Bigger and more people are often the words that come to mind whenever U-M officials discuss improvements to Michigan Stadium. The University of Michigan recently completed a series of improvements to the iconic college football venue that actually took it in the opposite direction.
Michigan Stadium is now about 2,000 seats smaller after making the structure more compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (it was a target of an ADA lawsuit
a decade ago) and easier to navigate in the stadium bowl. Improvements include wider aisles and newly installed handrails. Michigan Stadium still maintains its titles as the largest venue in college football with a capacity of 107,601, but not by a lot.
Jon Zemke checks in with Brian Cook
, founder of Michigan-sports publication MGoBlog
, the largest independent team-specific sports blog in the U.S. Cook is a University of Michigan graduate and has been a regular at U-M's football games for decades. He has an opinion or two about what these changes could mean for the the fan experience and how the stadium has changed (for the better and worse) over the last 20 years of change.
Shrinking Michigan Stadium's capacity to better accommodate ADA accessibility and pedestrian traffic with wider aisles seems like a prudent move for improving the overall fan experience. At the same time Michigan's fan base places a lot of value on the Big House remaining the biggest stadium in college football. How do you think that base will react if sacrificing 2,000 seats for the greater good means ceding that title?
There's not much the university can do to if the ADA requires something, so I think most people have shrugged at the slightly reduced capacity. That is because Michigan is still #1. If another program attempts to surge past Michigan, there will be agitation for a response. At this point that would almost have to entail a second deck in one of the endzones, though, and that's a major capital project that may or may not be feasible.
Does that title mean as much today in an era of big screen TVs and ubiquitous football watching options?
It does. Number one is number one, and Michigan fans like all their number ones.
Penn State’s Beaver Stadium is a little more than 1,000 seats short of surpassing Michigan Stadium in capacity. How real is the threat that Michigan Stadium will lose its title as the largest venue in college football?
Number one is number one, and Michigan fans like all their number ones.
As someone who's been to Beaver Stadium a couple times, they seem to have just about maxed out their capacity. They have end zone decks up the wazoo. Any attempted surge by the Nittany Lions could be dwarfed by a Michigan response... but the problem is that Michigan doesn't really have many half measures they can take. They could lose it, as they did for a decade or so in the aughts; eventually there would be a response.
It seems like Michigan Stadium has undergone more improvements in the last 20 years than its first 70 years. Some things I am happy to see long gone (trough urinals) and some things I miss, like the old electronic scoreboards. You have been attending games for decades. What is lost from your early stadium experiences that you miss today?
The ability to talk to people near you without screaming. The total noise environment of the modern gameday is crazy overkill, especially during commercials. Attempting to pump up the crowd during the game is an activity with a point. Drowning out their conversations when there is no game is purely self-serving.
What don't you miss about the fan experience from those early days?
Before the advent of the luxury boxes, the stadium looked terrible from the outside. It was just a hole in the ground that people occasionally put a terrible maize halo around. Even without the halo, the outside of the stadium looked like aluminum siding more than anything. The conscious decision to ape Yost Ice Arena
when they installed the boxes made the stadium look as regal as it should.
Also I appreciate the ability to see things on replay. (And I would appreciate it more if the camera man would zoom out some more.)
Totally agree with you about not missing the way it looked from the outside. The old chain link fence exterior was horrendous and gave the whole place a prison yard feel. However, it does seem like the university is forcing too much faux nostalgic character in there these days. There are so many mini monuments that the whole stadium seems to have lost gravitas. I am wondering if they should have just kept it at the Memorial Eagle at the front entrance and considered a less is more approach?
I think they've done a pretty good job with the architecture. In many other respects, I agree with you. At least Michigan still has Carl Grapentine
(Michigan Stadium’s game day announcer). If they ever replace him with a "WHO WANTS SOME FREE PIZZAAAAA" type guy, something precious will have been lost.
If the university decide to further expand Michigan Stadium do you think it’s possible the powers that be will widen the current seats an inch or two? America isn’t getting any skinnier these days.
Oh, man, Jon: they already did that once, when they replaced all the concrete and did their first set of ADA regulations. This might not be a Michigan problem.
- Jon Zemke is the news editor with Concentrate and its sister publications Model D and Metromode. He is also the managing editor of SEMichiganStartup.com.
Photos supplied by University Of Michigan, MGoBlog, and Doug Coombe.