Our friend Matthew Piper at the Salt Lake Tribune wrote an excellent article on possible uprgrades to Rice-Eccles Stadium and some of the implications of stadium expansion. Rice-Eccles Stadium's maximum capacity of 45,807 is the third smallest Pac-12 Stadium, ahead of only Reser Stadium (45,674) and Martin Stadium (32,952). The demand is certainly there among fans for more seats, as evidenced by the two largest crowds in Rice-Eccles Stadium history happened during the USC (47,619) and Oregon (47,528) games last season. Many people are also on the waiting list to get season tickets as well.
Despite this demand, Piper wrote in his article that expansion is not likely to come soon. Other stadium projects, like the addition of 88 men's restroom fixtures in the stadium's north end that will be completed prior to the Sept. 3 contest against Michigan, are more pertinent than making the stadium larger. Utah athletic director Dr. Chris Hill is more concerned with providing the best experience for fans at the stadium rather than allowing more fans to attend games in person. To that end, a large video board will be installed before the 2016 season begins.
In the article, Piper suggests the next most likely candidate in the stadium for improvement is the Clark Building in the south end zone. It the only remaining part of Rice Stadium that was not torn down for Rice-Eccles Stadium that opened in 1998. The Clark Building contains the home and visitor locker rooms, maintenance rooms, public restrooms, concession stands and the seats behind the south end zone. Stadium director Mark Burk told the Tribune "At the time, they did a great job putting it in, but it's just old, old, old technology." Upgrading or replacing the Clark Building to the quality of the rest of the stadium is likely to happen after the addition of the new jumbotron. The possible plan for the Clark Building could be to rebuild it and in the process close off the bowl.
While the demand is there from fans, Dr. Hill has been hesitant to expand Rice-Eccles Stadium. Having high demand for tickets is a good problem to have because it assures revenue will come in from tickets. One way to look at not expanding the stadium is there more revenue that could be generated that Utah is losing out on. The stadium would certainly sell out for games against Michigan, Utah State, Arizona State, and UCLA this season even with a greatly increased capacity. More seats could also offer the ability to sell single game tickets to big games (like Michigan) for an extra profit. The worry is that by expanding the stadium, the cost may not be offset from increased ticket sales, especially if the expanded stadium fails to sell out consistently. After two consecutive losing seasons, Dr. Hill was likely worried about losing some fan support, but a resurgent 2014 season has really brought stadium expansion back into focus.
Personally, I am a fan of expanding the capacity of Rice-Eccles, but I would like to see it done through donations. The University of Washington competed a $280 million renovation of Husky Stadium starting in 2011 entirely using donated funds. I understand Dr. Hill's skepticism about expanding the stadium. The athletic department has a finite budget, and there is risk expanding the stadium if fan support falls. A question to ask ourselves is if we really want a larger capacity Rice-Eccles Stadium how can we convince Dr. Hill to make it happen? My best guess is through donations earmarked for a stadium expansion. The crowds at Rice-Eccles Stadium are always raucous, especially for big games, so I imagine Utah would have an even better home field advantage if they played in a stadium that could hold 55,000 fans or more. Utah could move into the top half of the conference by expanding Rice-Eccles Stadium to over 56,037 (the listed capacity of Arizona Stadium). While expanding the stadium is not likely to happen, fan support through donation would likely go a long way towards making many fans' dream into a reality.
If you are interested in what developments are likely going to happen to Rice-Eccles Stadium, I highly recommend reading the full article from the Matthew Piper at the Salt Lake Tribune which can be found here.