Red Wave Ramps up Support for Bulldog Stadium Renovation
by Eddie Hughes
Fast forward four to five years. You’re tailgating on campus, gazing up at the beautifully updated façade of Bulldog Stadium. You walk in through a tunnel and reach a cross aisle a short distance from your seats (no more hikes up 60-plus rows of stairs). Look around. There are new scoreboards; a massive west side tower featuring a club lounge, luxury suites and a press box; and a two-story football building at the bottom of the ramp behind the south end zone. Imagine it’s time for the first game in the newly remodeled stadium.
“I think it’s going to be one of the biggest events in Fresno history,” says Cameron Worrell, a former Bulldogs safety who played six seasons in the NFL and is now part of the broadcast team for 940 ESPN Radio. “There’s going to be such a feeling of accomplishment, not just here at the University and around the program, but in this community as a whole. From Chowchilla up north to Bakersfield down south, I know there are so many people who are so pumped to see this happen.”
One of them is Gary Castro, a 20-year season ticket holder and Bulldog Foundation supporter who owns KRC Safety in Visalia. He’s seen the renderings and videos showing the possibilities. When asked what he will feel like walking into a renovated Bulldog Stadium with his family for the first time, he gets quiet for a moment. “Wow, you just hit me right between the eyes,” he says. “I’ve got goosebumps.”
For Fresno State fans, there will come a time when visiting Bulldog Stadium feels different than it does today — a time when it feels more modern, comfortable, accessible and convenient. It could be as soon as 2018 or 2019. And it will be a game changer, for the University and the community.
First-year director of athletics Jim Bartko held a press conference June 26 to announce his vision for modernizing the 35-year-old Bulldog Stadium and shared concepts that were developed by AECOM Sports, LLC — the same company that designed stadium upgrades for Oregon and other major universities.
Addressing fans’ needs
While Bulldog Stadium has long been a tremendous home field advantage for Fresno State, and regularly hosts the largest crowds in the Mountain West Conference, it is an aging facility that hasn’t had any major updates since expanding to 41,031 seats in 1990.
“Think of your own home. If you have a home that was built in 1980, and you didn’t do anything to renovate it and keep it up, it’s going to look a little worn,” says Fresno State football coach Tim DeRuyter. “And that’s where we’re at right now. With this new renovation, we’re going to get a stadium at a fraction of the cost, but it’s going to look like a brand new stadium.”
The main thing Bartko wants to convey to the community is the University is listening to fans’ needs. In his first few months on the job, a survey was sent to thousands of fans to identify the things that are most important to them — better restrooms, concessions, easier accessibility to their seats and parking. And all of those things will be addressed within Bartko’s vision.
A privately funded project
To make that vision a reality, it will take private funding — from $100 donors to multimillion dollar donors. It could include a naming rights deal for Bulldog Stadium, and a handful of lead gifts. In fact, Bartko has already identified some willing philanthropists to help with the project that could cost about $80 million.
“For this to work, everybody has to be a part of it,” Bartko says. “We can’t just have 100 people do everything. We want every fan to be engaged. If they can give $100 or $1,000, buy season tickets, buy extra tickets and bring friends. All of our fans can take ownership to help because we can’t do it alone. The state isn’t going to fund it.”
This past summer, the first wave of enhancements came with installation of a new 24-foot-tall, 66-foot-wide HD video board and a 104-foot LED ribbon board on the north end of the stadium. Best-case scenario, Phase 1 will be executed before the 2016 football season with fencing and branding around the facilities; Phase 2 will be done by 2017 with tunnels, cross aisles, restrooms and other amenities; and Phase 3 in 2018 would add additional luxury suites, club lounge and press box. The final phase will be a new football facility housing the Bulldogs’ locker room, offices and an alumni lounge for former student-athletes.
“As former players,” Worrell says, “we take a lot of pride in the fact that what we were able to do on the field has allowed the players that come after us to experience better things, to get better equipment, to have a better locker room, to have this meeting room that we didn’t have when we were here. And we feel an obligation to help any project that the football team has moving forward.”
Five-year NFL wideout Charlie Jones, whose 3,344 receiving yards from 1992-95 are the most ever by a Bulldog, says he would encourage former players to get involved and make the alumni lounge a reality. “That would be huge for our football tradition,” Jones says.
“As everyone does different things after they take off their helmets for the last time on Senior Day, the lounge would give them a place to always be welcome back home.”
And Fresno State wants all alumni to feel like it’s their home. “It’s going to be a great touch point for all alumni to come back and see the games, have alumni events in the stadium and host University groups,” Bartko says.
Facility improvements help all sports
Six days per year, football games draw more people to campus than any other event and often draw a national television audience. That support generated by football helps fund the 18 other athletics programs at the University. So Bartko says it makes sense to bring Bulldog Stadium up to industry standards so it can continue to attract fans.
Women’s tennis coach Ryan Stotland says he is amazed by the Bulldog Stadium renderings he’s seen. “I showed everyone right away and said, ‘Look at how great our stadium is going to look.’ It helps everybody. Everything benefits everybody else, so the more we build, the better.”
Fresno State is also constructing new tennis courts, improving women’s soccer and lacrosse locker rooms and preparing to install a new track. “We have momentum, we have people who want to help. It’s going to help out all of our sports,” Bartko says.
“The football stadium brings a lot of exposure to the community and the University. It’s a great front door for everybody to see, but it’s getting a little aged after 35 years. We have to make sure it’s around for another 35 years.”
What they’re saying:
“With so many of our games being televised now, if you don’t have a compelling reason to come, people stay at home in front of their HD and watch the game. We want them to come to Bulldog Stadium, feel the excitement and feel like they have to come and experience Bulldog football that way.”
—Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State head coach
“If I was a fan, and I heard about all these new things happening to the stadium, I would love to come to the games. A lot of fans around Fresno are going to want to come to more games now, and they’re going to help us out even more.”
—Keyan Williams, redshirt freshman wide receiver
“To see these changes now are extremely special to me. As a father, I am excited to bring my family to games and share my experiences with them and build new memories that I hope they enjoy.”
—Adam Messick, who played offensive line from 2002-05
“We have been season ticket holders since the stadium opened in 1980, and we intend to remain season ticket holders until they take us to the home. The main hardship now is, because we are 35 years older, climbing the stairs to get up to the stadium and then climbing down to our seats and then up to the restrooms and snack bar.”
—Leah Gill, 35-year season ticket holder
“There’s no question that new, modern facilities heighten fan enthusiasm. The updates will help draw and keep the fans in the stadium. I believe any entertainment event taking place in a comfortable environment will help entice the spectator to repeat the experience.”
—Rich Tobin, 25-year season ticket holder
“Every time I’m with the friends or family they ask me, ‘So hey, the new stadium, that’s going to be pretty sweet, right?’ I think they’re more excited for it than I am, and I’m the one who gets to play in it.”
—Kyle Riddering, redshirt freshman tight end
How you can help renovate Bulldog Stadium
- Purchase season tickets.
- Join the Bulldog Foundation by visiting BulldogFoundation.org or calling 559.278.7160.
- Ask a family member or friend to become a season ticket holder or Bulldog Foundation member.
- Purchase a youth season ticket for a deserving Valley youth organization.