The LA Coliseum renovation is due to result in a reduction of 16,000 seats. That’s probably not as big of a deal as it’s made out to be.
Since opening in 1923, the LA Coliseum has been one of the largest and most historic venues in the country. At it’s peak, the building held more than 100,000 spectators and served as the fifth largest venue to ever host the Olympic Games.
Yet USC’s Coliseum renovation plan will take the home of Trojan football from a capacity of 93,607 in 2016, down to a cool 77,500 in 2019.
In the recent climate of college football, downsizing a stadium is a major contrast to trends established by the likes of Michigan, Alabama, and LSU, all of whom have added seats to coincide with the popularity of the game.
However, given USC’s emphasis on renovating the Coliseum with a $270 million budget, a reduction in seating was bound to happen. It might even be the best idea.
Bigger seats and more leg room mean fewer seats
The most visible reason for a loss of capacity is the building of the Scholarship Tower on the south side of the Coliseum. It will house luxury suites and the press box, seat 2,500 high-end donors from the Trojan Athletic Fund (TAF)’s Scholarship Club and do it all within the footprint of several thousand seats.
Therefore the tower has drawn the most ire of the Coliseum renovation’s detractors, and rightfully so, given its size and disposition to leave some fans out to dry.
But it won’t account for the loss of all 16,107 seats. When it’s all said and done, it might not even account for half. The rest of the lost capacity is strictly logistical.
As mentioned on Reign of Troy before, Cal lost more than 10,000 in capacity by simply ditching benches and partially going to chairback seating during the retrofitting of Memorial Stadium. Texas A&M lost 4,000 in 2015 when also adding chairbacks during the final phase of Kyle Field’s expansion.
While the overwhelming majority of the Coliseum’s seating bowl has had chairbacks for decades, a similar decline was always going to be the cards. It happens whenever you tinker with the size and pitch of seats.
The Coliseum’s new seats are not only wider, measuring 20 inches, but there will be three additional inches of leg room added per row in designated TAF sections.
Do the math. With 93 rows in the Coliseum, architects will have to account for a minimum of 23 additional feet of real estate while re-fitting the seating bowl. The only practical solution is fewer rows.
Given that there’s roughly 40 seats per row in the Coliseum as it currently stands, it only takes five sections worth of five fewer rows to lose 1,000 off the capacity. There’s 15 sideline sections featuring TAF seating, although not encompassing all 93 rows.
Then there will be several lost rows of undesirable and seldom-used bench seating in the cavernous corners of the Coliseum, which will house new video boards installed for the 2017 season.
The bottom line is that if you’re truly going to renovate a 94-year-old stadium, addressing cramped seating and traffic flow are the types of things to focus on.
The unfortunate drawback is a loss of a seats, lopped off the top. That’s the price for having nice things.
It doesn’t help that the questionable optics are compounded with the building of the Scholarship Tower, making a 16,000-seat reduction jarring.
Attendance in LA is always an issue
While there’s some 15 million people living within a two-hour drive of the Coliseum, Los Angeles’s notoriety for attendance woes will never go away. You have to win and win big in LA to put fans in the seats.
Case in point, here’s a trivia question: Since moving into the Coliseum 94 years ago, do you know how many seasons USC has averaged more than 77,500 in attendance per season? Nine.
They did it every year from 2003 to 2010, then again in 2012 when the Trojans were the preseason No. 1 team.
That’s it. Nine times.
Only once during the John McKay Era did USC average more than 70,000. That was during O.J. Simpson’s Heisman campaign in 1968, at 71,669.
Just last season, USC’s average attendance of 68,459 was a 12-year low.
The 1988 team, which started out 10-0 and rose to No. 2 in the polls with Heisman runner-up Rodney Peete running the offense, only averaged 76,063 in a year they hosted No. 1 and eventual national champ Notre Dame.
Just last season, USC’s average attendance of 68,459 was a 12-year low. The previous three seasons saw averages between 73,126 and 75,358.
Concern arises from seasons like 2017, when the Trojans are expected to be a national title contender and foes like Stanford, Texas and UCLA are on the docket.
Because the Pete Carroll teams routinely drew 90,000, it gave credence to the idea of a new normal, despite recent attendance settling in the mid-70s.
But given USC’s history, and the reasons for the reduction in capacity, having a building seating 77,500 can still be extremely advantageous.
Mathematically speaking, it raises the chances of filling the Coliseum on a consistent basis. Ten thousand empty seats in a 77,500-seater looks much better than 26,000 empties in a 94,000-seater. But it’ll also sound better.
The Scholarship Tower finally gives the Coliseum an acoustic feature to amplify sound, given it’s height and proximity to the field.
Future expansion is still possible
Despite the Coliseum getting new seats and an all-new Scholarship Tower, the temporary bleachers formerly known as the Sun Deck remains untouched in the Peristyle end zone.
Quite simply, planning for it’s anchoring to the foundation or for a new permanent structure can’t happen until the Coliseum is done playing a role in Los Angeles’s 2024 Summer Olympics bid. That could come as early as September, should the IOC elect to award Paris with the games.
Nonetheless, the east end zone would be the only plausible location left for a facelift. And that’s if USC found it necessary to address in a future and separately funded project.
If they did, the Coliseum could theoretically add seats by accounting for the space lost years ago underneath the Peristyle, with a more robust and permanent Sun Deck-type building.
It’d be tricky, given that it couldn’t block the view of the Peristyle or obstruct seating the eastern corners of the stadium. But like the Green Monster seats at Fenway or dugout boxes at Dodger Stadium, it’s the Coliseum’s next frontier, albeit a case of maximizing existing space.
For now, 77,500 will have to do.