Provo • Because sellouts at 63,725-seat LaVell Edwards Stadium have been few and far between the last decade or so, few BYU fans are clamoring for a stadium expansion like what is happening up the road at the home of the Cougars’ biggest rival, the University of Utah.
However, that doesn’t mean improvements aren’t wanted, or needed, and BYU officials say crews have spent the summer making some major upgrades that will benefit all fans at their home games. And despite some social media posts after the recent Stadium of Fire show on July 4 saying work is far from completed, athletic department spokesperson Duff Tittle said last week the renovations “are right on target” to be done well before the start of the season.
BYU opens the 2019 season at home on Aug. 29 against Utah at 8:15 p.m., the first time the Utes and Cougars will have met in a season-opener.
Barring something totally unforeseen, “everything will be completely done within 30 days,” said Tittle, BYU’s associate athletic director for communications.
According to a school news release, the project adds structural sections at all four corners of the stadium that connect the existing four independent stadium stands at the mezzanine level. The improvements allow guests to walk between stands without having to return to ground level.
Also, the number of restrooms — especially for women — will be “significantly” increased on the north and south mezzanine levels. There will also be more “family-friendly” restrooms.
Tittle said it was never in the plans to have the project completed before Keith Urban’s concert at Stadium of Fire.
“Nothing at all suggests we’re behind schedule,” he said.
However, most of the work is done. Tittle said the project, which is being done and paid for by the university, and not the athletic department, is already receiving rave reviews.
“The people I talked to who were at Stadium of Fire thought it was really cool,” he said. “Especially those with seats above the concourse.”
LAVELL EDWARDS STADIUM IMPROVEMENTS
• State-of-the-art DAS and Wi-Fi system
• Interactive in-stadium game day application for cell phones
• Social media board that is 8 feet high and 282 feet wide
• New structural sections at all four corners connecting stadium stands at mezzanine level
• More restrooms and family-friendly facilities on the north and south mezzanine levels
Tittle said he’s been informed by the school that crews have only three remaining tasks: 1) Install fixtures in all the new bathrooms on the mezzanine level. 2) Complete final painting and touch-up work in all areas. 3) Finish the new staircase at the southwest corner of the stadium.
Along with increasing patron mobility and safety, the corner sections could also include food carts and additional concession stands, but how many and specific vendors are not yet known, Tittle said.
He’s not sure whether standing-room-only tickets will be sold for the corners, but there will be eating and viewing areas like there are at a lot of Major League baseball parks and NFL stadiums around the country.
“Bottom line is that the improvements will make for a better fan experience, of that I’m sure,” Tittle said.
Speaking of which, BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe spoke at length last January in a sit-down meeting with reporters who cover the program about the need to enhance the fan experience at all BYU sporting events, but most importantly football.
“One of the things we have done with football is we spent millions of dollars putting in a [DAS] cellular system and a Wi-Fi system so that people will come to the stadium with their phones, and still have their connectivity,” Holmoe said. “One of the biggest areas [of concern] was our students’ attendance. That was diminishing. You could say it is because of our play, or our record or the teams we play, or the time of the games. All those, yes, yes, yes, yes. But one of the factors was, ‘I couldn’t get connected.’ Now they can. We are going to do everything we can to sharpen the game as an event.
“It is not a BYU thing. Everybody has to try to do that. Hospitality. Amenities. Facilities. All of those are factors, and many, many more," Holmoe continued when asked about declining attendance.
Holmoe went on to say that BYU’s stadium is currently the right size, but could use more “premium seating” even if it means downsizing capacity.
“Our discussions currently are about hospitality,” he said. “Right now we are not filling the stadium, but we did for years and my intention is to get a team that will attract [fans], and despite all the things we have talked about, reasons people won’t come, that we will fill it up. I think our [capacity] numbers are just about right.”
Holmoe was referring to a state-of-the-art DAS and Wi-Fi system installed the last few years, and also an interactive in-stadium game day football app and a social media board in which guests can post comments to social media and see them displayed in the stadium.
“Some of these fan experience upgrades are four or five years in the making and we are excited about them,” Tittle said. “Communication-wise, these upgrades have turned us into an NFL-type venue.”
Now if the Cougars can get more NFL-bound talent on the field. That, more than anything else, would bring back the sellouts.
“We’re working on it. I feel really good about the progress we’ve made,” head coach Kalani Sitake said at football media day, while discussing the new fan game-day experience called “Cougar Canyon” that will be located directly west of the stadium on Canyon Road and open three and a half hours before kickoff.