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Sunday, July 21, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Blaine Newnham / Times Associate Editor

Ducks' stadium expands along with hat size

EUGENE — Those audacious Ducks.

Bill Moos, the Oregon athletic director, had just returned from New York where he had signed an agreement not only to put another $250,000 ad on the side of a Manhattan building, but to have this season's UO football games on the Yankees' cable network.

From 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. local time.

The Ducks pay an additional $50,000 to be late-night attractions in New York, but they think the zany exposure is worth it. They're into spending money to make money.

And besides, Nike's Phil Knight thinks it is a good idea.

Outside of Moos' office, a construction crew of 350 continues to work 10 hours a day, six days a week, to complete as much as it can on the expansion of Autzen Stadium for the Aug. 31 opener against Mississippi State.

"We've grown the bowl," said Steve McBride, the associate athletic director who is in charge of the project, peering from beneath a hard hat at the additional 12,000 seats on the south side.

The cost of the project is $90 million, an alarming figure when the original 42,000 seats were built for $2.5 million in the late 1960s.

This is more than about 12,000 seats, it is about keeping up with the Joneses, or the Huskies, to be more accurate, about winning the war it began, the Pac-10's arms race, which threatens to leave schools like Cal and Washington State and UCLA in the fiscal dust.

The Ducks are rolling, and have been for some time. To his credit, Moos has taken advantage of a confluence of good timing, back-to-back 10-win seasons and the largess of Knight, the CEO and founder of Nike.

"Phil has never been more excited about Duck athletics than he is right now," said Moos. "He checks his Nike stock every morning and then checks on the Ducks."

The university has made up with Knight, who two years ago pulled his support following the university's support of a special action group critical of Nike's labor practices.

In the eight years that Moos, who grew up in Washington and played football at WSU, has been athletic director, the Ducks will have spent $140 million on their facilities.

An indoor practice facility, new outdoor practice fields everywhere, and now the expansion of Autzen, a risk when it was first conceived given the relative sparse population in the state and the demand on the Ducks to keep winning.

Last season's win over Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl and a No. 2 ranking did it. The 12,000 new seats were sold before they were finished.

Moreover, the 33 new suites in two levels above the expanded south side (the press box is on a third level) have also been sold, even though they won't be occupied until the 2003 season.

It all means the Ducks will realize $4 million to $5 million a year more in revenue from their football program. Oregon stopped selling regular-season tickets at 41,000, the capacity of the old stadium.

In 1994, the year the Ducks won the conference and went to the Rose Bowl, they had 13,000 season-ticket holders.

"`When I took this job," said Moos, "I stressed that to be successful in the conference we had to be competitive with Washington.

"We honestly believe we have arrived. After last season, we are now a football program where one of our players can be a legitimate contender for the Heisman Trophy and our team can contend for a national championship."

Since 1995, Oregon's athletic budget has doubled to $36 million. Moos said without expanding the stadium his program was doomed to debt.

Oregon has crossed a delicate line with its pro-style approach to its additional seats. Club seats have access to a climate-controlled dining area. To buy one of the 3,200 club seats, an Oregon fan must make an annual contribution of $750 and also pay a construction fee of $1,500 per seat.

The suites are leased for $45,000 on a three-year contract.

They've done a nice job with the expansion project, adding seats but not changing the basic feel of one of college football's most intimate settings.

Moos thinks the place will be more intimidating than ever, but won't know for sure until the fall. The luxury suites, for example, sit well above the 90th row of club seats. To me, they are not only the most expensive seats in the place, but the least appealing.

"When we did our surveys, our fans wanted luxury suites," said Moos. "We added to the number originally planned."

The Ducks are Oregon's pro team. They're successful because they stuck with Rich Brooks through all those years, because Moos was able to keep Mike Bellotti from going to Ohio State or USC, and because Knight put up half of the $90 million to expand the stadium.

"Phil likes Nike to be out front," said Moos, "and that's where we want to be, too."

Blaine Newnham: 206-464-2364 or bnewnham@seattletimes.com

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