So are the Oxblue cameras done? - "Yeah, there's really not anything else from a stadium cam that's going to change much in the next 30 days. We also are going to be starting practice on the 5th, and obviously as you probably know, we've never had the cameras available and visible for any of the practices. We shut down some of the cameras when we were using the east field. I don't think there's a coach in America that wants their practices on web cams. So with those two things coinciding, it's the end of the web cams. It's been great. It's been a very popular feature."
What else needs to be done now to gain occupancy? - "We are scheduled to receive the building back from Wright Runstad on August 9th, so a week from tomorrow. So with the game against Boise State on the 31st I'm sure there's going to be thousands of details that are going to be completed between the 9th and the 31st, and quite honestly probably after the 31st there's going to things that we find that we're going to want to tweak and adjust and improve on. We don't have any concerns about being ready for game day; we wouldn't have enough time to go over all the details, but when you look at the new video boards, for example, that piece is such a big piece in our investment. It's such a big part of the game day experience, so we want to ensure that we get that right. It's an entirely new way to bring the game day experience to life, entirely new staffing, entirely new components…just the testing, getting everything loaded from the sponsors' logos, for instance, to the crowd rousers to the way the scoreboard is laid out - just to get that going in a 20-day period from when we get occupancy to when the game is, just that work alone is unbelievable to get that…obviously the concession stands, all of those things and getting them ready for game day…to make sure we have our ticketmaster software, our ticketing solutions, all the ways we scan people into the building…we're still trying to get an exact seat count! We don't have an exact seat count yet because as of a couple of days ago not all of the bleachers in the upper south east part of the new south deck are even installed yet…they still have a couple rows to go. So you can imagine how many details have to get done. We're really 24/7, all hands on deck until kickoff."
So when you get the building back from Wright Runstad, when is your timetable for occupancy? - "Well, we don't know exactly yet on occupancy - that's up to the fire marshal. Those kinds of things are out of our control. Wright Runstad is working with them. It's hard for me to predict any of those things, but I will tell you that our football team is looking at having the first two weeks of fall camp operating out of the offices and out of the locker rooms and meeting rooms that they currently occupy. They are looking at moving in on the 17th and 18th of August. Those are the dates that we've set for football to occupy their space as an absolute mandatory date because of all the complexities involved in moving such a large organization - getting our servers moved over there, obviously all their game film…we're very specific on the day that that's going to happen. We may receive occupancy before that; it's not an option for us to receive occupancy after that. That's why we set that date after the ninth to give us some time if it doesn't go quite as planned. We'll have some time to adjust. But everything is looking good right now."
So just to make sure - the program should be completely moved in and ready to go in the new Husky Stadium with a week to go before the Boise State week, but at the same time is expected to have access to both Husky Stadium and the east field to practice on as early as Monday? - "Yes. That's what we're planning on."
How close do you think the capacity will get to the 70,000 threshold? There are fans that seem to think it's a big deal - "From what you've told me on the people's opinion on the 70,000 seat number surprises me a little bit. I've never actually heard that, so…but if that's how people feel I guess we'll see…that's not the athletic department's goal at all. We're interested in building the best football stadium we can with as many great seats as possible. We're going for quality instead of quantity. Our goal has never been to replace 72,500; I think the only messaging that we've had is that we think it's going to be 70 (thousand). We'll keep people posted as we go along. We're not going to feel any disappointment if the number falls at 69,400 or 69,700 or 70,100…from our point of view we don't have any emotion tied into that number whatsoever. You just never know until you get there, so as soon as we know everybody else will know. I don't even want to try to guess. It depends on how many bodies you attribute to the press box and the working areas. What we're focused on is how many seats we have available for Husky fans and how many great seats we have to sell. I can tell you, I've sat in every seat possible so far in this project and I have yet to find one that isn't a great viewing option - so so far, so good."
And with the Jumbotron, how is the A/V experience going to change for fans going forward? - "I'll give you the official name…we refer to it as 'Husky Hi-Def'. That's the east board. From just a size standpoint, the screen on the scoreboard on the old east end was roughly the same size and same square footage as one of the two west repeater boards we have in their now. So the two boards on the west are the same size as the old Jumbotron. That should give you some perspective on size. We never set out to be the biggest; one of the most important things for us is that we wanted to maintain the view out toward the lake, which we think is vital. We also have some view sensitivities that are built in because the north deck stayed and we didn't want our (east) board higher than our fans that sit under our deck…folks that are in the Don James Center have some of those seats. We definitely didn't want to have a video board that some of our fans couldn't see. But we needed to get it high enough for our new east end stands because they are now built in.
"So we had a pretty defined window to work within…it's all about the aspect ratio. We have two 9:16 aspect ratio boards side-by-side, so it's really a 9:32 aspect ratio board all the way across. It's over 100 feet wide and over 30 feet tall, the screen itself. That puts us currently as the ninth largest screen compared to NFL buildings. There are larger screens in a lot of NCAA facilities that people have built in different ways. I just want everyone to know that from the athletic department's perspective, we never tried to build the very biggest board we could. We wanted a board that would be in scale to and honoring the view out to the east that we wanted to keep, but at the same time we wanted to have a board that would impact the game day experience. And that's something I believe we've achieved.
"First of all the high definition screen is something which, I believe, is going to be unbelievable. The clarity of the screen for people is going to be the first thing they notice; being over four times larger than the old Jumbotron screen is also going to obviously be…if you're comparing what was there in 2011 that's going to be a big difference for people. For us, the way that we show things on the screen and the way that we bring the game to life and engaging fans with the game experience - providing all the statistical information at the relevant times that is important for people is great - because the 'hustle boards' on the west end…we don't have dedicated statistical boards anymore. We're integrating that experience into the east board. On the west, those two boards are also going to reflect what's on the east board. We are still working on our layout and what needs to go where, but bringing all the information to life in one place is going to be different rather than having to look for a replay on the east side and then having to go to the west side to find the statistics. That's all going to now be located all in one place, which I think is going to be so convenient for people."
And the ribbon boards? - "A lot of sponsorship elements will be on the ribbon boards. We have the ability to have motion graphics now, which is pretty exciting. For us, we're trying to integrate our sponsors into the action as much as possible, versus just having something up there. We don't have any fixed signage at all inside the building, and definitely not inside the bowl, so all of our sponsorships come to life via those LED boards, which we are really looking forward to. We also plan on having plenty of 'minutes', if you will, built in for crowd rousers, for community and institutional messaging…again, it's a very complex thing because we have so much square footage now to think about.
"We also have over 900 screens in the building now as far as monitors. Thinking about the different zones in the building and thinking about pre-game, what games are you showing, when do you start showing our game, in what spaces do you show other relevant games, at halftime what do you show…it's important to us that we show our feed of the game. What the fans are going to see on the screens is the Husky Stadium feed. The broadcast feed has about a six-to-eight second delay in the action, which we don't think is the best way to experience the game there. Since we're going to be showing our feed we need to think about other things to put up there for halftime and so on…we're going through that process right now and deciding on what areas - either the clubs or the concourses or the Don James Center - what is the best to show on the different screens. But managing 900 different screens is quite a challenge."
I know everyone has their favorite concessions, from the Cow Chip Cookies to the Ivar's chowder bread bowls. How is the concession experience going to differ from that of the past? - "The data that we looked at was, what were our best-selling items? It wasn't necessarily the opinion of who liked a certain cookie or something like that. All the items you just mentioned to me are all things I'm aware of that are going to be made available to our fans. And much more. We have a new partner - Aramark - which is different than before. They have a little different way of going about it. But the options and what's available to people now versus what was available prior is not even remotely comparable. There are so many more options now…kiosks and grad-and-go's and all kinds of things. Coffee is a pretty important element and we have a great partner in Starbucks that are committed to making sure there is hot coffee available in many more locations than we ever had before. Again, if there's anyone out there that thinks there may be fewer options, I think they are going to be pleasantly surprised…there are going to be bountiful options when they come back in."
How has the response been from potential sponsors looking at advertising in the new Husky Stadium? - "It was a very challenging building, the old Husky Stadium, to activate sponsorships in. That was one of the things in the 92 years of that building…there wasn't a whole lot of evolution and places to activate sponsors. So our inventory and ability to activate sponsorships is probably ten-fold compared to where it was. For us, what's important is that we have great partners that share the same values or similar values…local companies ideally, but we're going for quality over quantity in this area as well. We're not looking for the most sponsors we can find and maximizing our revenue there; we're looking at taking great partners, giving them really significant activation and making sure that when someone thinks about Husky Football and Husky Athletics they tie that in together with whatever our sponsor is. We have phenomenal partners already in the building, we've retained our biggest partners. We haven't lost anybody and we've added to that, so I'd say it's a little higher level of investment our sponsors are looking at now but the return should be significantly higher than it was before because of the exposure."
I know Scott Woodward has indicated that the total cost of the project has gone over budget. Can you talk about some of the changes or unforeseen things that may have contributed to the overrun? - "Something everyone needs to understand - the $250M amount budget and scope that we started with that the Board of Regents approved back in 2010, if I remember correctly - that scope and that budget we are within and are actually under budget at this point. We are under the $250 million. We raised $50 million and basically have $200 million we're paying off over 30 years. Within that scope we are under budget.
"One of the things we added on to early in the project - our partners at UW Medicine, who also help us in our department and our student-athletes - we were able to add 30,000 square feet of sports medicine space underneath the south stands. It is so much bigger than the space they have now; I think it's five times bigger than the space they have now in our current footprint. That was a win for everybody, so we went back to the Board of Regents and then got our project approved from $250 million to $261 million. So that $11 million was used to build the sports medicine clinic. That, in turn, gave us a 30-year lease from UW Medicine to make sure we get a return on that investment for ourselves. So our project before we ever broke ground was not $250M; it was $261M.
"Since that time, we have seen some amazing opportunities to add to the scope of the project. Some of that was the A/V that we've already discussed and enhancements to the north upper deck. In the original $250 million scope, there wasn't any money for painting, for upgrades, for concessions, for televisions…for anything on the north deck. We definitely didn't want to take a place that our fans feel great about and if someone wanted to sit in the north deck - which a lot of people still want to for that view - we wanted to make sure that their experience was every bit as commensurate to the rest of the building as we possibly could. So we spent some money there. We spent some money for the football team with the video system and the XOS system they use and the software they need to ensure they have everything they need as far as the latest and greatest coaching software. We spent some more money fleshing out the Touchdown Terrace, which are the 20 patio suites on field level.
"So we saw some opportunities to invest in the fan experience and we wanted to take advantage of those. We don't know exactly where we're going to end up on that total number; the bills are going to come in for months on end but we should have a basic idea of where we're going to end up on August 22nd when we have the media tour of the stadium. Obviously it'll be greater than the $261 number but we don't think it's 10 percent higher than that. We think we're within that. If people think we're over the $250 it's accurate but it's because we as a department decided to add scope to improve the fan experience in the building, to improve some of the amenities in the building, but within what was originally approved we are on budget or under budget - and that's a testament to our developers, to our contractors and it's a real testament to our staff for being very, very wise and having a lot of discipline in staying within the original scope."
In your opinion, how is the fan experience for the Boise State game going to differ from the Idaho State game a few weeks later? - "Today is the first day of our campaign to 'Retake Montlake'. That is our opening day campaign. So for the next 30 days, all you're going to hear from us is 'Retake Montlake' - be there. Basically it's a celebration of that day. We think it's going to be huge. Obviously we have a great opponent coming in, but this is much more about Husky Stadium, about our fans and all of that. We had on-sale yesterday for single-game tickets and sold out our allotment that was made available within the first hour that they were open. We have held back some some inventory to continue to provide the season-ticket opportunity for those that still want to get season tickets; we're encouraging those people that if they really want to make sure they have a seat for Boise State to buy a season ticket. Depending on how things go there could be some other seats that could open up between now and game time. But for the seats that have been opened up we're sold out - and we feel that there won't be an empty seat in the building on the 31st, so the energy will be really high.
"We have spend a lot of time in thinking through the history of our program and thinking through the history of that building - we're spending a tremendous amount of effort to make sure we have video elements, for instance, and crowd rousers and all the tributes that honor those types of things. So if you're a Husky fan - which we have a lot of - I can't imagine missing this opportunity. There will be commemorative giveaways for the first 20,000 people in the building; there will be a commemorative giveaway for 50,000 on the way out of the building. We have some tremendous ideas for the coin toss. All the things that you would expect of such a significant event we have thought about and hopefully will be executed at the highest level that we can do.
"So I think it's going to be different than any other game we do because it's the first time back. I think what people are going to experience when they come into the building…they are not going to believe how close to the action they are. We can talk about it all we want, you can see it on a web cam, you can do the math, you can talk about it…but until you sit in those seats and until you see how many great seats there are in that building and how close you are to the action - especially compared to the west end, in particular - it doesn't even feel like the same place. With that, and with the energy of a first game, the excitement…I think people…and we talk about noise being a big part of Northwest football, both at CenturyLink and at Husky Stadium, the noise is going to be greater than what it was prior because of the proximity, because we have the roof hanging out farther reflecting that sound back down to the field, because of where our students are now located - that is going to be felt by the entire building, not just half of it. So I think just the intensity and the atmosphere is going to be second to none and greater than it was prior."
A lot has been made the last few days about Oregon unveiling their new Football Ops Center. Is that something you've seen, and do you feel like what UW has done with Husky Stadium is just another shot fired in the Pac-12 facilities arms race? - "I have. I saw them this morning. And this is not a media answer; this is how it is - our staff? We don't spend a lot of time thinking about what Oregon is doing, actually. Or anybody else out there. What we do is we try and go and look at what is happening everywhere around the country and if we see ideas where we think they can make Washington better, how can we implement that here? From Day One, I believe we've done a great job of being authentic to us and our brand, to our history and tradition and all those things. We've never set out to spend the most money; I think the value in what we're getting for what we end up spending in this project - the bang for our buck in this project I would put up against any stadium ever.
"When you talk about some of the facilities and football ops and those things - another thing that's going to be second-to-none here is the usability and the proximity as far as where the locker rooms are and where the meeting rooms are and where our coaches' offices are and where they go from here to there…we've thought through even the visiting team - where they pull in, where their locker rooms are, how their media room works…we've tried to think about everybody. From a flow perspective, from a game-day experience perspective - I think our building is second to none.
"And Oregon - in my own opinion - I respect tremendously what they've built as a brand and I think there are some things that they have done that have been extremely good ideas. But we never set out to build the biggest center, the most video screens, or the biggest stadium, or anything else. What we tried to do is be authentic to what is best for Husky Stadium, what's the right number of seats for us to have, what is the best football operations situation for this campus. Our investment…we're not trying to be a football school that also has some other sports. Our investment - we're trying to think about all 21 of our sports and trying to make our across the board success as best we can. We have a lot of investments we have to make in other sports down the road, so we're trying to be efficient with our investment. We believe that Steve (Sarkisian) and his staff and the players on our team will have everything they need to succeed and it's going to be second to none.
"But we don't determine our success by the number of TV screens or the number of square footage in the ops building. If you use Oregon as your example, I'd love to know the walk from the dorms, I'd love to know the proximity from their classes to the Football Operations Center. I'd love to know their Football Operations Center and their walk out onto the field at Autzen Stadium…if you think about your daily life and how that works - and I'm not comparing us to Oregon; I'm comparing us to everybody. How did we do with this project? I'll compete with anybody at that point.
"So that's how we've thought about it. We've been very efficient with our investment. We had X number of dollars to spend; we haven't touched any of the TV money for the Football Ops Center or the stadium. We want to be really strategic with that investment and we're looking at this thing not just this year or the next year…we're looking at this thing for the next 50 years. We don't think we'll see an uptick like that Pac-12 television money and ideally when the Pac-12 Networks becomes profitable. That was a once-in-a-generation type of a lift. We think the money will continue to be there, but when you look at it we want to make sure we are strategically positioned for long-term success. We feel like that's more our brand. We feel like our academic and athletic success is across the board.
"I was asked by someone yesterday walking through the building what would you change or what have you learned? There's always little things, but the major decisions we have made that Scott (Woodward) has initiated for us - I don't think we'd change any of them. We think that we're underselling and ideally going to over-deliver when people experience Husky Stadium. That's a bit intentional. I'm not going to say it's understated; I'm going to say it's extraordinarily classy and it's very, very authentic to Montlake."
Just to reiterate, how has the response been for season tickets? Do you feel like you're going to be able to sell out this year? - "Our ticket sales have been way up from CenturyLink, in particular - we're about 4,000 higher right now than last year. We're still probably 6 to 7,000 seats away if you're talking about selling out our allotment for season tickets. Obviously we'd love to get there. The wins on the field and the momentum that Steve has the program going in is really the last piece, the success on the field. So from an infrastructure and support perspective, I don't think there's much more to do. It's just a matter of getting out there and getting people in the building and winning some games."
Husky Stadium Q&A - O.D. Vincent
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