September of 2021 sees the 100th anniversary of Neyland Stadium’s operation. It’s also the moment for long overdue upgrades to be pushed forward. What will change in Knoxville’s fortress?
September 24 is the date cherished by football fans across Tennessee, or at least by those faithful to the orange colours of the Volunteers. Back in 1921 this is when the very first game was played on the hallow land beside the Tennessee River. Now, a centenary later, it’s time for celebration of Neyland Stadium’s rich history.
Sadly, not everyone is feeling the atmosphere recently, even though the stadium reopened with 100% capacity for the 2021 season. With many fans still unsure about visiting live events and rather checking sportsbook reviews online and then watching games on TV, average turnout is underwhelming. Not in global scale, rather for local expectations.
Since the ongoing campaign began on September 2, each game is drawing fewer people than the previous one. The last fixture, against Tennessee Tech, saw just 80,053 people inside. While this would have been amazing for most sports teams worldwide, we’re talking of the Vols, who averaged 100,000+ just 5 years ago. In fact, if the turnout falls further, it might reach a low unseen in decades. The very last time the Vols were supported by fewer than 80,000 people was back in 1979!
Hopefully, this won’t be part of a longer tendency, though the current health situation in Tennessee doesn’t inspire much optimism. In the long run, the University of Tennessee wants to draw people with new features of the stadium. Announced as late back as 2016, several upgrades were put on hold in recent years and are now being introduced to improve the matchday experience and boost revenue further.
In total, two phases are planned, worth massive $340 million. The first one, expected to consume $180 million, will be done before the 2022 campaign, by the end of next summer. It will see the addition of a new giant screen within the upper north end. While it will require the removal of some seating, the loss in capacity should be offset by a standing-room-only party deck with a bar beneath the screen. This is seen by the Vols as a way of attracting more young people.
The second element of phase one is the lower west stand, just behind the Vols’ bench. Front rows will be removed and rebuilt from scratch, this time with premium hospitality areas created beneath. Contrary to the stadium’s tradition, all of the new seated sections will be equipped with comfy seats with backrests, just like in the existing clubs and skyboxes.
Third element, previously not announced, was added to the renovation scheme in September of 2021. It includes a brand new giant screen in the south, to match the quality of its new northern equivalent. No loss in capacity will take place here as well, because the new screen will be mounted onto existing frame atop the stadium.
All the changes, all of which were approved by the State Building Commission in mid-September, are expected to significantly increase revenue. The university has also pledged not to raise ticket prices in order to cover the planned expense. The expectation is that donations, season tickets and future revenue will help pay for the entire endeavour.
In the long term, far more changes are expected to follow. Analogically to the decorative north gate (delivered in 2010), a new south gate is expected to provide a brickwork facade. It will come with new hospitality areas within the stadium. Construction of additional skyboxes and field-level club were also considered, subject to review and approval.