When football returns to Rice-Eccles Stadium this week, the newly renovated south end zone will get plenty of attention. The $80-million project added space for 4,500 more fans, new locker rooms and a members-only restaurant.
But those aren’t the only upgrades at the stadium this fall.
Roughly 15,000 chairs, turned pink after nearly two decades of UV rays, will be bright red again — thanks to Twitter, a couple of blowtorches, and a few hundred bucks worth of propane.
Ute fans had been bombarding athletics officials with social media posts for weeks now, sharing videos of old stadium seats being restored by simply taking a blowtorch to them.
“Over the summer, I don’t know how many people sent that video to me, how many donors reached out to me, [athletics director Mark Harlan] and other people,” Gavin Gough, associate athletics director for facilities, said last week as he looked out over the progress at Rice-Eccles. “The power of Twitter, right?”
The sun-faded chairs weren’t a top priority. The seats would be filled with fans dressed in red anyway, right? But after seeing the contrast in colors between the new chairs in the south end zone and the pink chairs on the east and west, Utah officials decided earlier this month to give it a shot.
They torched one chair, watched it turn from pink to red, and then waited.
The seat stayed bright red.
“Louisville had done a similar project with their stadium renovation,” Gough said. “I knew it had been done in the industry before, but it’s really not commonly known.”
Replacing the chairs entirely would have cost in excess of $1 million, Gough said, while some bids to restore seats topped a few hundred thousand dollars. Instead, a team of about four workers from the campus’ metal shop has spent every day for nearly two weeks walking the rows at the stadium with a blow torch and a propane tank (about two per day per worker), turning a sea of pink chairs red again.
“What we don’t know is how long it will last without adding more UV protection,” Gough said. “You might only get a couple of years out of it, but it’s better than replacing every seat.”
If nothing else, the stadium’s seats will be bright red for Thursday’s season opener against Weber State.
“We’re really excited,” Gough said. “Our fans are really drawn to this and they’re excited we’re giving it a try. They have a voice and we do listen to them.”
And, as an unexpected bonus, the project has taken care of a different annual issue for the Rice-Eccles crew: the blowtorches have burned off the gum stuck under the seats, something stadium workers scrape away before the start of each season.