Kelly Sheffield always figured it was a matter of time before the upper deck at the University of Wisconsin Field House would be needed to meet the demand for UW volleyball tickets.
That time apparently has come: Sheffield said Tuesday plans are in place to reopen at least part of the balcony for next season.
“That’ll be exciting,” Sheffield said. “We’re trying to get more people in there.”
The Badgers came close to maximizing their current space by selling out all but one of their 16 home matches this season.
UW averaged a school-record 5,980 fans this season, topping last year’s mark of 5,927. That’s 99.5 percent of the capacity of 6,012.
The Badgers ranked third nationally in attendance behind Nebraska (8,202) and Hawaii (6,396). Nebraska actually exceeded its stated capacity while Hawaii plays in a 10,300-seat facility.
“I’d like to get to the point where we’re leading the country in attendance,” Sheffield said. “Hopefully, we’re not too many years away from that.”
Sheffield said the plan is to open up the sections on the sides of the court, at least for now.
The upper deck has been closed for years because of code issues regarding the railings and need for kick-boards between the seats and the floorboards. Upgrades to the lower level were made in 2013 to bring that seating area up to code at a cost of about $200,000. In 2014 Jason King, senior associate athletic director, said the estimated cost of bringing the entire balcony up to code was $315,000 to $330,000.
If the entire balcony was opened it would add 3,116 seats, bringing the capacity to 9,128. Those numbers are flexible, depending on the number of seats used as general admission, which allows for fans to take up more space than if all seats were reserved. When the Field House was home to the men’s basketball team, it could accommodate more than 11,000.
The athletic department’s facilities master plan, released in January, also proposed major renovations on the north end of the Field House. One option included a club room area that would connect to an outdoor viewing area on the south end of Camp Randall Stadium.
But those plans have been scrapped, Sheffield said.
“That part is not going to happen,” he said. “That’s no longer on the table, unfortunately. I think there’s still some searching and trying to figure out exactly what changes are going to happen, but my understanding is that will not be one of them.”
The athletic department has been upgrading the Field House over the past couple years. The first phase included renovation of the locker room and team facilities two years ago and air conditioning was connected on one side of the building this fall.
The air conditioning is expected to be complete next season and the master plan calls for some restoration of the building’s exterior and replacement of the windows.