CHAPEL HILL – UNC Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham says Fetzer Field is Carolina’s athletic facility most in need of upgrades, but money will likely be the deciding factor when it comes down to which programs see improvement first.
“Basketball is such a primary revenue driver for the department, it’s hard to not think about basketball as a way to potentially pay for additional projects,” Cunningham says. “We’re doing them in tandem, but the one I’d like to complete first would be soccer.”
Fetzer Field is the home of the men’s and women’s lacrosse teams, six track programs, and the men’s and women’s soccer teams. The facility was constructed in 1935 and saw renovations in 1988-90.
The women’s soccer team is by far the most successful Division I program as it has won 22 national titles in the sport’s 34-year history. The Tar Heels are one win away from going back to the College Cup in search of defending their national title.
The Dean E. Smith Center opened January 18, 1986 and has since seen two expansions—one in 1992 and another in 2000. Its current capacity is just less than 22,000.
Cunningham says there are still more questions than answers about what to do with the Smith Center: renovate or rebuild.
“When you begin the discussion of enhancing an existing facility—particularly a building that’s almost 30 years old—at some point, the efficiency of renovation is surpassed by a new building,” Cunningham says. “So, I think we need to look at both. It’s just too early to tell which of those potential options becomes more appealing over time.”
In March, Cunningham told WCHL that changes to the UNC basketball facility were years away and that the discussions were just beginning. Not much has changed in the eight months since word first broke that changes were coming. And, he says he wants to take the next 12 months to get the answers to what route UNC Athletics should take.
Many of the lower-level seats are reserved for season ticket holders and lifetime seat holders. Those lifetime seat holders are already major contributors to the athletic department financially and ones that could greatly benefit a new venue. But, are the Dean Dome lifetime seat holders guaranteed seats in a potential new facility?
“It’s a great question,” Cunningham says. “That is something that we have to take a look at: what are the obligations that the institution has to the donors, and what obligation do we have to new donors? So, that becomes a very significant question and challenge that we will hope to get some answers to over the next 12 months.”
If renovations are the plan of attack in the 27-year-old facility, Cunningham says one addition could be to add a type of luxury suite or club box much like the Blue Zone at Kenan Stadium.
“The suite rights for suites and club seats more than pays for the debt service,” Cunningham says. “In fact, it turns a little bit of revenue back to the general fund for the department. So, if we took that model and applied it to basketball, is there a way to create premium seating that would cover the cost of construction and then increase revenue for the department that would help us fund our other sports.”
Cunningham says that would take some revenue away from individual seats, but may offer the option to gain revenue from the space the seats took up by increased value that square footage would then have.
Cunningham says the bottom line is that no decisions are being made right now but that the athletic department is going to make sure that it can continue to recruit top players, coaches, and contributors.
“How do we preserve one of the best basketball programs in the country and put it in a facility that will continue to attract players and coaches,” Cunningham says. “That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re just trying to sort through what is appropriate right now.”