SAN DIEGO – JD Wicker stands at the helm of one of the biggest parties in the country. What else would you call San Diego State’s new stadium, which is the latest lob pass equivalent of a slam-dunk entry into the Pac-12?
On its best day, which is estimated to be every game day, college football is almost a sideshow at the new Snapdragon Stadium. The main event is a craft brew-infused vibe well-crafted by San Diego State’s athletic director.
Aztecs coach Brady Hoke said, “There are more bars in that stadium than in most cities.”
That’s not entirely the reason San Diego State enters 2023 as the next hottest candidate, but elite concessions certainly don’t hurt. Tap or no tap, Wicker’s vision of a 35,000-seat boutique stadium reflecting the city’s culture, history, food and brew — built on one of the most expensive real estate pieces in the country — was growing regardless.
Snapdragon opened last year on time and under budget — rebranding, refurbishing and rallying a 126-year-old institution. At the same time, in and around “America’s Coolest City,” the planets have (re)aligned. When USC and UCLA left for the Big Ten, San Diego State momentarily became the best, brightest, most geographically desirable school for the Pac-12 to fill a vacant spot in Southern California.
After years of flaunting itself in hopes of getting noticed by the West Coast’s premier conference, SDSU no longer needs to flirt. The moment comes from SDSU, strolling down I-5 from Los Angeles to meet the school on Aztec terms.
“We basically went from, ‘Hey, you’re doing a good job. Your break is coming,’ to, ‘You’re the only team in Southern California that plays FBS football that isn’t in the Big Ten,'” Wicker said. Told.
The mood floating around Cali’s second largest – but still sluggish – city is split between breathless anticipation and trying not to get too emotionally invested. There have been dashed dreams here before: the Chargers after the 2016 season.
“It’s not a Ifthis is a when,” A high-ranking industry source said about SDSU’s future opportunity to join the Pac-12.
“Now that USC and UCLA are gone, there’s really no one to block us,” said Jack McGrory, an SDSU alumnus, professor on campus for 25 years and now a member of the California State University Board of Trustees. “We are the only viable option to have a team in Southern California.”
However, this being a restructuring, there are no guarantees.
“Once the ink is dry, they say, then we celebrate,” warns David Malcolm, a real estate tycoon in the field for half a century who arranged a $15 million lead donor gift for Snapdragon. helped to do.
Officially, the Pac-12 has said it will consider expansion once a new media rights agreement is signed.
Sources tell CBS Sports the deal is expected to take place in the first quarter of 2023 with Amazon (or another streaming service) and ESPN. There will be expansion. Regardless, it should happen fast with USC and UCLA leaving for the Big Ten in 2024.
Unofficially, there is a perception in the industry that the Pac-12 has no choice but to plug its Southern California hole with SDSU.
Wicker said, “People in this town would lose their minds if, in the same academic year, they got a new football stadium and San Diego State moved to the Pac-12.”
Wicker, 53, was already considered one of the industry’s more influential commercials. He recently spoke with Mississippi State, his alma mater, about its vacant AD job before the school hired Oklahoma’s deputy AD Zack Salmon. But if things go according to plan, staying on Wicker could become a Power Five Eddie.
Now, about that beer. According to Malcolm, Wicker raised the money for a $310 million stadium that would cost $800 million to build today. Wicker wanted the entire experience to reflect the essence of the city, its weather (the driest on the West Coast), its fish tacos (the best anywhere), and its cuisine.
Wicker explained, “I wanted you to know you were in a San Diego State football stadium, but I didn’t want to throw San Diego State on everything.”
“People in the Pac-12 have been impressed with what we’ve done. [Pac-12] Commissioner George Klyavkoff talked about investing in football. I have an investment of $310 million.”
It’s meant to pay homage to San Diego’s craft beer heritage. San Diego County, the “Craft Capital”, has 150 breweries. With images everywhere from the school’s six-toed Wampus Cat mascot to the San Diego Chicken in the 1920s, the wicker moved on to the snapdragon.
The stadium also has piers (with beer).
Snapdragon was designed to expand to 55,000 seats and potentially host an NFL franchise, which would heal an open wound when the Chargers left for Los Angeles.
“The NFL really knows our stadium, knows our design. JD thought of everything,” Malcolm said.
For the Snapdragon’s relatively small capacity, the Rose Bowl is more than 2.5 times as large. But in the Pac-12, Washington State’s Martin Stadium is smaller, and Oregon State’s Racer Stadium is slightly larger. Besides, with National attendance decliningLots of ADS would kill to meet the demand by building an on-campus stadium from the ground up.
San Diego is a Top 30 market. Not the No. 2 market as Los Angeles can claim but still a share of the Southern California turf. Wicker commissioned a study that showed Santa Barbara had about 250 FBS prospects from the south. That doesn’t mean Aztec will get them all, but the school does have some leverage.
“You want San Diego State in your league [a full media rights share] because you don’t want us in the Big 12,” Wicker said. “All Big 12 schools [would] There’s a reason I come to Southern California to recruit.”
That Pac-12 media rights share is being determined. If the Pac-12 goes heavy with the streaming partner, it would mark a first for a Power Five conference. In general, the conference is expected to earn the same per team as the Big 12 ($31.6 million) when the latter agrees to its deal in October. (That figure doesn’t include revenue from the NCAA tournament, the College Football Playoff and bowl games.)
However, it is common for schools to move to Power Five leagues start with less stock Graduated to full share of media rights revenue and over a period of time.
Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark has been public about his desire to expand into the Pacific Time Zone, whether it be San Diego State, Arizona, Arizona State and/or Gonzaga in basketball.
But it would take some convincing for that league’s presidents and ADs to get the Aztecs into the Big 12. The Big 12 will have the same travel concerns as it did when the Big Ten added USC and UCLA.
Ten years earlier, the remnants of the old Big East briefly formed a league that stretched from Connecticut through South Texas to San Diego. The idea never gained traction. TCU went to the Big 12. Boise State and SDSU remained in the Mountain West. The American Athletic Conference was then formed with the remaining schools.
More recently, there have been reports that the Pac-12 has talked to SMU about expansion. But San Diego State seems to be the No. 1 target, maybe the only target. Yes, the Pac-12 can move forward with 11 schools.
Former Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby visited the SDSU campus. It is logical to assume that Klyavkoff did the same. Wicker and Pac-12 both declined to comment.
If San Diego State leaves the Mountain West before June 30, it will triple its current annual media rights revenue to the conference, totaling approximately $15 million. MWC schools currently earn about $5 million per year as the conference sits in 2020 on the third year of a five-year deal it signed with CBS and Fox.
SDSU believes it has belonged in the Pac-12 ever since it joined the MWC in 1999. Beyond geographic connection, basketball and football have been consistently good. Under Steve Fisher and Brian Dutcher, the Aztecs have been to nine NCAA tournaments since 2010.
Despite a down 7-6 season, the Snapdragons averaged 83% capacity in their first season. Hoke has already geared up for a recruiting battle. “We were going to say no to you,” Hoke said. “We were always going to recruit at the highest level.”
Wickr wants to have an event at Snapdragon every day of the year. Monster trucks have just left town. Coldplay is on the decline. UCLA visited on September 9. The Aztecs have played at least one Pac-12 school annually since 2011.
school is getting closer research 1 status, an important academic checkmark when the Pac-12 president votes for expansion. SDSU annual applications are among the highest in the country. Over the next 15 years, an innovation district is expected to develop around the stadium in Mission Valley, which was once a dairy farm.
Steve Sourapas has divided loyalties. The San Diego native once played for John Robinson at USC. He bought the first Founders Club suite at Snapdragon, for $3.75 million for 15 years on the 50-yard line.
Saurpas, 65, runs a beer distributorship started by his father 57 years ago. He attended the first game played at the old San Diego Stadium in 1967. John Madden was the Aztecs defensive coordinator for that team, which was led by College Football Hall of Famer Don Coryell. That site eventually became Jack Murphy Stadium and Qualcomm Stadium, which was torn down to make room for the Snapdragons.
“Some of the Pac-12 teams, they don’t look sexy, but they sure play tough,” Sourapas said of life in a big league without USC and UCLA. “I didn’t know it was going to be that hard.”
What about that Snapdragon party?
“Remember,” said Saurpas, “I sell beer there.”