Husky Stadium Update - O.D. Vincent

SEATTLE - With steel sprouting from the recesses of the new Husky Stadium, it was time to talk with Washington Senior Associate AD O.D. Vincent about what Husky fans can next expect from the $250 million renovation going forward, as well as details of the move this fall to CenturyLink Field and their hopes to recreate a college atmosphere inside an NFL stadium.

On where the AD sees the Husky Stadium project right now - "It's really exciting. I spent about an hour in there today on a couple of topics and also just really looking at the stadium, because it's at an exciting stage visually. Most everything we've done up to this point was the demolition, and then the utilities and the foundation and things you can't see. And now you can see it go up and it gets you excited about what it's going to look and feel like - so that's excellent. But from our perspective when you see things go up like this it means that most of the last year for us has been the decision-making and the programming. If you're going to make any changes, you have to make them before the steel goes up. What this means for us is that most of the hard decisions have been made because it's too late to change your mind at this point. We've been putting a lot of work into it before the public can see it go up and doing what we can to make the best decisions possible moving forward. So now is really a time for us to focus in on the finishes and how to bring different things to the building."

On examples of things that were decided on late - "Probably the best example of that is the broadcast requirements with ESPN, Fox, and also the Pac-12 Network. One of the big changes in this building, as everybody knows, is that we don't have the track anymore. And what that means is that we have a lot steeper camera angles to pick up the actions in the corners, especially when it gets to the end zone. So where those cameras are located, and especially what they call the 'slash' cameras in the corners really needed to have pretty unusual requirements because our setbacks are so short. So there were a lot of things in the AV side of things…how big our video boards are and where they'll be located, and also a lot of these broadcast package requirements, we've had a lot of work to do the last 3-4 months to make sure that by the time the construction caught up with that that we had all the things in place."

On anything else with the structure itself that was decided on/added on late? - "Little things, like the layout of the concessions stands, where the equipment goes…you have to make sure all the power and HVAC where you need it…we're trying to 'future-proof' the building as much as we can possibly forecast, make sure we have conduits in place for any future build-outs. There's just so many different decisions…the elevators and what floors they are going to run to and what the game day operations are going to be right…the parking garage and making sure that flowed right for the 200 cars that are going to be in the garage under the new south side…just a lot of things like that over a couple of years of planning have come down to the time where we have to decide and then let it go."

On the move to CenturyLink and how smoothly that has gone - "First of all I think it's important to realize how lucky we are to have CenturyLink, First And Goal, the partnership we have with them…but to go five miles from what we believe is the greatest home in college football to be able to go play in one of the best stadiums in the NFL and not have our fans really be inconvenienced much at all - that's pretty unique. Starting with that, we've probably maximized our opportunities for us and minimized a lot of the challenges that were there. We tried to seat CenturyLink as much as we could to the configuration of the new Husky Stadium. For instance we have the students section located in the south end zone, which is where it will be at the new Husky Stadium. There's a lot bigger club area there - over three times larger than our in terms of numbers of seats. But how we price things and what the experience is going to be like from a seating perspective we tried to do. Our fans have responded extraordinarily well as far as the number of season tickets that were renewed and accounts that were renewed. There are some fans that went down in the number of seats they had, but for the most part we retained almost everyone, which we're really, really happy with. Most of the seasons for universities that move out of their buildings are really, really negative for them, but we're don't see it's going to be negative at all."

On renewal rate for seats going from Husky Stadium to CenturyLink - "We've renewed over 95 percent, so that's very, very positive in terms of seats. But we've renewed over 97 percent in terms of number of accounts; I think that's significant. I think there's a lot of people waiting to see what the new Husky Stadium seating is going to be like and where they are going to sit. We thought we would lose more people than that, but we've renewed better than we thought we would, and we're expecting a tremendous increase when we move back in the new building for all kinds of reasons."

On if they have seen anything in the CenturyLink experience that they may implement in the new Husky Stadium - "Nothing more than we anticipated at first. I think what CenturyLink offers because of the configuration - for us we've never had in our traditional configuration what I would call 'value reserve' type of season tickets available. I think that's what the Hawks' Nest has represented at CenturyLink Field for a number of years. In the new layout at Husky Stadium, we have a lot of those type of seats, and we found that type of entry-level - especially for newer fans that haven't had season tickets before and are trying it out for a year - really has been a popular product, and we've found that this year it's really popular. CenturyLink has shown us that when you have good seats still available at a value price for the season ticket, we think that's going to be a real area of growth for us for new season-ticket holders. We have the new Husky Stadium configured and we have a lot of seats held for those types of fans. We're happy to see that our guess on that was right."

On if all the boxes and suites are sold out now? - "Our luxury suites, which we have 30 of total - those are not sold out yet. There's some still available for purchase. The Club is actually sold out and there is a waiting list; the Don James Center is sold out, and the Patio Suites are sold out with a waiting list. All of our premium seating was beyond our expectations; it was extraordinary. We think we built the right number of seats. It's not very large; it's just under six percent of our inventory. If you look at the national average, it's around plus/minus 10 percent in the new college stadiums that are being built. We felt with this market and with this tradition of Husky Football, there would be some demand for premium seating, but we didn't think it was going to be where the national average is, and we didn't want it to overshadow the rest of the experience of the building. I think we built the right amount. You always want to have more demand than supply when it comes to that kind of inventory. All the work that Jen Cohen and the Tyee Staff did and Scott and everybody when they looked into that was worthwhile. I think we built the right amount."

On any thoughts to possibly expand premium seating in the future? - "I don't think you'll see that happen; not definitely in the general seating bowl. We're not going to take seats that we have actually released that are either Tyee seats or regular-season seats and turn them into premium seating. We're pretty excited about what we're calling 'Heritage-Level' seats - which are the seats in the lower bowl that are between the 30's on both sides that have a $750 donation attached to them. It's the only area in the general seating bowl where there's an actual seat instead of a bench with a back. So the seating there should be the highest level there in the general seating bowl, and there's other benefits that go along with the Heritage Level seating as far as frequency of reallocation and other things. I think we've priced those seats right to where they are priced less than the premium seating but they are the highest-priced Tyee seats that we have. There's about 6,000 of those total, and we think those seats will fill the gap of the people that are on the waiting list that wanted premium seating but with their priority didn't quite qualify for that and can work up their priority over time and eventually move into Club Husky or have a little higher-level experience than you have in the regular bowl. We intentionally built those Heritage seats in anticipation that we would sell out of the premium seats and it would be a nice bridge between the two."

General update on inventory sold (naming rights, etc…) - "We're working really hard on a field naming-rights partner, but we're working hard to make sure it's the right partner. That's a pretty big asset to sell. It's going to be very sensitive for all of us, and we want to make sure we have the right fit for all of us, so my staff has been working really hard on that. We haven't announced it yet and we will as soon as we get the contract finalized between the attorneys, but we've sold a partnership with Club Husky and we have sold a partnership into The Zone also. We have sold two of what we're calling our 'cornerstone' partnerships, of which we have four available. It's basically the highest level of sponsorship and integration you can have in the building. We've sold half that inventory, so we feel really good about where we are as far as still having over a year to go before we open."

On the future of The Zone - "We think The Zone has been extraordinarily successful. One change in The Zone, and probably the only change our fans will notice - The Zone has always been outside of Husky Stadium. You've always had to show your ticket between the stadium and The Zone. The Zone will continue to be free - there won't be any charge to get into The Zone - but The Zone will be for ticketed fans only. The Zone will be inside Husky Stadium moving forward. That's going to make it much easier for everyone to flow between The Zone and their seats in the stadium. It won't create those queues before where people had to scan in and out of the stadium. So I think it'll be a big improvement. It will be exactly in the same place; there just won't be a fence between the two anymore. All you'll have to do is show your ticket to get in, just like you'd have to show your ticket to get in any other gate in the stadium. And once you're in you can go between The Zone and your seat at will. We think it's going to be a much better experience."

On if there will be a Zone-like experience at CenturyLink? - "Great question. We don't know yet. We've been working on it with First And Goal for quite a long time. First and Goal would like to do it and we would like to do it, but the challenge is that First And Goal rents out the WaMu Theater for concerts and those types of things. When they set it up for what they are used to calling 'Touchdown City', they can't have a concert the night before or after because of all the set-up and tear-down time that it takes. We haven't gotten to the point….we don't want to take any revenue away from them and they aren't comfortable enough committing those dates to us yet because they could sell them to something else. We don't want to have an inconsistent experience for our fans, so if we have a Zone-like experience for our fans at the WaMu Theater, we want to make sure that we have it for every game. We're either all-in or not in at all. We're still working on the details on that. We won't do anything that wouldn't be in the events center, so that's where we're at with that."

On a transit update (Metro) - "Rather than try and re-invent the wheel, we've adopted what the Seahawks have done for their home games, which is four stops, and it's actually on our website ( That's fewer stops than we have for Husky Stadium, but we're going to have busses from those four locations. The only game that may be a challenge with that is the Thursday night Stanford game because of the rush hour commute and what that poses for Metro. But for all of our Saturday games, we'll have service available. It's the same charge the Seahawks have, so we're mirroring what the Seahawks do for their fans to bring them down to CenturyLink. For our students, we have increased the number of Metro busses for routes 71, 72, and 73 on game days to be able to take the increased demand from our students to go from campus downtown. That's something the athletic department is picking up the tab for, to transport our student to and back."

Fundraising update - "The more money we raise, the less we finance in bonds over time. The goal was 50, but if we raise 100, that would help us 50 million more than we've got. The last update that I got is that we have 48.5 million committed to the project and we're working on a couple of prospects. We feel very confident that we're going to achieve the goal of 50. We're going to keep pushing forward. There's a lot of naming opportunities left that I think are quite attractive."

On what he's most excited about when he sees the build - "For me personally, a lot of the things I'm responsible for are going to come later with the AV things. Personally I think the AV experience we're going to have in that building are going to be second-to-none. Most of those things will probably be worked on right up to the first game. But things that I've seen lately? When you can see the steel go up and you can see how close people are going to be, how close our fans are going to be to the field, it's overwhelming. This stadium is going to be SO loud. That's the thing that's going to strike people the most when they come back in the building or when they see it is how close the fans are to the action. That's the first thing. Secondly, because so much of it you can see being built right now and it's the part of the project that's probably going to mean more to the success and the longevity of our football program is all of the amenities being built in for our student-athletes and our coaches in our Football Operations Center. When I got a chance to tour that footprint and feel how big it is and you can visualize what it's going to be like when recruits up there looking down to that view…when you can see all the things that student-athletes need and the proximity and how efficient they are going to be able to be with their 20 hours (a week) and what that means for recruiting and the development of our players…for me, that part is the most exciting. Maybe it's my coaching background, but I think that's going to have the biggest impact on the success of our program over time."

On the benefit of having the Don James Center available as the hub of construction - "Think about the construction office is the Don James Center. Think about the idea of the Dawgfather overseeing the remodel of this stadium…I do believe it's so inspirational. Turner and Wright Runstad and the sub-contractors they are using…the pride for what that building means and what this team means to the community and the pride they have in the work and the fact that this is Husky Stadium is something that they'll never forget. They talk about it being something that's unmatched in their careers. We all talk about it. That's why we're all so hyper-focused on this; this is a legacy project for all of us involved. We're never going to get another chance to rebuild Husky Stadium - one of the most iconic venues in sport. It's pretty overwhelming. Some of the meetings get pretty heated because it seems like the smallest decisions…we want to think it through a million ways because there's not one thing in that place we want to screw up.

On what's next on the timeline - "Today we went over some of the modeling and we're trying to decide some of the planning on the east end. The east end video board is going to 100 feet by 30 feet. It's huge. The resolution is going to be 12 mm, so it's going to look like an HD screen you would have at home. Everything is in HD. But for me personally I'm most focused on, along with Jen's team, first and foremost…the Drive for Husky Stadium is moving out last year, it's CenturyLink this year, and then it's moving back in. So obviously we're focused on the experience and getting as many season-ticket holders in that building and making sure Sark and the boys has as much of a home-field advantage as we can. It's easy to overlook a year out, and we don't want to do that. How we're going to execute our look and feel in a building that's not ours and making a pro venue feel as much like a college home is a challenge…so we're focused on that. In the new building, we're focused in on selling the right partners, making sure that when we identify the right partners we actually activate and position a lot of those brands in the right way. We want to make sure they are integrated and enhances the fans' experience and there's not just a lot of clutter and noise and a lot of signs. We're really trying to think through a whole different way for fans to engage with the brands nowadays. The AV experience, both in the new Husky Stadium and the way we operate and how we present that in Alaska Airlines Arena…we'd like to bring our new ideas for Husky Stadium into Alaska Airlines Arena for Volleyball, Women's Basketball and Men's Basketball and give fans a little bit of a preview of what Husky Stadium is going to be like and also utilize that as a sales opportunity if we can for the 2013 season."

On when they'll go public with their corporate partnerships - "I think it's probably going to be late summer or early fall as far as the ones we have. I don't think we'll have a field naming rights partner identified that early, especially one we could be that public about because those things take a while. But from the ones we've sold I think we're going to be able to go public with those…as soon as the contracts are signed and those companies are in a position where they are comfortable…it's not going to be much longer."

On if they see the field naming rights as essential for the project - "Financially it would mean a lot to us. Our financial model has the naming rights included in it the naming rights partner, so from a financial perspective we are absolutely are counting on that happening. At the same time we're not going to force it and we're never going to sell the field at Husky Stadium to a brand or a company we don't feel like is aligned and really represents what we want to do. We're going to be strategic and patient, but we're very focused on executing it - there's no doubt about it." Top Stories