Imagine the seats of Tiger Stadium as a checkerboard.
Small patches of grouped people. Some sitting alone. Six-foot gaps of empty space in between.
That’s a rough mental picture of what LSU’s seating arrangement at 25% capacity will be this season.
The university announced the reduced capacity Wednesday in its new procedures and guidelines, which include similar COVID-19 limitations as Southeastern Conference schools and also bans tailgating on campus.
Single-game tickets won’t be available for purchase when LSU opens the season by hosting Mississippi State at 2:30 p.m. Sept. 26. The estimated 25,000 people will mostly be made up of season-ticket holders and students.
Where exactly will everyone sit?
Brian Broussard, LSU’s assistant athletics director over ticket operations, said an exact plan will be put together once Friday’s deadline passes for season-ticket holders to opt out this season.
As the numbers stand right now, the LSU ticket office will have to make some cuts to get down to 25%.
So far, Broussard said, over 63% of season-ticket holders have opted out. LSU has said those who opt out will still be able to retain their seats for 2021. That doesn’t necessarily mean LSU will have to slash 12% of season-ticket holders if more don’t opt out by Friday.
The total seating number includes students, ticket allocations for coaches and players, plus the SEC-limit 500 tickets for the visiting school. LSU normally holds 2,000 seats in the south end zone for visitors, Broussard said, which means the athletic department can use some of that area to space out its home fans.
And, as more submissions for season-ticket opt outs continue to trickle in, it’s difficult for Broussard to estimate just how many tickets will still be on the books this weekend. Season-ticket holders vary in the number of tickets they actually receive. Some paid for one ticket. Some as many as 10.
The situation is “still fluid,” Broussard said, and he’s hoping they’ll have spots available for everyone when the deadline passes.
“Obviously if you have two tickets,” he added, “your chances of getting two are better obviously than if you have 10 in getting all 10.”
Broussard, an LSU graduate and 18-year veteran as the athletic department’s ticket manager, is in the unenviable position of being the overseer of the proverbial football ticket chopping block.
The capacity limited resulted from conversations between the governor’s office, LSU leadership and public health officials. The loss of ticket revenue will be a substantial blow to LSU’s athletic budget, which pulled in $36.3 million in ticket sales in Fiscal 2019.
Athletic director Scott Woodward told WNXX-FM, 104.5 that Tiger Stadium’s capacity was not dictated by Louisiana’s re-opening phases. It was a “one-off,” a unique circumstance that depended on what public health officials said.
LSU was the 12th SEC team to announce its stadium capacity, and Broussard’s staff will have two weeks to finalize a plan before the season begins. He said it likely will take all of next week to complete arrangements, and it’s possible fans won’t know a full layout until the week of the Mississippi State game.
“We’re asking for a little patience,” Broussard said, “because we’re working through everything.”
A basic outline exists. LSU worked with architects, who digitally graphed Tiger Stadium to measure how many seats and how many rows of space must be sectioned off in order to uphold the six-foot standard for social distance between groups.
People who share the same season tickets will be grouped together. The distance, vertically (by row) and horizontally (by seat) between groups of people will vary throughout the stadium.
In older parts of Tiger Stadium, Broussard said, there will be a space of two rows between groups. For example, someone could sit in Row 1, and someone else could sit in Row 4. In those sections, there will be three seats between groups.
Club areas have more space, and Broussard said they’ll only have to skip one row there.
“I know there’s misconceptions,” Broussard said. “We’re not going to just be able to (say): 25,000 — they can both fit on both sidelines and we’re done. It’s not like that. We have to physically distance every grouping of seats.”
The student section won’t have general admission seating, as it normally does. Broussard said LSU is still finalizing plans to space students out in small groups in which they can possible be with one or two classmates.
Interim LSU president Tom Galligan told reporters Wednesday that students will have to prove they tested negative for COVID-19 to enter, in a program that will be finalized later.
Broussard said there will be more event management staffing to enforce the seating arrangements. LSU is considering blocking off areas with wraps and locking the bottoms of chairback seats from pulling down.
LSU officials said their first steps of enforcement will involve education and reminders. The force of enforcement will increase afterward, although Galligan wasn’t specific with details.
“If we have to enforce it, our first enforcement measures will be gentle and persuasive,” Galligan said Wednesday. “If we have to be more forceful, we will. But I hope we don’t.”
LSU could increase, or decrease, its stadium capacity if public health trends change. Because of the fluctuation, Broussard said LSU is sending out tickets week to week, instead of sending season-ticket holders all of their tickets at the start of the season.
If stadium capacity never changes, seats won’t likely change. If capacity shrinks, more cuts will need to be made. If capacity expands, Broussard said LSU could use a “pod” seating arrangement that would link multiple groups together in individual patches of the stadium. Two groups of two could be linked into a group of four, and so on.
For now, Broussard only has to focus on this particular Tiger Stadium checkerboard.