Neal Milner: Post-pandemic UH football stadium means stifling aspirations

“Aloha, and welcome to Party Planner Stadium.”

How did University of Hawaii football go from a state-of-the-art 1975 stadium to a desperately cobbled-together new site on campus so small that game day could be handled by a party planner?

It’s the building. Instead of building a suitable stadium in Honolulu, we built a generic 1970s stadium on the Mainland Major Sports Venue Ball Park, like the brand new stadiums in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and that icy tombstone Candlestick Park in San Francisco. No sense of community, just ugly containers of very many seats.

It’s a matter of form. The mistake was that it was a generic design for a location that is not generic.

The basic idea of ​​Aloha Stadium was wrong because it got the city wrong. He also got it wrong in UH ​​football because he didn’t see what college football was becoming.

Trying to copy the big boys worked for a while, with big crowds for UH football. But once professional baseball moved from the old stadium in Honolulu to Aloha Stadium, the team went from America’s top minor league franchise to goodbye Hawaii.

And then the dream of football in a big stadium and a full stadium came to a sad, but absolutely predictable end.

Honolulu Stadium, the city’s premier outdoor sports and entertainment venue from 1926 to the early 1970s, has successfully adapted. It was an old-fashioned stadium for an old-fashioned city.

Honolulu stadium stories describe its intimate, funky comfort. Sportscaster Al Michaels, who broadcast Hawaii Islanders games before they got big, called the stadium “Brooklyn of the Tropics” and compared it to Ebbets Field. Hawaiiana Internet Forums often mention memories of surviving fans.

The Aloha Stadium model was definitely anti-Ebbets, post-Ebbets. It was the LA Dodgers rather than the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Aloha Stadium was designed as a new school stadium for a new school town.

Honolulu has definitely become a different city than it was in 1974, or even 1984 for that matter.

It’s busier, and there’s, for better or worse, more things to do, often with less time to do them. More choice, more complexity, more hassle, more sprawl.

In some ways, Aloha Stadium was designed with this in mind. Its location is totally car-oriented, right in the middle of the island. It had a big box corporate sports feel.

A perfect venue, it was thought, for University of Hawaii football to compete with the college big boys.

Instead, it has been far from perfect. The theory behind the stadium did not take into consideration some other parts of urbanization unique to Honolulu which work against the success of this type of stadium.

Aloha Stadium was built in a time of huge concrete football stadiums that are now long gone. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Hawaii’s history with televised sports is very different from that of the mainland. When I moved to Honolulu in 1972, cable was still not available in the back of Manoa where I lived. Live televised sports were new here long after they were available in the rest of the country.

People here today not only have more alternatives but – think of your own hectic weekends – less time to spend on a college football experience that starts early in the afternoon and ends late in the evening. evening. And of course, there’s pay-per-view for UH games.

The University of Hawaii is at its heart an urban suburban university, but college football is not an urban spectator sport.

With few exceptions, major football programs are held in college towns. Only three of the 10 largest cities in the United States have significant college football programs.

One of those three exceptions, the University of Houston, which most closely resembles the UH curriculum, has seen huge declines in attendance. In 2019, HU attendance averaged about 25,000, not very different from our 20,000 HU the same year when the Rainbow Warriors had a stellar 10-5 record.

It became much harder for UH to become one of the big boys than it was when Aloha Stadium was built. The income disparity between power conferences – you couldn’t choose a more appropriate name – and the rest, like the Mountain West Conference, has grown and will grow.

Economically, the system is rigged to make the haves richer and the have-nots poorer. For life.

Even though everything else had worked well with the Aloha stadium – the rustproofing hadn’t caused any rust, the movable seats had actually moved, the repairs had been done on time, the arrangement between the stadium authority and the university had not been master and slave – the changes in both the city and football would have doomed Aloha Stadium.

And now? What does the state do at this crucial stage when Aloha Stadium is closed and officials are somehow planning a new venue to replace it?

Should the new stadium be more intimate and more integrated into the community? This is the trend in Major League Baseball. Each of the cities that built those awful Aloha-Stadium-like venues replaced them with smaller venues that are so consciously intimate and old school that you’d expect Liberace to lead us in the national anthem.

I’ve been to games at some. They are tall. But they are only for baseball. These cities built separate, much larger football stadiums.

Major professional and college football went totally the other way. The power conference giants have grown even bigger.

Arthur Daemmrich, director of the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention at the Smithsonian Institute, recently wrote about the design of what he calls “post-pandemic stages.”

He said that after being locked up and isolated by watching small screens, people will be more willing to return to the first-hand experiences and crowds that stadiums provide, a sort of model of Aloha Stadium in reverse.

It will be a special type of stadium – one that “will feature even greater community integration and the design of flexible spaces to support a more individualized and mobile experience”.

It sounds vaguely like what the planners are talking about here. The proposed size corresponds to a stadium with 30,000 to 35,000 seats. We talk about how it would be linked to the community.

The fact is that these ideas are even less developed than they were a few years ago. What we know of the stadium plan raises red flags.

This would involve a public-private partnership where the private company would build the stadium in exchange for the right to develop housing on this currently large and isolated Aloha Stadium parking lot.

From what we currently know, this all sounds too much like a government handout, and the developers’ ideas about integrating the stadium with other surrounding activities sounds too much like an excuse for more touristic development.

And who knows if it will ever be built? We are still living with the effects of rail trauma. The dipsy scrawls on the stadium over the past few years give little reason to believe it will get any better.

File photo of UH vs. UNLV at Aloha Stadium.  ALOHA STADIUM, HONOLULU, HAWAII.  photo CORY LUM/ CIVIL BEAT
People may be looking for a different kind of live sports experience in the post-pandemic era. Cory Lum / Civil Beat

You might be able to see your second-year granddaughter land a kick for the Rainbow Warriors at the new stadium, but you’ll probably have to drive.

But here’s the thing: a small stadium, no matter how cool and friendly, means people here have to readjust their aspirations for UH football.

Even if all goes well, UH football will not live up to the claims that were attached to it when Aloha Stadium was the venue.

The new size will be much smaller than the average NCAA D-1 football stadium, and there with a bunch of teams that are sometimes good but never make it big.

Iron Fist of Sports Economics from television networks and power conferences will make UH athletics a losing proposition, just as it does at nearly every school in the country.

UH football fans, here’s a new take on football in Post-Pandemic Stadium. UH football attendance has fallen to just over 20,000. That will be half at best until a new stadium opens.

So let’s assume that ultimately, somewhere, post-pandemic stage attendance will average around 22,000.

That’s about what Old Honolulu Stadium got on a good day of football and about halfway between a post-pandemic packed house and a crowded Party Planner stadium.

Limbo Bowl rather than Rose Bowl. Ball State rather than Ohio State.

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