PULLMAN — The hiring of coach Mike Leach is not the only sign that Washington State has tired of being a Pac-12 doormat. An $80 million expansion has dramatically changed the league’s most modest football stadium, and is expected to pump $3 million more into what has long been a cash-strapped program.
The new addition to Martin Stadium contains luxury seats and a new press box, and completely changes the profile of the 35,000-seat bowl. It replaces a much more modest press box structure, and is a tangible sign that everything is up to date at Washington State.
“Impressive. Just look at it,” Leach said of the addition after the team opened fall camp. “It’s under budget and on schedule.”
Designed and built in just 18 months, the privately funded addition will be ready in time for the home opener Sept. 8 against Eastern Washington, associate athletic director John Johnson said.
“It’s all gone pretty smoothly,” Johnson said of the 88,000-square-foot addition, which is funded by a combination of ticket sales, donations and television revenue.
The project became a reality after the Pac-12 signed a huge $3 billion television contract last year, providing each team with more than $20 million in new money each season. Washington State officials used part of the money to hire Leach at over $2 million per year, and will use part to help pay off the bonds on the stadium improvements.
The moves are intended to breathe new life into a program that hasn’t appeared in a bowl game since 2003.
The hiring of Leach brought immediate rewards, as the Cougars have already sold more than 3,000 season tickets above last year’s total, Johnson said.
Martin Stadium, a single-level bowl located in the middle of campus, is a small jewel without a bad seat. But the stadium was short on Pac-12-level amenities, especially the sort of expensive luxury suites that high-rolling boosters prefer.
The old press box and a handful of luxury seats were built 30 years ago as temporary facilities, Johnson said.
The new addition runs across the entire length of the southern stands.
Johnson said all 21 of the luxury suites are spoken for, as are 42 of the loge boxes. All of the indoor club seats are sold, although some outdoor club seats remain.
“Once people actually see it and experience it, it will create even more buzz,” Johnson said.
When all the new luxury seats are sold, they will be worth about $3 million a year to the athletic department, Johnson said.
Perhaps as important, Martin Stadium will no longer be the most Spartan stadium in the league, although it will remain the smallest. The changes do not expand its capacity.
“Any time you build buildings, it changes the image of the program,” Johnson said. “The amenities that our fans and media partners will have are as nice as anything in the Pac-12.”
More improvements are planned. The next phase is a $60 million addition to consolidate all football offices, Johnson said. The school will ask the board of regents this fall for permission to begin work on that addition, he said.
The 12-year television contract with Fox and ESPN is being shared equally by the schools. For Pac-12 programs with smaller budgets, like Oregon State, Washington State and Utah, it means a more level playing field with schools like Oregon and USC.