January 26, 2021 • Athletic AdministrationFacilitiesFootball

South Alabama’s Changing the Gameday Experience

The first-ever football game played in the newly-built Hancock Whitney Stadium at the University of South Alabama, in Mobile, had all the bells and whistles the Jaguars’ athletic department felt their fans and players deserved. 

For the roughly 6,000 fans who were in attendance for the September 12th showdown between Tulane and USA, they were treated to a top-notch pregame show — complete with fireworks and a light show powered by Musco LED lighting, and a live stream feed showing the team’s entrance to the field from their gameday locker room on their brand-new video board. And though the limited in-person attendance muted a stadium opening that could hold approximately 25,000 people, those in attendance could enjoy the game in a variety of ways at a variety of price points. 

south alabama
Photo: South Alabama Athletics

“While you would think the atmosphere would be less, it felt completely the opposite. When the fireworks went off and the team taking the field, the Musco lights were pulsating, flashing, and twinkling,” Jermaine Williams, USA assistant AD and facilities director, said. “Seeing all that for the first it was loud. It really added some splash and pizzazz.”

When South Alabama began the planning of a new stadium back in 2015 through the time they broke ground back in August 2018, they envisioned a social stadium. But they never envisioned the stadium debuting during such a socially-distant time. 

“We were very mindful to create a stadium that would provide social interaction at a wide variety of price points,” said Joel Erdmann, director of athletics for the Sun Belt-West Conference member school. “I think we were successful at doing that.” 

Erdmann noted that a group of school administrators, trustees, and engineers visited a handful of stadiums to get an idea of what they wanted and didn’t want out of its new stadium. The result, he said, is the culmination of some of the best amenities from the stadiums they visited. 

Of the 25,000 or so Hancock Whitney Stadium can hold, fans can access one of its 11 suits or 42 loge boxes, choose from bench seating or premium chairback options, have the choice of 95 concession stands, or congregate and socialize in the Michelob Ultra Terrace — an open-area concept with several rows of walk-up drink rails that offers an intimate and immersive view of the game from field level of Abraham A. Mitchell Field, an astroturf surface.  

south alabama
Photo: South Alabama Athletics

“The terrace can target basically general admission and students. It can also be segmented into areas of the terrace to serve groups of 100 or 300 for in-game events,” Erdmann said. “We believe through that design we’re serving the people who love football, and other customers who love the gameday atmosphere, but also want to walk around and have fun. I think we hit the mark in that area.”

Above the Michelob Ultra Terrace in the south end of the stadium is where the crown jewel of Hancock Whitney resides — its state-of-the-art video board. With the Daktronics high-definition video board, coupled with Daktronics HD sound system and built-in fireworks housing units, South Alabama now boasts a tech-savvy stadium on par with the best in the country.  

“Take the video board aspect with the sound system and fireworks and as much as we’d like to have the social interaction that the stadium was built for — once we get that back — the fan engaging, customer-friendly stadium we built will be second to none,” Williams said. 

As for the locker rooms, the Jaguars opted away from a competitive edge by installing what Erdmann described as “one of the nicest visiting locker rooms at all levels.” While the home team gameday locker rooms are spacious, clean, and contemporary, the visiting team’s locker rooms are equally that. The reason? South Alabama recently entered into a 10-year relationship to host the Senior Bowl — continuing a tradition that was previously held at nearby Ladd-Peeples Stadium, a municipal stadium that’s located nine miles from campus. 

The addition of the $78 million stadium not only will bring more people on campus, but solidifies the commitment for the Jaguars football program — which has only been around since 2009. 

“I think it makes a loud statement about our serious intent and believe in the football program,” Erdmann said. “It means support of not only the football program but also the athletic program as a whole. And on an even larger scale, it speaks to the continuing evolution and development of the University of South Alabama. We think Hancock Whitney Stadium is going to serve many different groups and bring many people to our beautiful campus. Our gameday atmosphere is going to be as good as it gets.”

All that’s left is to get back to normal and pack the stadium come next fall.