Scoreboards lead lineup of changes at Commonwealth Stadium

ctruman@herald-leader.comSeptember 4, 2011 

University of Kentucky football fans are getting a behemoth-like new scoreboard system to start the team's season at home on Sept. 10.

The new Daktronics HD-X system includes two video boards measuring about 37 feet high by 80 feet wide. UK says the boards give Commonwealth Stadium the 15th-largest scoreboard in college football.

Southeastern Conference schools have led the nation in investing in gigantic scoreboards, however, which means that UK's, though gigantic, is still smaller than those of five other SEC schools: Mississippi State, Tennessee, Florida, Arkansas and Ole Miss.

By comparison, the Cincinnnati Reds' scoreboard is 39 feet by 138 feet.

The race to have the biggest scoreboard is a fairly recent development: Just five years ago, Daktronics was building what was then the world's largest video board for the Miami Dolphins: 50 feet by 137 feet.

The University of Texas "Godzillatron" scoreboard at the Royal Texas Memorial stadium is the nation's largest among college football stadiums, at 55.5 feet tall and 134 feet tall.

What else is new?

Kevin Saal, an event manager with UK, said that the school is working to address fans' concerns about everything from cell phone service to better sound within the stadium to how you pay for your hot dogs.

With capacity near 68,000, Commmonwealth Stadium has a huge footprint on UK's campus. Your job as a game watcher is to negotiate that with the least amount of stress while consuming vast amounts of food and drink and staying connected to whatever form of communication moves you.

Get ready.

First, there's the matter of getting to the stadium, which is generally not the hard part.

Saal said that UK can park between 9,000 and 10,000 cars within a few hundred yards of the stadium.

Calling parking "always a work in progress for us," Saal said that UK's policy is "one permit, one space, one vehicle."

He said UK avoided piling on new rules this year, giving fans a chance to get used to changes implemented last season.

"Predictability is good. We're all creatures of habit," Saal said.

Clay Mason, Lexington's public safety commissioner, said the city has distributed 1,000 door-hanger packets in the UK neighborhood that contain information from Lexington police about trash pickup and alcohol, noise and parking violations.

Mason is chairman of the city's game-day task force, created in 2007. The task force includes multiple representatives from the police department and patrol officers, and it meets weekly to assess the previous weekend's activity.

"On game days, we turn everything up a bit as far as a presence around the stadium and surrounding neighborhoods," Mason said.

That includes at least three dozen officers in addition to those on each street corner handling traffic. There's also an elevated observation point called a sky watch tower — a room about three times the size of a cherry picker, with darkened windows.

Mason's advice to gamegoers: "Lock your car doors and secure your valuables."

Surface parking lots open at 8 a.m. regardless of kickoff time, and traffic starts to pick up three to four hours before kickoff.

Getting out after the game is more hectic, since the process occurs over a peak period of 45 minutes. Fans are advised to be patient about getting out. Those living in the neighborhoods while this occurs are advised to be patient about getting in or out.

Expect some other changes in and around the stadium:

 More portable toilets. You will see them in a great tan line outside Commonwealth. They will open in time for the first home game.

 More recycling bins around the stadium seating areas.

 A Cellular on Wheels truck, will boost the number of T1 lines available to Commonwealth patrons. That means fans have a better chance of being able to place phone calls or surf on smartphones.

 Debit cards will be accepted at all stationary concession stands (but not at the mobile carts).

 The UK band will move from section 107 in the northeast corner of the stadium to section 104 as part of efforts to better distribute sound. Saal said the move should help project the band's playing more evenly through the stadium rather than up and out.

Meet the neighbors

Susan Miller, who lives on Floral Park with husband Walter, said that the traffic in her neighborhood on game day is a "bottleneck."

"The way we get around is, we go to the game. We tailgate," she said. "We're gone before the crowd gets here, and we're the last ones out."

She said her neighborhood has been helped by Lexington police on bicycle patrols.

Lea Terry, who lives in the Elizabeth Street area, said police do a commendable job on game days keeping the streets navigable.

Still, she said, residents who do not attend football sometimes find themselves marooned trying to get back home or jarred by noise from game-related events.

Getting home one day, she said, "I had to sit on a side street out of police sight for 45 minutes with a baby in the car," she said. "The traffic is one thing. ... (But) they have kept us up after midnight on several occasions."

The rules

Rules of the field: Here's what to bring to Commonwealth Stadium and what to leave at home.

 Fans are allowed to bring one unopened bottle of water less than one liter. No other outside food or drink is allowed.

 Collapsible strollers for infants are allowed if they are small enough to be tucked under the seats.

 Backpacks are banned. Purses are allowed. All bags are subject to search.

 No golf carts or motorized scooters are allowed anywhere around the stadium. Also, no motorized coolers are allowed.

 No tobacco use of any kind is allowed anywhere on UK's campus.

 Traffic information is available on the radio at 1700 AM, operational Friday afternoon and on game day.

 Hospital Drive, which connects Limestone and University Drive, is available only to emergency room traffic for UK Chandler Hospital.

 Tow-behind trailers are not allowed on paved surface lots within the Commonwealth Stadium complex unless you have a permit. If you don't have a permit for the trailer, you will be directed to the nearest grass lot.

 RVs larger than a standard parking stall will not be permitted in the grass lots.

Reach Cheryl Truman at (859) 231-3202 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3202 or on Twitter at @CherylTruman.

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