Lewis: Yulman Stadium’s likely a gamble, but a good one

A dust storm, followed by rain showers, followed by bright sunshine.

“Well, folks wanted us to provide the outdoor football experience,” Tulane Athletic Director Rick Dickson said Friday as all of the above occurred during a media tour of Yulman Stadium, the school’s new football home. “So here it is.”

Actually, the dust storm was courtesy of the swirling winds kicking up dirt at the stadium’s construction site. It is scheduled to open this fall and could carry a final price tag of $80 million.

So maybe that should be taken as a sign of progress.

The rain, sunshine (at least the pre-shower mugginess didn’t return) and all other weather conditions are things folks will have to get used to as Green Wave football returns to campus and the great outdoors for the first time in 40 years. Playing in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome will tend to spoil people for not having to deal with the elements.

“I’d rather be in the Superdome,” one fan said back in 2002 when the Wave played the first of five games at Tad Gormley Stadium, designed to measure interest in a change of venue. “I’d be in the Westfeldt Club having a beer and roast beef sandwich.”

Those fans still in want of such creature comforts will still have that opportunity in the Glazer Family Club, which will provide climate-controlled seating for premium donors, and the Westfeldt Terrace, which will give fans a choice of inside or outside viewing areas, much like suites in the Superdome.

And many of the other outside seating areas come with access to New Orleans-themed concessions, which are a decided upgrade from the standard popcorn, peanuts and hot dogs.

In fact, the focus of the stadium is on amenities, not capacity, which ranges from 22,000 to 30,000 depending on who’s doing the counting.

Which, in Tulane’s case, is smart thinking.

Those inclined to support the Wave these days tend to be folks who are willing to pay extra for things like chairback seats over bleachers and reserved parking.

So they’re the initial target audience, just as is the case for any college or pro team.

Second comes an emphasis on the students, who are notorious for their nonsupport of all Tulane sports, but whose presence is vital — not just for the spirit they can provide, but because they are future alumni.

They’ll have a special entrance on the Reily Center side of the stadium, where their seating is located, and Dickson and other school officials said they are working hard to get the students to embrace the gameday experience. Good luck with that.

The average fan — especially those whose support has waned if not disappeared over years marked mostly by lack of success — is a tougher sell. So the 12,000 seats that do not require a donation should more than suffice for now, although Dickson said almost 1,000 season tickets in those areas have been sold in the first week they were offered.

That’s why the stadium’s exact seating capacity is irrelevant. It’s going to take sustained winning to reconnect with a community that’s largely moved on to other interests.

And even then the numbers likely will never be what they were back in the day.

But even those who long for the days of old 80,000-seat Tulane Stadium are going to be impressed with a modern facility that’s anything but bare-bones.

The important thing is that, for the first time since back in the day, Tulane has a stadium to call its own.

It’s hardly remembered now, but Tulane’s support was vital in building the Superdome.

But the Dome increasingly became the domain of the Saints — so much so that Tom Benson donated $5 million to help facilitate the Wave’s move to another facility.

“Tulane is rebuilding its brand,” Chicago-based sports consultant Mark Ganis said. “It helps with their students.

“It helps with recruiting. It just helps with everything.”

While the difficulty in raising the funds and the logistics of trying to squeeze a stadium into such a compact space are valid reasons not to have left the Dome, there’s no doubt that Yulman Stadium will truly belong to Tulane and no one else.

From the tunnel where the team will pass a glass-front, bunker-style viewing area to the pregame gathering area for alumni to the 94-by-124-foot LED video screen, Yulman Stadium is going to be all about the Wave.

To be sure, questions remain.

Parking is going to be a problem. Tulane Stadium had none, but the surrounding neighborhood was accommodating.

Game days for Tulane, the Saints and the Sugar Bowl meant paying to park in other people’s driveways and partying before and after the games. It was tailgating before they called it tailgating.

How many of the NIMBYs who fought the new stadium are going to be as hospitable as their predecessors were? School officials are hoping that after a year or so they’ll come around.

Much of the other on-campus parking is so far away that trams would be advisable to give folks a lift. And the logistics of the satellite lots are sure to need tweaking.

Also, Tulane hasn’t had to manage all aspects of a football game in four decades. There are bound to be glitches.

The ad campaign promises that “You’ll Love Yulman Stadium.”

Will you really?

Give it time, and you probably will.