In fact, 16 of the 20 most valuable teams have undergone major stadium expansions and renovations over the past 10 years, and three others have renovation plans in the works. Premium seating has proved to be a valuable revenue stream that was non-existent at the time most aging college stadiums were constructed. Ohio State (Ohio Stadium) and the University of Tennessee (Neyland Stadium), for example, added 81 and 78 suites, respectively, in recent years. Both stadiums opened in the 1920s, predating even the forward pass.
For programs like the University of Michigan, with a stadium capacity of 107,501, the largest in the country, luxury suites are a much more feasible way to increase stadium revenue than building another crowded upper deck. The 31 largest college stadiums, on average, already have 11,000 more seats than a typical NFL stadium.
One of the strongest links tying the college and professional football in recent years has been corporate sponsorships. Both PepsiCo's Gatorade brand and apparel maker Under Armour use images of college and professional football side-by-side in commercials, leaving some to wonder whether Steve Spurrier's day job is to be the head coach of South Carolina or team click-clack. Gatorade sponsors five of the six major college athletic conferences, as well as the NFL, while sister company Pepsi Bottling Group is in its third year of a 10-year, $27 million deal with the University of Florida.
College programs have taken other pages from the NFL's playbook, but not without adding their own touch. Take seat licensing and naming rights. The University of Tennessee raised $16 million of the $21.2 million contributed to the Volunteer Athletic & Scholarship Fund in the last fiscal year through reservation fees for football tickets.
While college stadiums have historically been named after the team, school or home state, companies are now taking a prominent role. Look no further than the Papa John's Cardinal Stadium at the University of Louisville, named after the eponymous pizza company following a contribution by its founder. And there's the University of Minnesota's future home, TCF Bank Stadium.
New television arrangements will only further drive up college football team values in the future. Following the NFL's lead, the Big Ten Conference launched its own network this summer, the first cable outlet to reach 30 million homes in its first 30 days on air, despite charging carriers as much as $1 per subscriber. Big 12 Conference institutions will see a $16 million boast in TV revenue next year from existing deals with Fox Sports Net, owned by News Corp., and ESPN/ABC, owned by Walt Disney Co., with some schools projected to make as much as $10 million in 2008, based on their number of TV appearances and scheduling.