UT Athletics Director and Vice Chancellor Danny White announced at an annual meeting of the UT Board of Trustees on Thursday that renovations to Neyland Stadium, which were originally conceived in November 2017 and planned for completion this fall, will be extended and expanded.
White met with the finance and administration committee of the board of trustees to request an additional $108 million for allocation to the Neyland project.
“We’ve done a lot of listening over the last 18 months, our fans have expressed what they want their Neyland Stadium to look and feel like, what they want their experience to be,” White said in his presentation to the board. “We all know the building is in dire need of life-support in some places, updating – to say the least – in others. We know it needs to be fixed.”
White began his tenure as athletics director in January 2021, and was responsible for hiring Josh Heupel as head football coach of the Tennessee Volunteers.
“We really feel like the best is yet to come,” White said. “We have a great opportunity to build the best athletics department in the country right here in Tennessee.”
The requested $108 million was unanimously approved by the committee, and is in addition to the $180 million approved by the board last summer, bringing the total costs of renovations for the 100-year-old stadium to $288 million.
Ryan Alpert, deputy athletics director, also took part in the presentation to explore the logistics of the new plan, along with the accompanying increase in cost.
“Our project scope includes the necessary inflation costs, significant elements from the 2017 plan and also new items that we believe will enhance the overall fan experience,” Alpert said.
The renovations include stadium-wide wi-fi, additional restrooms, renovations to the skybox, new entryways to the southwest and southeast and the much-anticipated return of the V-O-L-S letter signage on top of the stadium. A new premium indoor “club space” will also be built under the west side of the stadium with exclusive access.
“The lower-west club will be a 12,000 square foot, indoor, temperature-controlled experience, adding new concessions, multiple bar locations and restrooms,” Alpert said. “The added benefit of this club space is that it will also bring a significant amount of people off of the west concourse, to relieve pressure and congestion.”
A major focus of the renovations is increasing space for visitors to address a common complaint that Neyland Stadium can feel overcrowded. In line with this vision, the width of the concourse hallways will be tripled, from 12 to 36 feet wide.
Additionally, the maximum capacity for the stadium will decrease, from 102,455 to 101,915 visitors for the 2022 season. White said that capacity will continue to change as future renovations are completed.
The additional space will allow for 50 new points of sale, according to Alpert, more than doubling the current 40 stands that serve concessions and amenities at Neyland. The existing stands will also be renovated and updated, for a swifter experience that offers more to visitors.
“We’re going to do it the right way … strategically and responsibly,” White said. “But the time is right now. We have a lot of great things happening, a ton of positive momentum … but we feel the sense of urgency in terms of making this project a reality and getting the ball moving as quickly as possible.”
The new business model for UT Athletics will use revenue funds from new premium fan experiences and seating, such as the club space, to pay for renovations.
Thanks to the potential revenue generated by high-end seating options, 60% of seats in Neyland Stadium will reduce in price. It is unclear whether student tickets will increase or decrease in price.
John Compton, chairman of the board of trustees, said that the investment in the stadium is an appropriate risk.
“I applaud … the balance between the premiumization of the stadium … so that the vast majority of fans who attend will benefit from those premium gifts,” Compton said. “And so everyone is going to win by this new stadium look that you are bringing forward.”
According to White, the cost of the renovation will be covered by future revenue, and the athletics department reports that it will see a 16.9% increase in revenue by 2026 should the renovations be completed.
In a press conference held following his presentation to the board, White said the renovations will likely not be entirely finished until the 2025-26 academic year.
“The lower west club, and the north end zone deck, and the north end zone video board, and the new standing room … that will all be completed for this fall,” White said. He stated that the new chairback seating in the lower west bowl will also be ready for the fall.
White attributed the $108 million increase in funding to nationwide inflation, which he said is affecting costs.
“Construction costs have increased, but the project is changing too,” White said. “Some of those changes are some of the revenue-producing assets that we’re adding to the project, some of the changes actually reduce some construction costs … we’re just trying to maximize the fan experience, and build a business plan that works for the project.”
While hardhats and rafters might become a common sight at Neyland for the next few years, it will be ready to rumble for football time in Tennessee.