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December 16, 2011

Athletics department to replace outdoor club seats at Lane

By: Jimmy Robertson

Nearly every football stadium in the country features some form of outdoor club seating, and Virginia Tech’s Lane stadium is no different in that regard.

However, the Virginia Tech athletics department wants to make sure that those seats are among the best in the nation.

With another project designed to enhance the fan experience at Lane Stadium, the athletics department recently made the decision to tear out all the outdoor club seats and install new ones for the 2012 season. The seats, located between the 35-yard lines on the west side, will be wider and more comfortable, and the aisles will be widened as well to allow for more leg room.

Grandstand Design will begin the project at some point later this winter or in early spring, depending on the weather, and will be installing Irwin Senator seats, one of the best seats on the market. The cost for the project figures to run in the neighborhood of $450,000-500,000.

“We’ve looked at doing this for a few years now,” said Tom Gabbard, Tech’s associate AD for internal affairs. “But we’ve got a couple of good reasons for doing the project now rather than waiting, so we’re going to go ahead.”

Gabbard cited two main reasons for going ahead with the project. For starters, new seats are needed, and replacing old or broken ones isn’t an option. The tread width, or the area where one’s feet resides, at the stadium is based on a 40-year-old code, and no manufacturer makes a seat that fits within the parameters of that particular code.

“I’ve looked for three years for replacement seats,” Gabbard said. “The manufacturers today make seats based on current codes. So if we have a seat that breaks, which is obviously going to happen over the course of time, then we have no way currently to replace it. So we really need bring everything up to current codes and get the proper seats in there.”

Expanding the tread width, though, requires doing some concrete work, eliminating some club seats and reconfiguring some bench seats. Basically, to meet tread width standards, workers will eliminate one aisle for every three aisles. This will leave the athletics department with 1,003 club seats, 187 fewer than in the past.

The athletics department did not sell every club seat this past season, but now anticipates most of them being purchased for next season.

“If everyone who purchased a club seat this past year renews for next year, then 94 percent of them will be sold,” said Sandy Smith, assistant AD for ticketing services. “So I think we’ll end up selling most of them, if not all of them. Given the increased foot room and the more comfortable seat, I would think we’d have a demand for those seats.”

Gabbard’s second reason for doing the project now may be more important. The Virginia Tech Athletic Fund, better known as the Hokie Club, is overseeing the reseating of Lane Stadium for the 2012 season, and the outdoor club seats are a part of that process. So Gabbard and the Hokie Club feel it’s better to do the project now and set the exact number of seats available instead waiting until later and then having to juggle people around again because of the loss of some club seats.

Plus, with the reseating process, the Hokie Club wants to reward those who have purchased club seats in the past. Anyone who purchased a club seat or seats this past year has the first right to purchase those seats for next year. A vast majority of seat holders are in the Hokie Club, so the Hokie Club will use a seat holder’s ranking on the point priority “ladder” that recognizes a combination of giving and continuous years of purchasing season tickets to determine the selection order for the outdoor club seats.

This makes sense considering the investment it takes to purchase a club seat. The athletics department plans on raising the price on the outdoor club seats from $1,500 to $2,000, not including the price of the season ticket, as a way to help pay for the project.

“We’re very much on board with the project because a lot of those club seats are purchased by Hokie Club members,” said Lu Merritt, senior director of development for intercollegiate athletics. “They’ve made the investment in the past to purchase those seats, so it’s only fair that past seat holders get the first choice and then we’ll move to the Hokie Club priority ladder.

“We also want to provide them with the best type of seat possible considering their investment with our athletics program. If there’s one complaint we’ve heard, it’s that the seat is too small. With us reseating for next year, now is the perfect time to do this project and make those seats nicer for our fans.”

Gabbard expects the project to be done by July, noting that the club seats will be off limits during the spring game. But once done, the project will have provided seat purchasers with a wonderful viewing experience.

“You’re going to be sitting in a new, comfortable seat between the 35-yard lines and pretty high up within the stadium,” Gabbard said. “You’re going to have more leg room, and you’re still going to have access to the clubs, with televisions and concessions and private bathrooms. So we really feel like this is going to enhance the game day experience for those willing to make that investment in a club seat.”