People in Alabama love football.
People in Alabama, like other people in other parts of the country, hate change.
If things are going well, as they are for Alabama football these days, then they really hate change.
So when there is a suggestion for major changes in football facilities, a future that will translate, for many ticket-holders, into either different seats or a bigger bite out of their bank account, you can rest assured some people will not be pleased. In case you aren’t quite sure how zealously some people prioritize their game experience, consider this: for years now, there have been two small but fierce factions fighting like wild dog packs on the Serengeti that have stumbled upon a freshly-killed gnu. Why? They battle over what country song gets played at the start of the fourth quarter of a home game, and the potential unpleasantness that would come if some college students chimed into the chorus with some naughty words.
Take that battle, and multiply by 100. Then imagine the ferocity of those with long-held seats at stake.
Thursday’s roll-out of the new Crimson Standard 10-year plan was great theater. The big names were on hand to give their blessing (and, in Nick Saban’s case, his million dollars) to the fund drive, much of which met with acclaim. The gutting and reconfiguration of Coleman Coliseum — closer to what should have been done in its previous renovation — seems popular. The biggest complaint on basketball is that it is part of Phase II of the plan and may not be realized for another four years or more.
Some of the changes at Bryant-Denny Stadium were popular, too. A new humongous state-of-the-art Jumbotron got a good response, as did some projected amenities like broader aisles around the concession stands and restrooms. UA Athletic Director Greg Byrne did a strong job of stressing those selling points on Thursday, and will no doubt do so over the next two years. He recognizes renovation and reconfiguration was bound to come sooner or later — that’s the current state of intercollegiate athletics — and that raising $600 million, no easy task in any environment, might as well come in the current era. With Saban as the head coach, and marquee home games against teams like Texas and Notre Dame ahead on the horizon, Alabama is as strong as it has ever been.
The concern about the base capacity numbers being reduced didn’t seem to be a major theme. At Coleman Coliseum, going down in capacity by as much as a third is a fairly deep cut. On the other hand, it will keep demand high and will allow for more bells, more whistles, more club levels and less of those yawning, cavernous nights when Coleman seemed so cavelike that a sudden flood might trap a boy’s soccer team on one of the concourses.
There will also be some decline in football capacity. Byrne didn’t give an exact figure but after the work is done, it will probably come in at around five percent. The questions that were raised were about the effects that additional club levels and premium-seat designations will have on the archetypal “family of four” and on fans who have supported the program for many years and face the possibility of being “corporatized” in the name of progress. I asked Byrne about whether fans would be priced out of bringing the kids or seeing the occasional “big game” and he responded that UA would have seats at “price points” that would work for most fans.
The fact is, the sport now demands big dollars. Byrne also noted that he doesn’t want to present the Board of Trustees with a deficit if he can help it.
There will be a balancing act between those whose financial power can help assure future success — and those who think that their loyalty has already bought decades of such success and should not be cast aside. The dollars usually win in such cases, supplemented by fans who still want to support the program (especially while it is winning at Saban levels) and feel invested by paying what they must to remain a part of the Saturday experience.
People in Alabama love football. That isn’t going to change. And that is what UA is counting out to push through a program that it feels is necessary to compete. A painful program for some — but a necessary one.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.