ASU ups ‘arms race’ with Wells Fargo reno, hockey arena


Arizona State University has again upped the ante in the escalating facilities ‘arms race’ that has become a necessity in college athletics.  The Pac-12 school just announced a major renovation to Wells Fargo Arena and the construction of a sports complex to house its new hockey team.

Recruiting top-tier athletes requires wooing them with top-tier athletic facilities.  And in recent years, that challenge has been heating up to not only provide an advantage for in-state recruiting, but also because ASU and University of Arizona must also keep up with the other programs in the Pac-12 and those across the country in the other Power 5 conferences.

This latest wave of competition through spending seems to have started in 2012, when ASU announced it was getting ready to renovate its football stadium that was built back in 1958, calling it the “reinvention of Sun Devil Stadium.”  That project, which cost close to $300 million, was done in stages until reaching final completion in time for the 2017 season.

Not to be undone, a couple of years later the Wildcats kicked off their own major renovation of their football facilities.  That expansion of Arizona Stadium added 187,000 square feet dedicated to the football operations.

The Wildcats had already taken a big step in 2012 to improve their baseball program, moving their team into the city-owned Hi Corbett Field, giving the Cats a professional-quality facility that had been used for major league spring training and minor league games.

And since then, both schools have continued to add projects or make moves that they feel are necessary to be able to compete successfully in today’s increasingly competitive college sports world.  In order to do that, they first have to attract the kind of talent needed to continue building their national profiles.  Top-flight facilities are a major draw for today’s youngsters.

ASU took a big step to improve its baseball program by moving into a Major League ballpark just a few miles from campus.  Rather than undergo a costly renovation of Packard Stadium, the on-campus home of the Sun Devils for almost 40 years, the team grabbed an opportunity to enter a lease arrangement to play at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, which was being vacated by the Athletics when they moved to Hohokam Stadium in Mesa.  The move doubled the seating capacity of Packard and became an impressive recruiting tool.

A year or so after ASU announced the baseball team’s move, Arizona was beginning renovations on McKale Center, where the men’s and women’s basketball teams hold court.  That $30 million project added new seating, a new floor, and an enlarged video screen — all eye candy for new recruiting prospects.

In 2016, an anonymous UofA donor gave a $1 million pledge to use with additional matching gifts to be able to make more renovations to the Hi Corbett Stadium, and last year Cleveland Indians manager Tony Francona, an Arizona alum, added another $1 million pledge so the school could build a new hitting facility.

And last February, ASU installed a new five-camera video system at Muni that would give baseball players and coaches access to a new coaching tool they could use at the park or on their phones.  Today’s recruits love new technology.

Then, toward the end of the summer, Arizona made another major commitment to the arms race.  The Tucson school announced it will spend $37 million on infrastructure work on the football stadium and Hillendbrand Aquatic Center, $18 million to build an indoor baseball practice facility/fan-engagement center in the old Kindall-Sancet Stadium, and $8 million to refurbish the softball stadium.

And now it’s ASU’s turn to get out the hammers and shovels.  The renovation of the 43-year-old Wells Fargo Arena and sports complex that will adjoin it on the east side is a $160 million project that won’t begin construction until about this time next year.  The plans have been reviewed and approved by the Board of Regents, but still must be presented next month to the full board.

Wells Fargo is where the men’s and women’s basketball, as well as several other sports, play.  The new project will renovate the entire lower bowl, adding upgrades to the concessions and restroom facilities and also adding up to 300 club seats and another 48 loge seats.

The indoor sports complex will be used for ice hockey, but also for gymnastics and wrestling.  In November of 2014, ASU announced the addition of ice hockey as an NCAA Division I sport. which was made possible when a group of boosters put together a $32 million package donation to be used as seed money to get the program started.

The team, in its second season of D-I play, has been renting ice time at the Oceanside Ice Arena near campus, but needs seating to accommodate more than the 1,000 fans Oceanside can currently provide.  Plans for the new on-campus arena show it will include seating for 5,000.

ASU officials hope to begin work on both projects by February, 2019, with work on the sports complex completed by the summer of 2020, and the Wells Fargo renovations a year later.