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O/NSO: Helton/Swann talk restoration edition

By Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com

The Obvious: As USC Trojans fans rejoiced over Thursday night’s first-round selection of former corner/ special teams extraordinaire, Adoree’ Jackson, by the Tennessee Titans, Trojans season tickets holders were still abuzz this week regarding a recently received Coliseum restoration email update and video, which featured head coach Clay Helton and athletic director Lynn Swann. The widely viewed video highlighted the glorious history of the Coliseum and, more importantly, confirming general information rumors and innuendos regarding the Coliseum renovation.

The Not So Obvious: For his video part, Helton reviewed the grand history of the Grand Old Lady, mentioning a resume that includes a World Series, Super Bowls, a mass by the pope, the Olympics, and, of course, the legendary USC football program. Helton said, “Now this beauty is due for a glorious update, and we look forward to having your help to get this done. This is one of the hardest places to play in college football because it houses our Trojan family and Trojan fans. We look forward to you helping us create a beautiful structure that will live forever.”

The O/NSO says: As if Clay Helton isn’t under enough pressure to win games, he’ll need consistent, championship football by his teams to justify the expected future increases in ticket prices and suite revenue generated by the new renovations. When Helton concluded with “We look forward to you helping us create a beautiful structure that will live forever,” it would be safe to say that a good number of Trojans fans might question or argue that the Coliseum they would create would be drastically different than the current plans being presented.

The Obvious: In the video’s transition from Clay Helton to Lynn Swann, there are game highlights including the electrifying 51-yard touchdown run against Notre Dame by tailback Ronald Jones ll, and exciting TD passes from quarterback Sam Darnold to Deontay Burnett (Oregon) and tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe (Colorado).

The Not So Obvious: While Clay Helton was historian and cheerleader for his part in the video, a businesslike Lynn Swann appeared in an athletic department office with an artist’s rendition of a renovated Coliseum in the background. Swann began by saying that construction will begin in earnest immediately following the 2017 football season. He then proceeded to inform the masses that in the coming days they will receive “a guide, which will detail the forthcoming re-seating of the Coliseum.”

The O/NSO says: While Swann wasn’t specific on costs, the “guide” figures to be one piece of potentially heated literature, especially if it is accompanied by specific financial numbers that could impact season ticket holders.

The Obvious: Sensing some of the questions from season ticket holders beforehand, Lynn Swann was direct in foreshadowing controversial season ticket relocations and displacements.

The Not So Obvious: Swann acknowledged the longtime, generous support by USC season ticket holders and said, “We pledge we will do our utmost to make this process as fair as possible.” Wearing a cardinal shirt with a USC Trojans logo, Swann also acknowledged that “many season ticket holders have had the same seats for years and have become close friends to those sitting near you and don’t want anything to change, but unfortunately the change will come.”

The O/NSO says: Trojans fans will be waiting to see what “fair as possible” means. There figures to be some hurt feelings by those forced to remove themselves from their longtime Trojans seating “community friends.” This also figures to potentially be a public relations challenge. Of course, even if you have the money to theoretically maintain your current seats, that doesn’t mean that your friends will have the funds to remain in the “community.” At least Swannie was upfront with the confirmation of the grim news. Unsaid was specifically where current season ticket holders who sit on the press box side of the Coliseum will be relocated if they can’t afford or won’t purchase a “tower” option.

The Obvious: USC’s athletic department is aware that these seating changes will not be met by with a consensus of resounding happiness by season ticket holders.

The Not So Obvious: Lynn Swann says, “Our collective goal is to provide the best fan experience in college sports now and into the future – period.” Swann made a special point of saying that the Coliseum has not received any real renovation since the 1994 earthquake retrofit and renovation is long overdue. He also boasted in this segment that the Coliseum will also be welcoming the to-be-constructed George Lucas Museum along with the under-construction new soccer stadium, once the longtime home of the Sports Arena. Swann also pointed out that none of the new structures have the “historical significance of the Coliseum.”

The O/NSO says: I was a bit surprised that Swann threw the George Lucas Museum and the new soccer stadium into the presentation. Of course, nothing was mentioned regarding how the two new facilities would affect parking either separately or collectively.

The Obvious: When the Coliseum renovation is completed, Lynn Swann said the reduction in Coliseum capacity would be around 20 percent.

The Not So Obvious: As a result of renovation, Swann said the Coliseum will reduce seating capacity from 94,000 to 77,500.

The O/NSO says: With the upcoming reduced capacity of seats, it’s hard to imagine that a majority of Trojan football games won’t be sellouts. However, how to do you make up for the revenue for lost seats? The O/NSO knows what you’re thinking – raise ticket prices. And think about how tough in the future it will be to purchase a ticket be for a UCLA, Notre Dame, or big non-conference home game?

The Obvious: There has been much fear and consternation regarding the possibility of a seat license for season ticket holders.

The Not So Obvious: The new seating reduction, according to Swann, will require a one-time “restoration gift.” Most of you would call that a “seat license,” but it wouldn’t be a yearly fee. The good news is that Swannie did add that two-thirds of the Coliseum will not require a one-time “restoration gift.”

The O/NSO says: Okay, a “restoration gift” is a one-time deal, so it isn’t technically a seat license. You can, however, imagine what a kind of money we’re talking about if it’s just one time and a “gift.” The problem is for those that can’t afford the financial “gift” and where will their seats be moved? That could really bring some resentment. That’s a lot of loyal folks being moved and like everything else, the only way to offset a radical seat move would be to cough up the bucks.  

The Obvious: And finally, Lynn Swann’s final message was of keeping fan unity in the face of change.

The Not So Obvious: Swann said, “We are all in this together. Every Trojans fund member and season ticket holder will go through an individual re-seating process that will take place over the next 15 months. The construction of the new Scholarship Club Tower and removal and replacement of seats throughout the bowl necessitates this re-seat. We deeply appreciate all you have done to make USC one of the nation’s preeminent sports programs. With your continued support and commitment, we have every reason to expect our rich heritage to continue well into the future.

“Over the next 15 months, a member of the Trojans athletic fund’s staff will personally reach out to you to begin reviewing seating options. Rest assured, every member and season ticket holder will be given ample time to make an informed decision. We believe it’s a family’s responsibility to take care of its home. We hope you will join us in taking care of our home as one Trojan family together.”

The O/NSO says: I know one thing, I sure wouldn’t want to be one of the USC ticket reps that calls season tickets holders regarding seating and relocating “options.” One can imagine those reps doing a lot of role playing with each other before they officially start dialing up season ticket phone numbers. But then again, maybe there won’t be a backlash, especially if the Trojans can make a run at a national title. Winning cures everything, right?

Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.

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