The binder, perhaps 4 inches thick, sat on the corner of Trev Alberts’ desk. He picked it up and thumbed through it, joking that he’d better keep it away from a reporter.
It’s where a lot of the plans for a Memorial Stadium overhaul reside.
Nine months after embarking on a robust campaign of honesty about Nebraska’s football home, and three months after releasing results of an exhaustive fan survey, Alberts has convened a committee – one that includes outside experts and meets every three weeks – to work on renovation plans.
NU’s not ready to unveil its recommendations, Alberts said in his office on Tuesday, but the binder has the start of “solutions to our problems.”
“We have a draft of ideas that are – different,” Alberts said “Potentially disruptive in some areas. But as we think about the future, in tandem with some of these changes that are happening in our industry, it would a wise time to take a look at some of the changes with the fan experience.”
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The massive survey, which received more than 21,000 respondents, covered every actual or potential aspect of attending a game – alcohol, hospitality, restrooms, the video production, Wi-Fi service. Alberts said NU has done exhaustive research, too, on the roughly 90,000 seats in the stadium. How wide each seat is. How much “tread depth” exists on each. How many donor dollars are tied to each number on a bench or comfy chair in a suite.
Then, Nebraska is examining those seats through the lenses of comfort, access to those seats, equity in affordable pricing for multiple tiers of fans, how improving a bench seat might affect capacity, and the impact of capacity changes on the overall business model.
In the survey 77% of fans marked improved seat comfort among their priorities.
“It’s pretty fair to say that having seatbacks in as many seats as you possibly can is a great idea,” Alberts said. He stopped short of giving a number of eventual seatbacks, although any stadium renovation is bound to include more of them.
The challenge for Nebraska, Alberts said, is the south end zone – known for decades as “South Stadium,” for its held NU’s locker room, coaches’ offices and media interview area. Those have moved over to the Tom and Nancy Osborne Complex in North Stadium. Now, in South Stadium, there are classrooms and offices.
“We can do some immediate things in a ‘Phase I’,” Alberts said, referring to other parts of the stadium, “and then we can do some longer term stuff that takes a little bit more thought because you have academic programming in South Stadium.
“You have the majority of fans sitting in end zones. When you start disrupting the whole thing, how does that impact things long-term.”
NU has already made one cosmetic change – the Memorial Stadium turf, now a dark green instead of the two-tone green look that was meant to emulate mowing patterns in grass from the Devaney era but gave the playing surface a cartoonish, doormat appeal. Nebraska also will not be handing out red balloons this season due a helium shortage.
As other changes emerge, Alberts said, the fan survey will be a guiding light.
“We were sincere about that survey,” Alberts said. “I heard some comments, ‘they did a survey but their plan’s already done.’ That wasn’t the case. Our fan base, which has always been a differentiator and critical to Nebraska’s success, will be more important than ever before.”
>>While NU won’t supply red balloons at home football games, stadium personnel won’t prevent fans from bringing balloons into games, Alberts said. Some other entity could provide them.
>>Nebraska has raised $111 million for the “Go Big” football facility project; Alberts wants NU to reach $115 million. Construction is “progressing,” Alberts said. He praised Hausmann Construction, which is building the facility just east of Memorial Stadium, for its efforts in keeping the project on track.
>>Alberts said he and Nebraska is not planning a mid-June “Big Red Blitz” public fan tour like the ones NU held in 2018, 2019 and 2021. Last year, Husker coaches fanned out in northeastern, central and Western Nebraska – conspicuously avoiding Omaha – and talking to much smaller crowds of people than had attended the 2018 and 2019 events. Frost and others are doing fan outreach at specific, private events, Alberts said; last week, he and Frost met with boosters in Dallas.