CORVALLIS: Steve Fenk retired last year. The former Oregon State associate athletic director has a boat, loves the open sea, and I thought I’d go fishing on Saturday.
“You don’t fish,” he told me, “too rough.”
The state of Oregon fished alone Saturday. The Beavers turned Fenk’s former office on the second floor of the Gill Coliseum into a virtual reality studio. They engraved “Completing Reser Stadium Experience Center” on the frosted glass of the door. Behind it are VR headsets, four leather recliners and an HD projection screen that is used to sell high-end donors in premium seating experiences in the upcoming $ 152 million Reser Stadium renovation.
“You don’t have to imagine it,” athletic director Scott Barnes said. “That makes it tangible.”
Oregon State beat Idaho 42-0 at Reser Stadium. I also found it tangible. The Beavers were dominant and improved to 2-1, above 500 for the first time in Jonathan Smith’s tenure. But the quiet troll behind the wooden and frosted glass door of that old office was just as big.
Seven appointments were booked on Saturday (30 minutes each). Ashton Miller, who heads OSU’s premium sales team, recounted an extensive advertising video with great moments from Oregon State’s football past. Miller then gave cozy groups of VIP donors a video tour of the project.
Near the end, Miller picked up some virtual reality headphones and said, “Use them and take a look.”
I couldn’t help but think of the correlation between Smith’s trajectory and the enthusiasm with which Oregon State is busy selling the new stadium experience. The Beavers will level the west side of the Reser Stadium at the end of this football stadium and instead build a stadium experience that they believe is unmatched in the Pac-12 Conference.
Yes, more elegant than any Autzen Stadium.
Some points of sale:
♦ Premium seats at Reser Stadium will be closest to the conference field, located 100 feet from the playing field.
♦ “Beaver Street” will be a fan-friendly cityscape built inside the stadium that will offer concessions, field views and a 360-degree enclosure.
♦ “Living Room Boxes” and “Loge Boxes” will give fans in groups of four seats the opportunity to enjoy a game with leather seats, personal TVs, storage and digital concession service in their box. There are also club seats and a founder’s box with marble floors, a dark wood bar and a high-end restaurant.
The cost of premium seats?
Oregon State will not say. I asked on Saturday and the room administrators mostly looked at my shoes, murmured and told me they would look for me again. It made me think they would sell it so they could get it. It won’t be cheap either.
On Saturday, it became apparent that the State of Oregon is using the new VIP seating options to generate gifts and commitments for the football stadium project. Also, it is clear that they keep the guest list short as they feel interested donors.
I have long criticized the state of Oregon for making small plans. The Beavers have played not to lose at times. But this is not one of them. Barnes and his team take a shot at the Moon. They may play a beacon on the climb, but I’m fine with that because the stadium project fits in very well with the encouraging trajectory of Smith’s program.
The Beavers have two wins and nine conference games on the calendar. Smith’s team will only need four more wins to be eligible for the first time since Mike Riley left. Do it and the rubble outside the home football stadium this summer will look like less debris and more of a hopeful new start.
Flop and it will be a tough sale, right?
Oregon State football players stand on the sidelines, facing the view of the 1950s style that is the old west side of Reser Stadium. For years, I’ve been wondering about the psychological impact of this. Now, I’m interested to see if OSU’s home stadium can help change the athletic department’s narrative to a more vibrant one.
I sat down in the leather seats. I put on my headset. I looked around the stadium and saw Beavers football players on the field and VR families in the stands, and if I reached over my right shoulder I could press a button that would summon service to my seat.
I grabbed that button on Saturday.
I had an air fist. But the Beavers are looking for something bigger.
Last year we heard a lot about deficits and budget cuts. Fenk’s departure from that office was a disturbing development, as it marked the end of a remarkable career for a gifted administrator. It was well seen and tuned. Oregon State did not cede office to a substitute. In fact, it has not replaced it at all.
Instead, in the midst of a pandemic that caused a $ 55 million deficit in the athletic department’s budget, they have decided to try to take a renewed hat off the hat. They now use advanced technology to fill the seats and make the project sing. And I hope they pull it off.
Saturday’s game was great for OSU’s final result.
The Beavers put up 440 offensive yards and didn’t let Idaho score. It was a knockout victory over a Big Sky Conference rival. Smith shook hands with Idaho coaches in midfield and then brought his team to the locker room. But it was the second floor of Gill College, across the street asking me about the last gun.
“All I can control is what we do here,” Smith told me from his side of the street. “But yes, these things are connected.
“Winning here and winning there makes it a little easier.”
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