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Friday, August 29, 2014
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Hobbs Column: Expansion threatens Tiger Stadium reputation

Last Modified: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 9:12 AM

By Scooter Hobbs / American Press

There have been three very large and prominent visitors to LSU’s Tiger Stadium this fall, a trio that rather stands out from, but mostly way, way above, the crowd.

If LSU has a flyover this year, I’m guessing the scrambled jet fighters would have to stay up in Earth’s outer orbit.

The three mega-cranes stand watch over the south end zone, looking like stick-figure Godzillas ready to send the purple-and-gold masses fleeing and screaming toward the river.

It appears that, if really challenged, they could lift the entire campus and move it to Donaldsonville by lunch.

I know during the games I have often gazed up, noticed that the three command centers are up near the tops, with nothing but ladders down through the cranes to the ground, and I’ve been mesmerized wondering what poor (but presumably well-paid) soul had to climb up there to go to work every day.

Their job, of course, is building an upper deck expansion for the south end zone that is scheduled to come on line for next season.

As of now, the budding structure has crept just far enough above the original rim of the end zone to peek inside at what has been some fairly entertaining action, especially now that the Tigers have discovered the newfangled forward pass.

When completed, the structure will bring capacity to 100,000 (and keep up with Alabama).

So watching the stadium fill up Saturday afternoon, I was thinking that, instead of whining about having to play Florida every year, LSU ought to be thankful there was somebody on the schedule that could fill the stadium in non-Alabama years.

But Tiger Stadium never quite filled up. Not completely. As always for an afternoon game, it was a late-arriving crowd, and by midway through the first quarter it was fairly full, for sure, by far the largest crowd of the season.

But hardly jam-packed, even for the first truly big home game of the season.

There was that glaring section in the top half of the north end zone. It’s always been the pesky bald spot that Tiger Stadium can’t seem to comb over unless Alabama is in the house. But the sideline upper decks had numerous bare spots as well.

So as the skyscraper cranes stood at ease and looked down at the empty seats, it must have begged the question, why does Tiger Stadium need another upper deck when it’s having trouble filling the 92,500 seats it already has?

There is a logical reason (hint: money) and I’ll address it in a moment.

But the empty seats have to be a concern for LSU. After all, this is a good team, a winning team, even an entertaining team.

Head coach Les Miles addressed it Monday at his weekly news conference. He chose his words carefully for a change, knowing there’s no future to calling out his own fans.

“Never been disappointed, period,” he said of the atmosphere. “It’s as live a venue as there is. … But it did appear that some of our faithful stayed out of the heat and kind of stayed in the air-conditioning at the beginning of the game.”

Miles went on with a typically eloquent discourse, showing true concern for the health of his fan base, considering that it was pretty darn hot Saturday.

“I’m with them if it’s hot for them, then they need to stay in air-conditioning,” he said. “But only if it has to do with health, OK.”

OK. But Tiger Stadium has never exactly been a place for the faint-hearted. Never has been.

And, yes, it was pretty warm, unseasonably so for mid-October.

But let me get this straight. So they’re saying that it now gets hot down here in Louisiana? When did that happen? Did I miss something? Alert the media. Apparently the previous 120 years of LSU football were played in the Ice Age.

Before you blame something else on global warming, maybe, as they say, it’s not the heat, it’s the high-def.

This isn’t just an LSU problem. Colleges across the land are facing the same problem, even Alabama and its zealots.

You know my feelings. Buying a football ticket is an entertainment option, not a civic duty, particularly at the prices LSU charges.

But that’s the crazy thing. At least LSU is, for the most part, selling all of its tickets. So it’s not hurting the bottom line. Yet.

Florida, for instance, apparently isn’t even selling all of its tickets these days.

Every game is televised now, and every home, it seems, has a high-def TV, some of them seemingly as big as Tiger Stadium’s jumbo screens.

Your living room doesn’t have the mother of all traffic jams to and fro, either. It does have beer, if one is so inclined.

That new upper deck is going up mainly to house the “club level” seats, with its own air-conditioned lounge area behind the seating. As LSU discovered when it put them in the West expansion, they’re the cash cow.

They bring a lot of the creature comforts of home into the game experience at a fraction of the cost of the full-blown private suites (though still far more than a regular seat). They also have cold beer, which is forbidden among the unwashed masses below and above.

It’s about the only way the stadium can compete with your couch.

But the lure of the living room doesn’t explain why, of those who do go, so many still leave shortly after halftime, even for a game like Florida Saturday that was still in reasonable doubt.

Spoiled? Probably. Just like fans everywhere these days.

But tweeking the live stadium experience, providing more and more to the average ticket holder, is something LSU is going to have to address if it wants Tiger Stadium to remain its raucous self.

It’s something they’re struggling with.

As what was left of the crowd filed out following LSU’s victory Saturday, public address announcer Dan Borne reminded them that, “We’ll see in you in two weeks … when LSU hosts … FURMAN!”

That ought to pack them in.

• • •

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com

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