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Northwestern unveils plans for new football venue that resets the bar for stadium renovations

A rendering of the newly designed Ryan Field at Northwestern University, released on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Image courtesy of rebuildryanfield.com.

A rendering of the newly designed Ryan Field at Northwestern University, released on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Image courtesy of rebuildryanfield.com. by Matt Tait

On Wednesday night, Northwestern University released plans and unveiled renderings of a new $800 million football facility that, when completed, will instantly become the best venue in all of college athletics.

The only word that came to mind upon seeing the plans and reading the press release was, “Wow.”

The only thought that entered my mind after hearing the echoes of that word ring out was equally as simple. “How can anyone keep up with this?”

The answer: I don’t think they can.

At a time when the University of Kansas is doing everything in its power to get its own stadium project off the ground, seeing this out of Northwestern is almost too wild to believe.

Billed as a venue that will be first-class in every way, the new Ryan Field will feature premium seating for every fan, the best sightlines in college football, a design that reduces noise and light pollution and world-class amenities that promise to make the gameday experience for Wildcat fans among the best in all of sports.

The venue will seat 35,000 fans — 12,000 fewer than its current 97-year-old facility — and is being promoted as “a year-round community asset” much in the way KU is trying to jumpstart its stadium makeover with year-round thinking for the 11th and Mississippi project.

The difference between KU’s project and the Northwestern gem is the money. Not only is Northwestern planning a project that is roughly twice as expensive, they’re getting it done without a single dollar of taxpayer money. In fact, plans call for all of the money for Ryan Field to come from private dollars, with the Ryan Family funding a massive amount of it.

KU has dozens and dozens of extremely generous donors. But KU does not have a Ryan Family. Nor does KU currently reside in the Big Ten. And KU Chancellor Douglas Girod recently told the Journal-World that the expectation with KU’s stadium plans was that it would involve Kansas Athletics Inc., taking on some debt.

KU Athletic Director Travis Goff, who came from Northwestern, also said earlier this year that he expected funding for whatever project KU moves forward on to come from a combination of private donations and public financing.

But both KU leaders are fans of tying stadium revitalization plans into year-round, multi-use functionality that would benefit both the university and the city.

The guess here, by the way, is that Goff was privy to certain aspects of the current NU plan while still serving as the Deputy AD at Northwestern, but it seems as if the specific details, the architects involved and the scope of the project likely were developed in large part after his departure in April of 2021.

Goff was involved with more than $400 million in facilities upgrades during his time at Northwestern, though, so it’s not as if he’s unfamiliar with high-dollar projects.

Whatever KU settles on — whenever that happens — will lead to a significant and sorely needed upgrade of the existing venue and also likely not come close to anything that’s happening at Northwestern.

There will be elements of the two plans that will mirror one another and possibly even overlap. A recent survey sent out by KU was designed largely to gauge interest in premium seating options, and the university is trying out many of those options in its newly remodeled Touchdown Club on gamedays this fall.

It also would make some sense for KU to at least consider what a capacity in the 35,000- to 40,000-seat range might look like rather than pushing toward 50,000.

Still, the difference between a project like the one KU is dreaming of and the one Northwestern has announced is massive and figures to be separated by several hundred million dollars.

That’s not a knock on KU, more a tip of the cap to what Northwestern and the Ryan family are doing in Evanston, Illinois.

As the arm’s race continues in college athletics — will it ever actually end? — universities from coast to coast will continue to strive for newer, bigger, better with all of their athletic facilities, particularly those tied to football.

But it’s hard to imagine very many of them — if any — will even come close to being what Northwestern is planning to build for its program in the near future.

Wow. How can anyone keep up with this?

Comments

Rodney Crain

LOL

Matt this is just being cruel.

There is no possible way KU is going to get even close to something like Northwestern's new stadium. No Way.

I would ask our AD with ties to NW, to please ask them if we can have the leftover pieces of their current stadium they are not going to keep?

- Any food stations off the concourse
- Better restrooms
- Any part of their bowl seating
- Can we get their field?
- Weight rooms, locker rooms, really anything they are going to just throw out. We will take anything.

2 months ago

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Jonathan Allison

a billion dollars for a 37,000 seat stadium. this is just crazy

2 months ago

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Rodney Crain

Welcome to the Big 10!

2 months ago

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Alex Berger

What's interesting is the trend toward a lower seat count. It used to be the more seats the better but with football game attendance down across the country except for the top tier programs, is the revenue goal to make the gameday experience better than staying at home on a comfortable couch watching the game in detail on a 4k TV?

The good news for Kansas is fans won't skip out on showing up to a game because it's "not as nice as Northwestern". Just make upgrades, fans will keep coming to watch a winning team, and players just want to play in front of full stadiums with electric crowd support.

2 months ago

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Brian Wilson

5 stars! Decreased attendance is to do with cost or going to games and Kansas fans will show up as long as they can afford it!<br><br>
KU's original stadium as completed in 1927 without facade, press box, and upper seating, holds 38,000. There is no need for a dome or second level seating other than press and VIP boxes. But we do need to rebuild the stadium. The old stadium sightline is not good. KU has the best idea right in front of them. Build a new U shaped stadium a little taller and better sightlines with 45,000 seats. with the the most modern amenities and vip boxes along with a Huge Video Screen on top the North end facing the Campanile so that paying fans can enjoy the view of Potter's lake while watching the game on the field and the Big screen on the North End. Landscape the hill and around Potter's lake and cordon it off with beautiful gardens, waterfall, etc., with patio concessions, gift store, etc., and then charge a reasonable ticket price to watch from the Hill. A stadium of 45K plus the hill could handle who knows how many fans. Plus, the patio and concessions could be used by the students during the week as a study area or for other events. Too many ideas to put here but as far as parking goes....Flatten the area between Mississippi and up the hill to Ohio between 10th and 11th streets. It's 10-14 acres that could park from 2000-4000 cars if a parking garage or two were added. Move GSP dorms, etc to another spot. In the end, why do we need to be like everyone else with a Oval stadium/dome. Why not be the only stadium with the tradition of seating on the hill surrounded by campanile, potters lake, gardens and the University.

2 months ago

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Dirk Medema

It seems there have been plenty of “no way” events that have happened even just in the recent past. No way KU is undefeated a year and a half after being winless, and so many more. The architect/engineers and construction plans are mere details. Travis undoubtedly was a part of the crucial planning part of the process. So thankful for his leadership.

Once ou&ut defect, I think all the stadiums in the Big12 will be in the 50-70k range, including bu’s almost brand new facility. I’d expect the same size here.

2 months ago

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Rodney Crain

Nope, wrong again my little buddy.

Don't worry I am here to help you understand how sports works.

You see you need money and commitment, stability towards a program to get a new football stadium. We just do not have that here. Never had. Even now with hope restored, we have no idea what to do except plan for things. Surveys, RFP's with no idea how to fund them. Big dreams, that will never materialize.

Goff might have been around when all the planning at NW was being talked about, but unless he is hiding some unknown talent, we have yet to see any evidence of his "fund raising" bullet point on his resume.

We are 4-0. There are 14 other ranked teams alone that are 4-0. That is a big deal to us but we have 8 more to go.

There is no way anything like NW's plan is going to happen at KU.

The lads driving our stadium project just do not have the acumen to pull that off.

2 months ago

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Gary Wirsig

Just for fun, a quick internet search yielded the current seating capacities of schools staying in, or joining the Big 12:

BYU - 63,725;
Iowa State - 61,500;
Texas Tech - 60,454;
West Virginia - 60,000;
Oklahoma State - 60,000;
K-State - 50,000;
TCU - 50,000;
KU - 47,233;
Central Florida - 45,301;
Baylor - 45,140;
Cincinnati - 40,000;
Houston - 40,000

2 months ago

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Rodney Crain

Our stadium's claim to fame?

It is widely recognized as the oldest stadium west of the Mississippi River.

Fads when it opened - Barnstorming, Flagpole Sitting, Dance Marathons, and Mah-Jongg. Ah the good old days!

2 months ago

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Brett McCabe

Not a techie, here, but I believe that AR or VR are the next big thing. Not sure how to factor this into a stadium rebuild, but if there is a way, you should do it. Revenue for football, I think, is more and more and more going to come down to how it is delivered into homes. How about a stadium with 100 cameras built in? Cameras imbedded in the sidelines? The goal posts? The Pylons? Every possible replay angle imaginable. Can you build a stadium with two equal purposes: the live experience and the tv experience? Is there a way to build a stadium that makes it way, way, way better for tv coverage? Just spitballing, but simply designing a stadium to be more comfortable for those in attendance may be really shortsighted.

And you know what should be next, right? AFH. There. I said it.

2 months ago

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Joey Meyer

Woah. Never thought about that.

That's a really big deal. To build a stadium that's not ONLY for fans, but for the best possible TV experience. That could be unique and very neat - especially if it's planned in from the beginning.

I've thought for awhile now that to do a new stadium justice would be to build it in a way that best shows the fans at the game - ie - don't have the worst-seats directly-opposite of the major cameras. Watching the game - the first thing I look for and always see are the empty corners & sides of the stands. Build a stadium so that it usually looks full, even if it is only 70-80% of capacity. Not too hard to do, but definitely influences the perception of a program on TV.

2 months ago

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Brad Watson

I love our stadium...I have been going to it for over 60 years...it is fine for only 6 Saturdays a year...yea...it can use a lot maintenance...some upgrades in the inner workings...but I love our stadium...great history should never be destroyed...celebrate...keep it old school ...make it the nicest old school stadium in America...800 million dollars for 6 Saturdays' a year...not a good investment IMO...better uses for the money elsewhere...like to help minor sports for example....if a player only wants to come to your school for facilities...he is not the right kind of kid IMO...he should want to come because of the people..the coaches..the staff ..etc....that's who you recruit. IMO ...What matters is the game ...I would watch it in a pasture and be just as happy...these stadium issues and complaints are so shallow...just enjoy the game and the team...quit bitching!

2 months ago

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Brian Wilson

IDK Brad, I kind of agree but not. Eventhough I like it, I understand why its a ahrd sell to recruits and big spending alumni to come to an old stadium that is....muddy, dank, dusty dirty down under with narrow passages and stairwells. sub-par boxes, bathrooms and concessions.

2 months ago

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Dirk Medema

Gary - Thanks for the research. I was overly optimistic. Nice to get a factual correction. It does underscore my point that we don’t need a massive stadium. 50k? It seems there is a move towards more expensive options of people being served. Hopefully there will still be some affordable options.

Brett - Great point. It would seem that your idea could align with one of the concepts Yormark has mentioned. Multimedia contracts vs tv contracts. It likely won’t be every seat, but not hard to imagine a set up for a suite with a you pick the camera coverage like a security system.

One of the limitations of DBKMS is the incline of the seating. It would be easy to increase the angle. This is in part why the Phog is so loud. It brings the spectators closer to the field keeps more of the sound in. It also reduces the overall footprint required which allows more area outside the stadium for improvements.

Similarly, the oval end could be eliminated, with better seating along the sidelines, and a lot more area outside the stadium for improvements. So many possibilities even if there’s no way they’ll ever make anything.

2 months ago

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Brian Wilson

I agree the sightline and angle is too low but I'm not sure that it would be easy to increase the angle. To do that you would be adding weight to an old structure that might not be able to handle it. <br><br> The Phog is so loud also because of the way sounds bounces off the ceilng. What we need is something more like Chiefs stadium but smaller as the Chiefs seat 78000. Chief's stadium boxes overhang the lower level and they trap the sound down onto the field. A single level design with a taller angle and overhanging boxes could do it

2 months ago

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