It isn’t often mentioned, but as of right now, Kenan Stadium has the fourth-highest capacity among football stadiums in the ACC that aren’t shared with professional teams, behind Clemson Memorial Stadium, Doak Walker Stadium, and Lane Stadium. Part of the reason for this is the stadium’s bleacher-style seating, which maximizes space; while two people can’t sit on a chair, it’s totally acceptable to squeeze into bleachers.
Given the struggles of last year’s team, the 63,000 available seats at Kenan Stadium were, understandably, not all taken advantage of. In an effort to improve the gameday atmosphere at UNC, which has been under fire in recent years, the University has announced that Kenan Stadium will undergo renovations to replace bleachers with individual seats everywhere except the student section.
This will cut seating by a significant amount, from approximately 63,000 seats to about 51,000, which would be on the low end of average for the ACC, a little less than Georgia Tech and a little more than Syracuse. The hope is for the stadium to exemplify the concept of quality over quantity; it’s better for game atmosphere, ideally to have fewer fans in the stadium who are happy than more fans who aren’t as stoked.
The benefits of this move are obvious: Because of an increase in the seats’ comfort, watching games at the stadium becomes a more attractive option for people at home. Watching afternoon games in the early part of the semester no longer means needing to deal with bleachers that are too hot to touch, which can only be a good thing.
The athletic department also hopes to create a less spacious crowd environment, which could increase home-field advantage due to the perception of at least a close-to-full house. The blue chair-back seats are an aesthetic improvement over bleachers as well, which hopefully won’t be noticed on game day but definitely does matter when recruits see the stadium while games aren’t going on.
There’s only really one downside to all this, and it’s kind of self-explanatory: UNC’s reported average attendance last year was 50,078 people. Next year, the Tar Heels will have two quarterbacks with starts under their belts, a host of weapons at receiver and running back, and a lot of quality starters returning on defense. They should look a lot more like Larry Fedora’s usual product than the injury-riddled squad from last season, and that should mean a decent number of wins.
Wins, of course, draw crowds, and assuming the team can bounce back, demand for tickets will be much higher than the supply. This isn’t a bad thing in and of itself; this should be true of any good team. It does feel a little artificial in this case, though, but that can’t be helped. The improved atmosphere and experience should more than make up for it.