How to Build a Football Stadium

University of South Alabama Athletic Director Joel Erdmann walks us through the ultimate DIY project: Hancock Whitney Stadium. Here is his step-by-step guide on how to build your own football field.

Photo by Scott Donaldson

Step 1: Start with a Budget

It’s going to take about $75 million to $80 million to build your 25,500-capacity stadium, and to secure those kinds of funds, you’ll have to rally community support. “We had to really talk to people about what the value of this facility was going to be,” says Erdmann of their fundraising pitch. “Not just for the sport of football, and not just for athletics, but for the continued development of this campus, which for the past 20 years has been staggering. A lot of people put their arms around it and saw it as a worthy, justifiable thing to support. Whether it’s a moderate-size gift or a gift of multimillion dollars, they all matter, they all count.” It also helps to have the backing of someone like local businessman/philanthropist Abe Mitchell, for whom the field is named.

Step 2: Draw it Up

Erdmann and his team visited approximately 10 stadiums and spoke to everyone involved in their constructions. They took the components from each and inserted them into their vision for the stadium. “We continually focused on the experience of the student-athletes and the experience of the fans. At that time it became very clear that stadiums are no longer just elevated seating where people come to games and sit. A growing number of fans prefer to be social in nature. Stadiums nationally were shrinking in capacity and growing in areas of socialization and hospitality. And so that was a point of emphasis right out of the box,” Erdmann says. “Within the stadium, there are seven distinct areas that are designed for people that want to be around other people and hang out and have fun.”

You’re also going to need some space — a couple of acres just for the stadium. Also, plan for about 1,800 adjacent to the field, with another 6,000 within shuttling distance. When determining how to situate the field, you’ll want to make sure it runs north/south. Put the home team on the east sideline so the sun will be at their backs (and therefore in the visiting players’ faces). 

Erdmann suggests two areas where you do not want to scrimp: video and audio technology, and catering and concessions. The scoreboard is approximately 100 feet wide by 38 feet high, and the HD quality is as good as any NFL stadium. The entire sound, video and support structure package will cost you around $5 million, but it will be worth it. “We knew we needed a ‘wow’ factor with the video board. That’s what fans expect,” Erdmann says. 

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The kitchen needs to be able to serve the club, the suites, the press row and all the concessions around the stadium. It’ll run you another $1 million, but you’ll certainly recoup your investment after a few post-COVID games. 

Step 3: Line up your Crew

“We’re very fortunate to have an extremely sophisticated and robust facilities division under the umbrella of the university. Randy Moon (Associate VP, Facilities Management) and his crew really built this place. Randy’s the man,” Erdmann says. “They coordinated all the bids for the various buildings and all the components of the stadium. So we didn’t have to pay a builder. We were also able to sharpen the pencil. We have great renovation crews that could do all the drywall, electrical, etc. Our guys built all the restrooms and concession stands. We just racked up savings through our internal skilled workers, and that’s really what got us here.” 

When you factor in that USA crews handle all the landscaping and a lot of the parking lots, Erdmann estimates that, in total, they were able to get a stadium that would normally cost around $120 million to $125 million for a little under $80 million.

Step 4: Start Digging

After some reshuffling of the intramural fields, the first shovel went in the ground in August of 2018. You’ll want to go with a synthetic rubber turf — it may be a little hotter, but the lack of maintenance is worth the approximately $400,000 price tag. You can even paint it with different logos in case you want to host other events like the Senior Bowl.

The lower seating is on a concrete base — very sturdy, very durable. It should be good for another 150 years. The remaining seating is on raised steel. The stadium was built with an eye toward the future. 

“One of the things we worked hard at was, okay it’s going to be 2020, but what are we going to need in 2030, ‘40 and ’50? We wanted to make sure we were building in a way that would allow us to expand without having to blow a bunch of stuff up,” Erdmann says. “The press tower is designed and built to be expanded. To enhance the capacity, there’s a lot of room in the concourse, where an upper deck can be added. So we can go to a capacity of 30,000 or 40,000 without having to tear the place up. All we’d have to do is move the light poles which, in the great scheme of things, is very minimal.”

It will take you about two years, but eventually you’ll be ready to host your very own college football game.

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