Six years ago, Colorado State University hired big-time football coach Jim McElwain from the University of Alabama. After McElwain bolted for the University of Florida in 2014, CSU brought in Mike Bobo from the University of Georgia, paying him the highest salary of any coach in the Mountain West Conference. This month, the Rams will unveil the most expensive display of their football prowess to date: Colorado State Stadium, a new $238 million billboard for prospective students. Best-case scenario: The 36,500-seat facility entices a prominent conference to add CSU to its membership, bringing millions of dollars to the school in licensing and TV rights. But even if CSU never earns a conference promotion, the school will boast a stadium with plenty of benefits for the rest of us starting on August 26, when the Rams host Oregon State University.
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Big Fans On Campus
The Rams’ old football complex, Hughes Stadium, sits almost four miles from campus, meaning prospective students and alumni (read: potential donors) might never have encountered the $1.5 billion in infrastructure investments the school has made over the past decade. The new field, however, resides on campus and will house the Iris & Michael Smith Alumni Center, where former students can gather before games and record their personal CSU histories inside the Ann Gill Storytelling Booth. (Some advice: Posterity doesn’t need to know about your beer-bong follies.)
With the exception of the Rams’ final season at Hughes, CSU was only permitted to hawk 3.2 percent beer (if you want to call it that). Now it’s allowed to serve full-strength beer and liquor at every game. That means CSU can offer craft brews in two new VIP areas: the New Belgium Porch, above the north end zone, and the Orthopaedic and Spine Center of the Rockies Field Club, located at field level on the 50-yard line. Not surprisingly, both are already sold out for 2017.
Unlike Hughes, the new football complex is walkable—or a short trip on Fort Collins’ Max Bus Rapid Transit system—from Old Town’s restaurants and bars. That could mean a boost for the local economy. One study estimated the stadium could bring in as much as $142 million, which is worth cheering about while you’re celebrating a victory in the downtown that inspired Disneyland’s Main Street, USA.
If You Win, They Will Come
It’s fair to say that CSU knows about “the Flutie Effect.” After Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie threw the winning touchdown pass in a massive upset of the University of Miami in 1984, applications to BC rose 30 percent over the next two years. CSU, which has attended four straight bowl games since 2013, seems to be following suit. Enrollment at four-year public colleges across the country grew 3.5 percent from fall 2011 to fall 2016, while the undergrad population at CSU increased 6.6 percent.
Football First, Events Second String
CSU signed an agreement with the city not to host big, nonfootball events at the stadium for two years, but runners in the first Fortitude 10K on September 4 will finish on the new field, and the complex can still host small-scale festivities like corporate outings and even weddings—because if there’s one place that knows what a spectacular reception looks like, it’s a football field.