The Siegel Center sits as a completely dark arena, aside from a handful of flashing lights. Soon, a large high-definition scoreboard at center-court cuts through the darkness, showing game highlights and a video of players yelling for fans to get hyped for tip-off begins playing.
This scene is more commonly seen in NBA arenas, but will be coming to the Siegel Center this fall. VCU previously had a similar introduction, but it was done on outdated scoreboards at both ends of the stadium with a subpar sound system, forcing many fans to turn around in their seats or squint to see the other video board.
This off-season $1.9 million worth of upgrades were done to the Siegel Center, including this new center-hung scoreboad with four 15-by-11 foot video boards. Four luxury suites were installed in two corners of the arenas, 15 new speakers and two LED ribbon boards under the scoreboard and the Tommy J. West club.
Senior Associate Athletic Director for Facilities and Operations Tim Lampe said he has high praise for the new 19,578 pound scoreboard.
“It’s a high quality, high definition board so it is like watching a flatscreen TV at home,” Lampe said.
Lampe came to VCU 18 years ago and was in charge of building the Siegel Center. He is a manager for all new athletic building projects.
The old video boards will stay and feature in-game statistics and ads.
Lampe said that the success of the Tommy J. West club, which opened in 2011, was a driving force in the creation of the new suites.
“The upstairs suites are wildly popular. People wanted them and we didn’t have any more,” Lampe said. “We had to get creative. We took the worst seats in the lower bowl and created suites.”
Some die-hard Rams fans have already had a sneak peak at the off-season upgrades by attending volleyball games or the Black and Gold scrimmage last week.
However, only advertisements have been displayed on the video board thus far, so the true display will be in the introductory video for VCU’s men’s basketball exhibition game against California University of Pennsylvania on Friday, Nov. 7.
The luxury suites are in two corners of the Siegel Center closest to Broad Street. The addition of the suites reduced the seating capacity by roughly 150 seats.
There are two suites in each corner of the arena. Each suite contains 17 seats with additional standing-room-only tickets available. Two of the suites were leased for the entire season on a two year deal, while the other were leased on a game to game basis. The suites have already been sold out for the entire season.
An intentional, less obvious upgrade from a visual standpoint is the new speaker system. They are white and are intended to blend in with the ceiling and rafters.
Lampe’s opinion is this was a long awaited upgrade. The old system was center hung, but the new speakers are dispersed evenly throughout the arena.
“The old sound system wasn’t very good even in the beginning. I had been looking forward to the day when we cut the old sound system,” Lampe said.
This is a stark contrast to his feelings about the new system.
“The quality is phenomenal, when the first time we fired it up, it was a ‘wow’ moment. the clarity and the audibility of that sound system is second to none,” he said.
Many outsiders were concerned about the cost of upgrades. Lampe argues that the project will pay for itself and it has already begun to do so.
“A lot of times people are critical of how much money we spend, its actually a money making business,” Lampe said. “We actually made a little bit of money in year one and we haven’t even had our first game yet. The suites are paid for with a little bit of extra money and year two we’ll start making money on those suites.”
Lampe anticipates that VCU will be able to pay off the upgrades in four to five years by selling advertisements.
Lampe doesn’t anticipate any seating-capacity increases in the near future, but said if it did happen they could add another upstairs luxury club by expanding slightly toward Marshall Street or east into an existing auxiliary gym. However, he said he feels that this could potentially ruin the intimate atmosphere that the Siegel Center currently has.
“Right now, what we have is very special,” he said. “You run the risk of losing that (the fan experience) if you expand. It’s a sold out situation, people want to be here. The atmosphere and electricity in this building is second to none.”
Instead he feels that there will be continual smaller improvements.
“The Siegel Center become special because of the fans. That’s why we cater to the customer,” Lampe said. “We have got to keep things fresh and keep them interested. If they are spending the kind of money they are to be here, we have to give them an experience. We owe them that.”