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A Case Study in NFL-College Football Shared Stadiums

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With all of the Buffalo Bills stadium talk, and UB being a potential site of a new stadium, let's take a look at a few of the NFL stadiums that are shared by a NFL team and a Division I College Football Team.

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The folks around here at Bull Run have been abuzz lately over the report released by a California Consulting Firm about the viability of possible locations of a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills. One of the possible sites that was listed was on the University at Buffalo North Campus in Amherst in the place of the current UB Stadium. That possibility means that UB and the Bills would both share the new stadium, and some in the community had legitimate concerns to the viability of a shared stadium on campus.

So to address some of those concerns I thought I would take a look at a couple of stadiums that are home to both a Division I college football team and a National Football League, and put some qualitative and quantitative data on the table so that I, and you the community can draw your own conclusions on the viability of UB and the Buffalo Bills sharing a stadium, and hopefully generate some good discussion and debate on the topic.

Before I get started here's a tidbit of Buffalo and Football history that I found out about while researching for this article: the first stadium to be home field to both a college football team and a professional football team was Canisius Villa Stadium which hosted both Canisius College and the Buffalo All-Americans in the 1920-1921 seasons.

NFL and College Teams Sharing Stadiums
Stadium NFL Team NCAA Team
Georgia Dome Atlanta Falcons Georgia State
Gillette Stadium New England Patriots UMass
Sun Life Stadium Miami Dolphins Miami (FL)
Lincoln Financial Field Philadelphia Eagles Temple
Heinz Field Pittsburgh Steelers Pitt
Qualcomm Stadium San Diego Chargers San Diego St,
Raymond James Stadium Tampa Bay Buccaneers USF

Historically speaking, 8 total teams sharing a stadium with an NFL team (I omitted LP Stadium because Tennessee State is an FCS school and I want to focus on FBS schools) is around average. More teams shared stadiums during World War II due to conservation during the war effort; and once the war ended and professional leagues began expanding teams naturally began getting their own stadiums separate from colleges.

Note: The definition of "shared stadium" that I am using is that the college team must play at least half of their home games at the stadium for it to be considered shared.

Now, I'll take present data on four of the stadiums and their pro-college partners: the Georgia Dome, Heinz Field, Gillette Stadium, and Lincoln Financial Field. I'll present data from a few key areas and then make some of my own observations after each:

  • Locale Information: General information on school/area and the stadium such as: Population, Students Enrolled at School, when Stadium was built, etc.
  • Distance From Campus to Stadium: This is important because a student fanbase is one of the most important assets a college football team can have. And further distances make it harder for students to travel. If a school does have multiple campuses, I'll choose the distance from the campus which houses the most students.
  • Stadium Capacity: How many butts you can get in seats are important as well. A bigger stadium means bigger revenue potential and a better  home field advantage. But, that leads me to...
  • Average Attendance: Having a lot of seats to put people in doesn't mean squat if you don't actually have the fans coming out to watch the team. I'll be looking at attendance over a 5 year span from the 2009 season through the 2014 season, the seasons may be altered if need be.
  • Ticket Prices: Money is king in this day in age, so price of tickets can definitely have a huge effect on the amount of fans showing up for games. (Note: Given the differences in Stadium layouts I'll try to be consistent in either finding ticket prices for the cheapest section, or the "general admission" section).
  • On-Field Performance: The product a team puts on the field can be and often is a dealbreaker for whether or not a fan attends a game (Just ask the Jacksonville Jaguars). I'll look at the team's performance across the same period as the attendance and I will make not of any bowl games the team went to as well.

Editor's Note: While the financial agreements between the stadiums and schools would be greatly beneficial in analyzing each situation, I do not have the time nor means to track down such agreements and will be leaving financial details out of the information presented.


Georgia Dome

Locale Information: The Georgia Dome is a multipurpose domed stadium located in the heart of downtown Atlanta, Georgia that was opened in 1992, is owned by the State of Georgia, operated by the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, and originally cost $214 million ($360 million 2015 dollars) to construct. The Atlanta Metropolitan Area is home to over 5.5 million residents, the 9th largest in the nation, and is also home to the World's Busiest Airport. Georgia State, while relatively new to football (team was founded in 2010), has a rich history in the Atlanta area and is home to 32,087 total students. Georgia State has competed at the Georgia Dome since the team's inception in 2010.

Distance From Campus to Stadium: Georgia State's main campus is located one mile from the Georgia Dome in downtown Atlanta, which is about a 15-20 minute walk from campus. There is also public transportation that runs approximately every 6 minutes that will take students from campus to right near the dome.

GeorgiaState2Dome

Stadium Capacity: The Georgia Dome's NFL capacity is listed at 74,228, but for Georgia State games the capacity is listed at 28,155, unless overflow seating is needed.

Average Attendance:

Georgia State Panthers Average Attendance 2010 - 2014
Season 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Avg. Attendance 16,750 14,286 12,309 15,274 15,006

So, Georgia State has been filling the Georgia Dome, on average, to 53 percent of the Collegiate capacity and about 20 percent of it's full capacity. Georgia State's highest attended game was its inaugural game against Shorter in the 2010 season when 30,237 fans attended.

On-field Performance:

Georgia State Panthers On-field Performance 2010 - 2014
Season 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Record 6-5 3-8 1-10 0-12 1-11
Bowl? No No No No No

It should be noted that from 2010 - 2012 Georgia State was an FCS school competing both as an independent and in the CAA; then, from 2013 onward they transitioned to the FBS level and are now competing in the Sun Belt Conference and are ineligible for a Bowl due to them being a "transition" team.

Ticket Prices: From the information that was available the cheapest available season tickets were $70 per ticket and the most expensive being $367 per ticket. Students also get into games for free with a valid ID. You can take a look at the seating chart and prices for tickets by clicking HERE.

Observations: The Georgia State - Georgia Dome situation is by no means an ideal one, with only around 15,000 people per game, it seems like a waste of a stadium with a capacity of over 70,000. But, Georgia State is still in it's infancy as a football program and the Dome was a good choice for the time being as the program got its footing. Also, with the news that the Atlanta Braves are moving to Cobb County, the Panthers announced they would be purchasing Turner Field and re-purposing the 30,000 seat stadium into the new home of Georgia State football, so the Panthers will not be in the Georgia for much of the forseeable future and will move into a facility more suited for their needs.


Heinz Field

Locale Information: Heinz Field is an outdoor stadium in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, that was opened in 2001, is owned by the Sports & Exhibition Authority of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, is operated jointly by the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the University of Pittsburgh, and cost $281 million ($374 million in 2015 dollars) to construct. The Pittsburgh Metropolitan area is home to approximately 2.6 million people, making it the 20th-largest in the naiton and the largest in the Ohio Valley and Appalachia. The University of Pittsburgh is home to 28,649 students, and the Panthers played their home games at Pitt Stadium until it was demolished in 1999 and have shared both Three Rivers Stadium and Heinz Field with the Steelers ever since.

Distance From Campus to Stadium: Heinz Field is located 4.4 miles from the Pitt Campus across the Allegheny River and is about a 10 minute drive by car, or 30 minute trip by public transit. There is also a free shuttle provided by the University for all students going to the football games.

Pitt

Stadium Capacity: Heinz Field has a listed football capacity of 65,500 people.

Average Attendance:

Pittsburgh Panthers Average Attendance 2010 - 2014
Season 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Avg. Attendance 52,165 46,003 41,494 49,741 41,315

Pitt has on average, filled Heinz Field to about 71 percent capacity, with their largest single game attendance number coming in 2013 when they twice sold out Heinz Field and had a full 65,500 fans in attendance in matchups against at-the-time #11 Florida State in their season-opener, and again later in the season in a matchup against at-the-time #24 Notre Dame, both games were broadcast on national television on ABC, and ESPN.

On-field Performance:

Pittsburgh Panthers On-Field Performance 2010 - 2014
Season 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Record 8-5 6-7 6-7 7-6 6-7
Bowl? Yes - W in BBVA Compass Bowl Yes - L in BBVA Compass Bowl Yes - L in BBVA Compass Bowl Yes - W in Little Caesars Bowl Yes - L in Armed Forces Bowl

After their co-Big East Championship season in 2010, the Panthers have held steady at 6 wins per season since; during this time they also made the transition from the Big East to the ACC after the Big East was dissolved at the end of the 2012 season.

Ticket Prices: The cheapest season tickets for the Panthers start at $100 per seat in the upper-endzone area, while the club seats come in at $340 per seat with a $500 donation per seat, or $465 per seat. Students pay $25 for season tickets. Check out the full list of ticket prices and seating chart by clicking HERE.

Observations: On the surface it seems like there is a healthy relationship between the University and the Stadium where they are filling seats, but as the team's performance has dipped in recent years the attendance has also seen a dip. The proximity and quality of the stadium is also a plus, and with the free shuttle provided by the University there are no issues for students going back and forth from games.


Gillette Stadium

Locale Information: Gillette Stadium is an outdoor stadium located in Foxborough, Massachusetts, that was opened in  2002, is owned and operated by the Kraft Sports Group, and cost $325 million ($426 million in 2015 dollars) to construct. The Stadium lies within the Greater Boston Metropolitan Area which is home to 7.6 million people, making it the 10th-largest metropolitan area in the country.  The University of Massachusetts at Amherst is located in Amherst, Massachusetts in Hampshire County, and is home to 27,269 total students. The Minutemen have played home games at both McGuirk Alumni Stadium, and Gillette Stadium. UMass has played at minimum half of their home games at Gillette starting in the 2012 season, which means that the stadium is "shared".

Distance From Campus to Stadium: The furthest distance between stadium and campus of any shared stadium, UMass' Amherst campus is a whopping 91 miles away from Gillette Stadium, and approximately a 1 hour and 45 minute drive along I-90 (dependent on traffic, of course).

umass_distance

Stadium Capacity: Gillette Stadium has a 68,756 person capacity for football.

Average Attendance:

UMass Minutemen Average Attendance 2012 - 2014
Season 2012 2013 2014
Avg. Attendance 10,901 15,830 17,579

The Minutemen's average attendance at Gillette increased over the course of the 3 years when playing there. But, the 2014 statistic is a bit misleading seeing as they played 3 games at Gillette, and one game was against Boston College that had an attendance of 30,479 (a weird instance where the away team is closer than the home team). On average the Minutemen have Gillette Stadium between 15 and 20 percent full.

On-Field Performance:

UMass Minutemen On-Field Performance 2012-2014
Season 2012 2013 2014
Record 1-11 1-11 3-9
Bowl? No No No

As most Bull Run regulars and anyone who follows the MAC knows that UMass hasn't been particularly competitive since their transition to the FBS in 2012. However, with the return of Mark Whipple, the Minutemen saw an uptick in production this past season.

Ticket Prices: For Gillette Stadium only season tickets the Lower Level seats is $60 per seat, while the Putnam Club is $110 per seat. Check out the full list of ticket prices HERE.

Observations: UMass at Gillette seems to be the poster child of how not to share a stadium with a professional team. Being almost 2 hours away from campus greatly impacts student attendance, and the Minutemen aren't a good enough program to attract the fans to make up for that loss.


Lincoln Financial Field

Locale Information: Lincoln Financial Field is an outdoor stadium located in South Philadelphia, that was opened in 2003, is owned by the City of Philadelphia, operated by the Philadelphia Eagles and cost $512 million ($656 million 2015 dollars) to construct. The City of Philadelphia and its Metropolitan area is home to over 7 million people, and is the 7th-largest metropolitan area in the nation, just behind Boston. Temple University is situated in North Philadelphia and is home to over 28,000 students. The Owls have shared a stadium with both the Eagles and the Philadelphia Phillies since 1978, when they moved into Veterans Stadium, and in 2003 when they moved into Lincoln Financial Field when it opened.

Distance From Campus to Stadium: Temple's main campus in North Philadelphia  is about 8.3 miles due north of Lincoln Financial Field, and with traffic in the city, it's about a 20 minute drive. Or there is also a subway station near campus and a stop near the field that would take about 50 minutes to reach the stadium. Temple, like Pitt also offers a free shuttle bus from campus to the field for students.

temple_distance

Stadium Capacity: Lincoln Financial Field has a capacity of 69,176 people.

Average Attendance:

Temple Owls Average Attendance 2010 - 2014
Season 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Avg. Attendance 20,515 28,060 26,580 22,473 23,370

The Owls' home attendance has held steady over the course of the past five seasons, with an average of 35 percent capacity being filled. The Owls' largest attendance was 57,323 when they faced Penn State in 2011, their final season in the MAC before moving on to the Big East and then the American.

On-Field Performance:

Temple Owls On-Field Performance 2010 - 2014
Season 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Record 8-4 9-4 4-7 2-10 6-6
Bowl? No Yes - W in New Mexico Bowl No No No

At the end of their tenure in the MAC, tenure was a solid football program and even had a bowl win to their credit before leaving for the Big East, and then the American where the on-field performance saw a dip due to a stronger schedule.

Ticket Prices: The Owls' season ticket prices range from $99 per seat for the cheapest seats and $240 per seat for club seating. Student tickets are free with a valid ID.

Observations: Temple and the Eagles have been tied at the hip since 1978, and for the relationship to last this long, the Owls must be benefiting from using the Eagles' facilities. After a 6-6 season in the American, and a city with fans as ravenous as they come, Temple looks like they will continue their upward trend in both attendance and performance on-field.


Conclusions

Now that I've presented all of the data and factual information, what good is it to us, what can we draw from it, and how does it relate to a UB-Bills shared stadium?

A few key takeaways:

  • Performance and Pedigree Matter: Fans will respond to a winning team; is it any surprise that all four teams had the hgihest average attendance in the years that they had their best records? Pitt by far had the best attendance of the 4 schools that I listed, and that is thanks in part to consistent appearances in bowl games, and a rich football history filled with a Heisman Trophy winner, and several big-name NFL players.
  • Location also matters: Georgia State, Pitt, and Temple all had their stadiums within a 10 mile radius of the campus, while UMass' venue of Gillette Stadium was almost two hours away from campus and crippled and chance at a solid student turn out at the games.
  • Stadium Costs All Similar: All of the stadiums I listed above all had relatively similar construction prices between $300 million and $600 million, none of which rivals the ludicrous cost of Levi's Stadium ($1.3 billion) or AT&T Stadium ($1.4 billion). A higher costing stadium would mean a higher financial commitment from the Universities to use the facilities, making more difficult for it to be profitable.
  • None Are on College Campuses: No current stadium that is shared by an NFL team and an NCAA team on a permanent basis is located on a college campus, the last of which being Sun Devil Stadium which was shared by the Arizona Cardinals and the Arizona State Sun Devils before the Cardinals moved into University of Phoenix Stadium.

If Terry Pegula and the Buffalo Bills reach an agreement with the University at Buffalo to tear down UB Stadium and build a new stadium to be shared by the Bills and Bulls, there is enough outside evidence to support the claim that the partnership could be a success.

There is a sports culture that's ingrained into the culture in Buffalo that it just can't be overlooked, and a stadium on the UB campus that draws 70,000+ to Amherst each Sunday, could certainly spill over onto Saturdays, especially with creative package deals for Bills and Bulls tickets. The expansion of UB as a university could also be attractive for a new stadium, giving many international students first-hand access to the NFL could help the Bills Mafia expand all across the globe. Also, there is a win-win situation for the Bills and Bulls if the stadium is built on campus: state funding. Danny White could get a brand-new state-of-the-art stadium, and Terry Pegula could potentially get more assistance from the state in funding the stadium (although, Pegula certainly has the means to fund the stadium on his own).

However, UB's on-field performance has been marginal, at best, and UB's average attendance numbers over the past five years suggest that if the team is doing poorly, that the attendance of home games will tank. There is also an issue of parking, tailgating and autonomy; if Pegula builds the stadium at UB, UB would control parking and I'm not sure if the campus could handle 70,000+ with all of the tailgating, there is also the issue of control over the stadium and the land that it sits on. I would presume that UB wouldn't want to lose any land that it owns, and I'm sure Pegula would want to own the land that his stadium sits on.

Is a shared stadium between the Bills and Bulls possible? Absolutely. There have been many instances of teams have successful partnerships that it could certainly work with UB. But the success and viability of the partnership would greatly depend on UB's on-field performance and ability to get fans in the stands, and there are serious questions as to whether both can be sustained.

Is UB the best place for a new Bills stadium and could it happen? Probably not. There hasn't been an instance of an NFL team sharing a stadium on a full-time basis since the Arizona Cardinals moved out of Sun Devil Stadium, and I don't think that may change any time soon. UB presents a lot of positives for the Bills, but ultimately not having autonomy over the land that the stadium is on may be a dealbreaker for the Bills.

So what do you think? Sound off in the comments below.