Aztec Stadium update: Pull up a chair (or a standing rail) – The San Diego Union-Tribune

Editor’s note: San Diego State aims to build its new 35,000-capacity stadium in time for the football team’s season opener against Arizona — Sept. 3, 2022 — which is now 274 days away. The Union-Tribune is doing monthly updates tracking the stadium’s progress.

Scale models of Aztec Stadium were given to those attending last week’s San Diego State-Boise State football game.

The most prominent features were the green field and sea of red seats.

A passerby at the new stadium going up on the SDSU Mission Valley site would notice that it still includes a dirt field and gray precast concrete in the seating areas.

Grass is still 3-4 months away.

Seating is more imminent.

A major milestone in the construction of Aztec Stadium is expected within the next two weeks with the ceremonial placing of the first seat.

The remaining 32,999 seats (there will be standing-room only areas to accommodate another 2,000 people) will then be installed over the following 3 1/2 months.

What will become increasingly apparent at that point is how much closer fans will be to the action than they were at SDCCU Stadium.

“It shows how intimate of an environment we’re going to create,” said Derek Grice, SDSU’s executive associate athletic director of Mission Valley development. “The sight lines are going to be incredible. How close you are to the action is going to be amazing.

“What that’s going to do is create a home-field advantage for football, but that’s also going to provide the energy of other events. It’s going to be second to none.”

When San Diego Stadium was built in the mid-1960s, there were some issues from the outset.

As a multi-purpose stadium, seats were positioned in such a way that viewing for both baseball and football could be accommodated. In so doing, it made the viewing for one sport or the other less ideal than it would have been in a stadium designed specifically for one sport.

“With the way we’ve done our open bowls,” Grice said, “they really create sight lines that people haven’t experienced here, particularly for football.”

Seating was not angled as steeply at the old stadium, which meant the rows of seats extended deeper and took fans a greater distance from the action.

“It’s a balance of how do you get them closer and give them the best sight lines, but not feel like you’re falling over,” Grice said. “I really love how we were able to push people to be closer to the field. We wanted to create a place where you were really part of the action.

“Even the last row of the upper deck is now located where a club seat would be in the past.”

A design flaw realized soon after the old stadium was built was that football fans sitting in the first nine rows on the field level had very poor sight lines. They were situated so low they couldn’t see over the players and coaches standing on the sidelines.

Lowering the field was considered, but it was prevented because the water table was too high where the stadium was situated.

That issue has been resolved at the new stadium because a) the stadium is located on higher ground and b) the first row of seats begins about eight feet above the field.

There are 5,000 student seats being located on the north end of the stadium. About 2,900 seats there will include a “safe standing area.”

“It has a seat, like a traditional seat, but every row also has a hand rail,” Grice said. “It’s something that is big in European soccer. It’s something you’ve seen in MLS soccer.

“What it does is if you’re standing, you’ve got something you can take your weight off of. It’s a much more comfortable standing experience.

“It’s the idea that we have the option to sit, but we want to promote standing because we want to create and promote the same type of energy we have at Viejas Arena.”

SDSU officials are hopeful they can sell 15,000 season tickets for the 2022 season. Grice said in a radio interview before last week’s game against Boise State that they’re currently at 5,500.

John David Wicker, SDSU’s director of athletics, said last month the Aztecs averaged about $4 million a season in ticket revenue at SDCCU Stadium.

If SDSU hits its goals at the new stadium, Wicker said ticket revenue at the new stadium will be significantly greater than $4 million.

“Hopefully, four to five, maybe six times that,” Wicker said. “It will be a big number.”

What will the athletic department do with the windfall?

Well, Wicker said debt service on the new stadium will be about $11 million a year.

That still leaves a sizable chunk of change (without even considering revenue that’s coming from stadium naming rights and founding partners).

“We’re going to start what we’re calling the Strategic Ops Planning Process, probably early next year,” Wicker said. “That’s where we will do a deep dive on all of our different sports and all of our different functional areas to understand what we need to do to give our student-athletes the best opportunity to compete. So that as that money starts to come in, we know what we’re doing with it.”