Football Goes on at LSU, Despite Hurricane Damage to Tiger Stadium

By Andrew Lippe
Louisiana State University will host a football game this weekend, which seemed an impossibility just days ago. LSU is pulling itself together after Hurricane Gustav postponed the season opener against Troy University to Nov. 15. Despite some damage, Tiger Stadium is ready for football, and a game with North Texas University is slated for Saturday night.
Hurricane Ike headed toward the Gulf Coast this week, but LSU athletic director Joe Alleva confirmed on Wednesday that Hurricane Ike should be far enough away from the Baton Rouge area that a football game could be played there this weekend. The university has had to consider postponing its second game of the season or possibly relocating it to Texas Stadium, the Georgia Dome, or even to the Louisiana Superdome.
“We provided our athletic director with all of the information in regards to our facilities and Tiger Stadium, including where we are in the clean-up process,” says Ronnie Haliburton, associate athletic director of athletic facilities and grounds at LSU, adding, “You really don’t know the extent of the damage until you put 90,000 people in [Tiger Stadium] and turn everything on at one time. As we move forward, we will probably identify areas that are still not up to par, but, for the most part, the larger-scale stuff has been taken care of.”
Tiger Stadium suffered extensive damage from Hurricane Gustav. In the lower part, nearly 70 seats were damaged, and LSU had to scrounge up temporary seats from other stadiums, because the manufacturer of the seating had been down since Hurricane Gustav. Awnings on the west side of the stadium were ripped to shreds. “We also sustained some wind damage to the scoreboards,” says Haliburton.
He attributes LSU’s ability to recover in a timely manner to help from the Tiger Athletic Foundation, a private organization that works with the athletic department on campus. “They have just been a lifesaver for us. We were not hampered by a lot of red tape that is often involved with state funding.”
Foundation project manager Steven Labarre, who manages all the school’s construction projects, worked closely with local contactors in getting the damage repaired.
Communication on campus was good despite the circumstances, thanks to a new system implemented by the state and federal governments and LSU’s on-campus police department says Haliburton. “Once the main campus was on generator power, the system kicked in, and we were able to communicate on campus radios. In Katrina, communication was difficult. This time, it went smooth.”
Things haven’t gone quite so smoothly for LSU’s TigerVision broadcast team. TigerVision is an in-house PPV network that offers LSU games that aren’t televised. Production crews, comprising freelancers from all over the country, are assembled by ESPN Regional out of Huntington, WV.
Kevin Wagner, the assistant athletic director and director of television for LSU had a team ready for the opening game, which was postponed. “This has been difficult for the team, the university, and all of my staff,” he says. “A lot of us in Baton Rouge are still without power. Communication immediately following the storm was extremely difficult. E-mails, text messages, phone calls — you just couldn’t make any. Every now and then, a text message would hit, and it might be something that was sent six hours ago.”
TigerVision produces all the coach’s TV shows for football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, and baseball. A subscription to TigerVision costs $34.50. According to Wagner, production expenses run about $80,000 per game. LSU uses Sony tape machines and Thomson Grass Valley tape-to-tape editors, no HD or digital. “HD would almost double my costs of production,” he says.
If the upcoming game against North Texas had been moved to Atlanta or Dallas, Wagner says, setup for a successful broadcast would have been difficult. “I would not be able to get all the people where they need to be and equipment where it needs to be, because two to three days’ notice is just not enough time for me to put a game into place.”
The state of Louisiana has seen its share of hurricane damage. Somehow, LSU has pushed onwards despite this season’s Gustav and Ike. “You just get used to uncertainty in this business and acclimate yourself,” says Haliburton.