The state of Mississippi’s latest idea for seating at Davis Wade Stadium proved popular in informal conversations within the school’s athletics department.
“When we started sharing it with our staff, every time we showed it to a group, two or three people would say, ‘I want one of those,'” said Mike Richey, Senior Executive Associate Athletic Director for the Bulldog Club and ticketing operations.
Richey and MSU are hoping that the interest of Bulldogs fans works the same way.
On Wednesday, the school unveiled its “Balconies at Davis Wade Stadium”, a new seating concept that replaces the seats on the west side of the upper deck with multi-level outdoor stages.
The new plan bears a resemblance to baseball’s MSU Dudy Noble Field’s Left Field Lounge, but it wasn’t meant to be a copy, Richey said.
“It’s the idea of the social aspect of an event like this and being able to move around without being tied to a fixed place,” he said. “It wasn’t something we said, ‘Let’s lounge football.’
Sections 301, 302, 312 and 313 and parts of sections 303 and 311 will all be converted from grandstand seats to new boxes, for a total cost of nearly 2,000 seats at MSU. The $ 2.5 million project is in collaboration with Meridian’s LPK Architects and Kansas City-based Populous. Ridgeland’s Codaray Construction is building it.
Richey said the state of Mississippi has been working on the design since the end of the 2021 season. The balconies will be completed by mid-August and will be operational by the September 3 season opening against Memphis.
“This is something we’re excited about,” Richey said. “We loved the concept when we first saw it.”
Bulldog Club members will have priority for the new balconies, which require a minimum donation of $ 2,700 to the athletic department and at least eight season tickets (priced at $ 225 each).
Selections will be made based on Bulldog Club priority numbers starting July 1st. On July 5th, all remaining balconies will be offered to the general public.
“It’s just another premium offering to add to our stadium mix,” Richey said.
Just like in softball Super Regions, MSU’s hottest club is likely to escape to all balconies. Only 11 of the spaces will be available on each side of the upper deck.
The two upper balconies are the largest, capable of holding 25 people, all with a ticket for the space. Two balconies contain 10, 12, 18, 20 and 22 fans, while 10 contain 15.
The concept mirrors what the state of Mississippi has already done with the North Zone Scoreboard Club, a terraced area that offers fans the chance to stroll.
Richey said it will offer Bulldogs fans with young children and those hoping to stretch their legs or mingle mid-game the ability to do so without leaving the seating area.
“This was the concept that we thought we were hitting the right buttons for what we had to deliver from what we were hearing from our fans, especially younger fans,” he said.
How does it work
Those chosen for the balconies will be able to “repair” their spaces on the Friday before each home game, preparing for the action to come.
But things won’t look much like the Left Field Lounge across the campus. Customization with lights and other ornaments will be limited due to the low number of home games. Grills and other cooking devices will not be allowed; neither tents nor umbrellas. (Each balcony has a rear shading structure and the west side of the stadium is in natural shade for matches starting after 11am)
Each box-holder will receive two bags of ice per home game, but Richey suggested that fans take advantage of the electrical outlets in each space to bring a mini fridge or small freezer. Small fans and most chairs are also allowed.
Only the lower balcony on each side of the upper deck is wheelchair accessible, as the rest requires stairs. One of the 12 spaces on each side is reserved for pedestrian traffic and will be used as a service area, leaving 11 balconies on each side.
The balconies are each 9 feet, 6 inches deep (the upper ones are 12 feet deep) and each comes with a drinks bar in the front.
The platform is part of the reason why Richey said MSU does not anticipate any safety concerns with the new seating area. She said the athletics department checked with the school’s legal counsel and risk management departments before moving forward.
“In some ways, it’s probably even a little safer than just being in the stands,” said Eric George, senior executive associate athletic director and CFO. “You have a 42-inch rail that’s right there to protect just about anything. You don’t have it when you are in the main sitting area.
At 4am on Wednesday, a second crane descended on Davis Wade Stadium.
The first was already there to help replace the scoreboard and add three new ribbon cards in the north end area. The new machine began installing on the balconies, a surprisingly simple process.
The prefabricated walls of the bridge were ready in Fulton before their use. Once positioned, the decking will be installed on top.
“The way it’s built, it’s very easy to go back and do more,” Richey said.
If the balconies prove a success, the state of Mississippi could continue to roll, despite an initial loss of approximately 1,900 seats that will push the stadium’s capacity below 60,000.
But those upper deck corner seats, George said, typically don’t sell very well. MSU officials have acknowledged that they won’t offset the cost of reduced capacity in balcony purchases alone this season, but attracting fans to the world of premium seating can make it a “long-term investment” for the school.
“If you’re putting someone in one place, they’re getting used to it, and now their next step is in a suite, in the club,” George said. “There’s the initial financial part of them buying tickets and all, but then there’s the long-term approach to getting them into that system.”
MSU is not the only school to implement a plan such as balconies. The state of Colorado, southern Alabama, and other Group of Five programs already have similar seating.
Now, the Bulldogs are part of that club. They hope their expenses will be paid off.
“We really felt like we were doing something different on the upper deck on the west side and it gave us the opportunity to present a new option for the fans, for how they want to come and enjoy the games,” Richey said.
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi state sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.