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NU launches football stadium PR campaign

How do you convince the public that an apparently all-but-done-deal is the right thing to do?

That’s apparently what Northwestern University is attempting, by sending political-style flyers to Evanston residents, entitled “The Vision To Rebuild Ryan Field.”

The mailer outlines what NU says will be significant benefits to both the university and to Evanston as a whole, by replacing the century-old stadium.

While no tax dollars will be needed for the new, privately financed, $800 million project, which university trustees have already approved, City Council still needs to say yes.

Plus, in a previously released explanation, NU also said that the new stadium “cannot be financially viable with just seven football games a year,” so the university hopes to have a limited number of concerts once the facility opens in 2026.

The number is yet to be determined. NU has said there would be community and city input first, although in the past, community feedback about possible non-football events was less than favorable.

Actually, community input has already had some impact on the proposed design, and might have more.

University spokesperson Jon Yates tells Evanston Now that public feedback has already come in about how to “solve some of the shortcomings of the current stadium,” with the new design to incorporate improvements in “accessibility, noise, lights, and amenities.”

A “state of the art canopy,” the flyer notes, will “curtail noise and light disruptions.”

It also says the new facility will have “beautiful plazas with significant green space for residents to enjoy year-round.”

NU’s list of stadium benefits.

Another selling point the mailers highlight is “reduced congestion.”

The new stadium will only hold 35,000 fans. That’s a drop of 12,000 seats.

Northwestern rarely sells out its football games, so a smaller, more intimate facility will make for a much more enjoyable fan experience, not to mention less traffic, which should make the neighbors happy — or perhaps less unhappy.

From NU flyer about the new stadium.

Still, giving up 12,000 seats for games which do usually sell out, such as Michigan or Ohio State, is, giving up more than $700,000 in ticket sales per full house.

On the other hand, with television revenue outstripping what’s made at the gate anyway, a jam-packed, brand-new 35,000 seat facility will look a lot better on tv than does the current place when it’s not even close to full.

Sportswriter Stewart Mandel, an NU alum with the sports journalism site The Athletic, notes that stadium downsizing has aready taken place at Stanford, TCU, and Baylor, all in the name of “improving the game day experience,” so having a smaller facility makes sense.

“You have to do that these days,” Mandel says, “to convince people to leave the comfort of their couch and their 60-inch televisions.”

The present Ryan Field will see its last football game at the end of next season.

The new stadium, to go on the same site as the current one, will also be named for university benefactors Patrick and Shirley Ryan, whose contributions will pay for much of the upcoming facility.

It’s unknown yet where the Wildcats will play their home games during new stadium construction.

It seems unlikely that concerns, even about those concerts, could derail the project.

Still, NU plans to have “listening events,” hoping to convince any skeptics that the new stadium will be “a community asset where all Evanston residents gather, connect, learn, play, and celebrate together.”

A winning football team would also help.

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