Mac Engel

TCU stadium upgrade is another sign that colleges are going pro

The logo is so ingrained in our brains we don’t even notice that a casino is sponsoring an NCAA athletic sports venue/event.

There is the logo, clearly visible on the lower windows of TCU’s basketball venue, Schollmaier Arena: Winstar.

When asked about how/why TCU permitted a casino to sponsor one of its venues for amateur athletes, most of whom are not old enough to gamble, TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte was quick to make an important distinction.

“We associate the brand with the resort and hotel,” he said.

No different than associating Budweiser beer with only “rehydration nourishment.”

TCU uses the sports marketing firm IMG to handle all of its sponsorships, so it’s not as if members of the administration are out trolling casinos, microbreweries and distilleries for potential corporate clients. Del Conte said all sponsorships, including Winstar, must be approved by the school.

The approval and use of Winstar the resort is simply more of the professionalization of amateur sports, and TCU’s announcement Tuesday that it plans to renovate the football stadium is just a continuance of the blurring of lines between the pros and the kids.

While an awning is certainly needed at Amon G. Carter Stadium, the best part of TCU’s announcement to renovate the football stadium is that no more than 1,000 seats will be added.

As evidenced by TCU and every other stadium in Texas this fall, no school should be adding seats to venues.

Ponder this: Between 2000 and 2014, eight universities in Texas combined to spend well over $1 billion on stadium expansion and renovations. Virtually none of these stadiums are full on Saturdays this fall.

▪ At Texas, Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium lists a capacity of 100,119; the biggest “announced” crowd this fall was 96,557 for ... Kansas. Yes, I don’t believe there were that many people in attendance, either.

▪ At Texas A&M, Kyle Field’s capacity is 102,733. None of the attendance figures listed in the box score for the Aggies’ six home games has been at capacity. The home game against No. 1 Alabama drew 101,058. A huge crowd by any measure, but less than the number of seats listed as capacity.

Both UT and A&M will always draw big crowds, even in down years, but both schools overexpanded their stadiums by 10,000 to 15,000 so they could brag and win a press release.

▪ Texas Tech’s Jones AT&T Stadium capacity is 61,000. Of the Red Raiders’ five home games, the only game to have an announced attendance of 60-plus thousand was for Oklahoma State.

▪ Baylor’s McClane Stadium lists a capacity of 45,150. Three times this fall they have listed capacity crowds in their box scores: The season opener against Liberty and games against West Virginia and Texas. Baylor is 1-9. Do you believe its stadium has been at capacity for three home games?

▪ TCU’s Amon G. Carter Stadium’s capacity is 45,000, and anyone who’s been at the games will tell you it has been at capacity once this fall: Nov. 4 vs. Texas.

All home venues fudge their attendance figures, so even the “full figures” are likely exaggerated.

As Del Conte has noticed, sports teams and schools are in a major competition with the pull of the parking lot tailgate scene and the lure and ease of the living room couch. Or even sports bar.

Fewer and fewer fans will pay for the upper level bleacher seat. At any price.

The Texas Rangers list Globe Life Park’s capacity at 48,114. When the Rangers move into the new place, the capacity will be between 42,000 and 44,000.

The trend is not bigger, but more exclusive. You can thank Jerry Jones and the class system he created at AT&T Stadium.

Going to a sporting event has become like buying an airline ticket, and it’s no longer just first class and coach. There are a myriad of “levels” available for purchase.

If people are going to leave the comforts of their living room or tailgate, they want something they can’t get at either: That’s exclusivity. That’s a premium product. That is the chance to spend more money.

Because if it’s more expensive, then it must be better.

Only if the game is big, then the stadium can’t be big enough. Any ticket is a premium ticket.

When No. 5 Oklahoma hosted No. 6 TCU on Saturday night in Norman, every seat at the Gaylord Family Memorial Stadium was full — 88,308. That is a legitimate figure.

When Texas hosted No. 10 Notre Dame to start the 2016 season, 102,315 showed up to DKR. Again, that 102,315 figure is one you can believe.

TCU is not gambling that it’s going to be able to add more bodies to its upper deck, although if it added a canopy it would boost attendance by several thousand. With 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. kickoffs, nearly all of which are mandated by TV, too many fans are spooked by the specter of sitting underneath a baking sun for three-plus hours.

Hard Rock Stadium in South Florida, home to the Miami Dolphins, added a canopy to protect fans from the sun. Baylor’s McLane Stadium has a similar ring over its seats, not too different from the old Texas Stadium.

TCU is gambling that adding more exclusive high-dollar premium seats is the safer bet. TCU can’t fill up its stadium, but it can pack its high-dollar clubs.

Whether it’s adding more club seats or rationalizing Winstar as a sponsor for an NCAA event, all it is just more professionalization of big kids’ sports.

All of it has become so seamlessly ingrained that one day we will no longer distinguish one from the other.

Mac Engel: @macengelprof

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