The Texas A&M System Board of Regents approved Wednesday a $450 million refurbishment project of Kyle Field that will make the football stadium the largest in the state and the third-biggest college venue in the country.
After the project is completed in 2015, Kyle Field’s capacity will be 102,500. That’s an increase of about 20,000. Kyle, which has been the home of Aggies football since 1927, will be the largest stadium in the Southeastern Conference and trail only Michigan’s and Penn State’s stadiums nationally.
The University of Texas’ Royal-Memorial Stadium currently is the state’s largest stadium, with a seating capacity of 100,119. Cowboys Stadium in Arlington has a seating capacity of 80,000, but can expand to 105,000 through standing room only ticket sales.
Only six college venues in the country can seat at least 100,000. A&M’s would be the seventh.
John Sharp, A&M chancellor, said Wednesday that he had no idea Kyle Field would be the largest in the state, edging Texas as well as the SEC, the school’s conference home for the past year. Sharp said architects recommended the number, which is 45 more than Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium, the SEC’s biggest.
“I’m glad to hear that it’s the largest stadium in the conference,” Sharp said. “We don’t follow other folks anymore, we kind of do our own thing. “
But A&M is following a recent, furious trend as universities around the state build new stadiums or do extensive renovations on venues originally built decades before.
Baylor and Houston are in the midst of building new stadiums. Both will debut next year.
TCU’s Amon Carter Stadium underwent a huge renovation in time for the Horned Frogs’ premiere season in the Big 12. TCU re-did its art-deco stadium built in 1930 and enjoyed a 37-percent increase in attendance last fall.
Texas has poured $450 million in refurbishments and additions to all its athletic facilities. Royal-Memorial Stadium has added 26,000 seats since the Big 12 premiere in 1996. It expanded to 100,119 in 2009. The athletic department generates $10 million in net revenue annually just off the leasing of stadium suites.
Texas Tech’s last wave of construction came in 2009. Texas State nearly doubled the size of Bobcat Stadium in time for last season, the school’s first in the Football Bowl Subdivision. In 2011, North Texas opened a new stadium, while SMU built a new, on-campus football venue in 2000. And Rice has added a new surface and scoreboard to its football field.
A&M president R. Bowen Loftin said there has been discussion about expanding Kyle Field since 2008. Like many other university presidents, he has embraced spending money on athletics because the exposure can generate more students and a higher visibility for the school.
“As we have seen with Texas A&M’s transition into the Southeastern Conference, athletics can play a key role in increasing the visibility of the entire university,” Loftin said. “The Kyle Field project is yet another element of enhancing Texas A&M’s profile.”
TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte recently said that the school, which is private, received 20,000 student applications for 1,600 spots.
The Kyle Field renovation won’t interfere with football season. The first phase of construction is set to begin as soon as A&M ends its home football schedule on Nov. 9. The first deck of the east side of the stadium will be demolished and rebuilt. In addition, workers will concentrate on the south end zone, adding seating, a commissary and areas for the media, game-day officials and recruiting.
The stadium will get a makeover of its exterior, with a plaza and mall area for better access and tailgating. There will be more chair-back and other premium seating, with suites and loge boxes. Concessions and restrooms also will be refurbished.
The stadium has been around in some form since 1904, when horticulture professor Edwin Jackson spent $650 of his own money to a buy a covered grandstand from the Bryan fairgrounds. Its last refurbishment came in 1999.
Funding for the renovations will come from donations, seat licences, student fees and ticket revenue. Plus, the school and the Bryan-College Station Convention and Visitors Bureau have a preferred facilities access agreement, which will use hotel tax revenue for the next 30 years. That agreement will generate at least $1 million annually.
A&M enjoyed a spectacular SEC debut last season, going 11-2, including a win over eventual national champion Alabama. Plus, quarterback Johnny Manziel became the first freshman ever to win the Heisman Trophy. The Aggies ranked 11th nationally in attendance, drawing an average of 87,014 fans a game. That average was actually down from 2011, when a school record of 87,183 crowded into Kyle each game.
The largest crowd ever at Kyle Field was in 2010, when 90,079 watched the Aggies upset Nebraska, 9-6.
Only four schools drew an average of at least 100,000 per game in 2012 — Michigan (112,252), Ohio State (105,330), Alabama (101,723) and Texas (100,884).
COLLEGE FOOTBALL’S BIGGEST HOUSES
Schools with the largest football stadiums in the country. When completed, Texas A&M’s Kyle Field will rank third:
Penn State: 106,572
Ohio State: 102,329
UCLA (Rose Bowl): 94,392
USC (LA Coliseum): 93,607
2012: TOP ATTENDANCE STADIUMS
In average attendance per game:
Ohio State: 105,330
Penn State: 96,730
LONE STAR STADIUMS
A look at major college stadiums in the state of Texas:
Baylor — New stadium will be finished by 2014. Seating capacity will be 42,000, with the ability to expand to 55,000
Texas Tech — AT&T Jones Stadium currently has capacity of 60,454. Work is underway to add 408 more.
TCU — Capacity is 45,000. Private donations paid for all renovations.
Texas — Official capacity is 100,119. It’s the ninth-largest non-racing stadium in the world.