Rutgers University has sold season tickets to just 35 percent of the 12,000 football fans on its waiting list — falling short of expectations even as officials on Tuesday added $5 million to the stadium expansion for an “upscale, premium” lounge and welcome center for recruits.
Tickets were opened to the general public a month ago and ticket plans will be “restructured” in the coming days in an effort to spur sales, said Athletic Director Tim Pernetti.
The university may announce as early as Wednesday that different ticket options will be available, such as buying mini-seasons of fewer tickets. It is also likely that the number of free seats set aside for students will be increased to as many as 10,000, according to the university.
School officials last year said the waiting list justified borrowing $102 million to build 12,424 new seats. Rutgers was forced to bond the entire cost after the failure of a $30 million fund raising effort spearheaded by Governor Corzine.
On Tuesday the school announced that two private donors had pledged $2.5 million each to fund the lounge and welcome center for football recruits. The 7,656-square-foot lounge will be located on the mezzanine of the south end of the stadium and will cost $4.875 million, according to the university. The facility will be used to impress recruits and host other fund-raising efforts, officials said.
“Recruiting is ultra competitive,” Pernetti said. “We’re looking for an edge and an experience.”
The lounge will be named for one of the donors, 1982 Rutgers graduate Greg Brown, who is co-chief executive officer of Motorola Inc., the university announced. The other donor, also an alumnus, wants to remain anonymous, Rutgers said. Pernetti said the donors earmarked the money specifically for the recruiting lounge and that the funds could not be applied to pay down any part of the $102 million in borrowed funds.
In a press release issued by the athletic department, Brown, the donor, said the new center “will symbolize Rutgers’ commitment to the continued long-term academic and athletic excellence of the football program and the university.”
Construction on the lounge will begin shortly and be completed by December, according to university estimates. However, the donations that will pay for it, officials said, will be received “over a period of years,” potentially leaving Rutgers to shoulder the initial costs.
The new seating – which will increase stadium capacity to 52,454 – is scheduled to be completed in time for the home opener against Cincinnati on Labor Day.
University officials have said the entire expansion project will be funded by revenue generated by ticket sales, parking fees, concessions and donors.
Critics have questioned projections that were based on near sellout crowds.
“I never really believed they had the waiting list they claimed to have,” said Robert Stanicki, a member of a group that unsuccessfully lobbied the university to restore six sports that where cut during the buildup of the football program. “Where is the money going to come to pay the debt service? They are going to cover it by general funds and we’re never going to find out what the true carrying costs are.”
There has been some speculation that this year’s schedule – which includes a Labor Day home opener and opponents like Howard, Texas Southern and Florida International universities – has contributed to the moribund season-ticket sales.
The economy may also be a factor. There are still season tickets left for upper sideline and end zone seats, priced at $350 and $280, respectively.
The stadium expansion was the brainchild of coach Greg Schiano and former Athletic Director Robert Mulcahy, who sought to capitalize on the team’s growing following after a breakthrough season in 2006. Mulcahy was ousted last year after an internal review found lax oversight of athletic spending.
The first phase of the expansion – construction of nearly 1,000 premium club level mezzanine seats – opened for last season. In addition to the thousands of new seats, the second phase includes a new scoreboard and sound system, restrooms and concession stands at the south end of the stadium in Piscataway.
The stadium expansion has proceeded while the university has hiked tuition and instituted pay freezes and layoffs for staff and faculty.
“The stadium reflects the priority of the university – it’s football not scholarship,” said Nat Bender, a union representative.