $4,500 per person for the first-class boxes that each seat four to six people. Field-level boxes bring fans as close as possible to the action.
Wisconsin officials said they sold out all 2,734 seats to bring in $6 million in revenue.
Arkansas undertook a $160 million renovation of the Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in 2019, including a north side addition with 70 box boxes, 32 suites, and approximately 2,400 club seats. Fans with access to the indoor club will be able to watch the Razorbacks walk to the field from the locker room before the game.
Mississippi State’s South Side has 18 six-person lodge boxes that each cost $10,000 per box and include access to a covered field house with a full-service buffet. Fans who already have tickets for seats elsewhere in the stadium can pay an additional $850 per year to access a field-level club with an outdoor deck that allows them to stand in the back of the North Zone.
“The players who score come over and fans high-five,” said Mississippi State senior associate athletic director Mike Richey.
Walker noted that the indoor clubs that come with many of these premier end zone seats provide a sports bar atmosphere.
“You think of younger alumni coming back,” he said. “They may not be able to afford the suite in full just yet, but they may be able to afford the premium seats in the end zone and they can visit their friends and network.”
Richey said the Mississippi State suites on the east side of the stadium cost $50,000 a year and can hold up to 30 people. The premium end zone seats will still provide access to the indoor club at a reduced price.
“What we’ve found over the last eight or 10 years is that everyone has a different expectation of what their viewing experience will be like and how they’ll enjoy the event,” said Richey. “For some people, especially younger people, it’s not so much about ‘I want to be on the 50 yard line’ or ‘I want to be lower’ or ‘I want to be in a certain place’. It’s more about the social aspect. It’s more about room to move and not being tied to a 22-inch piece of metal in a grandstand.”
It’s also about having the option to play indoors, especially in northern stadiums where the weather becomes an issue.
“We have warm weather in September and cold weather in November, so most of the season there’s a reason to go indoors,” said Ryan McGuire, senior associate athletic director at Iowa State, whose school closed its South End Zone in 2015. Club opened.
Nevertheless, it is important to ensure that the packages offer a good view of the action.
Richey says fans like the box boxes at Mississippi State because they’re so close to the field that players can hear what those spectators are saying. In Wisconsin, Heiman got a 3D presentation from school officials showing the favorable perspective he would have from his seat.
Heiman says he got everything he was promised.
“You can sell these seats for premium dollars, for the luxury you have in them,” Heiman said.
That’s exactly what school officials want to hear.