Aloha Stadium has indefinitely suspended booking any new events inside the 45-year-old facility, a decision officials hope will help to control expenses but one that throws the future of sporting schedules into uncertainty.
The Stadium Authority on Thursday voted unanimously to approve the suspension, which won’t affect the swap meet or any other events held in the parking lot, such as food distributions and other drive-thru events.
The decision to suspend new bookings may affect the University of Hawaii football team’s 2021 season. In non-pandemic years, high school sports, band competitions and graduation ceremonies are also held in the stadium.
“Our current state today is that we are unable to hold large gatherings,” said Ryan Andrews, the stadium’s deputy manager. “It’s difficult to see when that might change in the future.”
He went on to cite the slow return of tourism, as well as events like the swap meet and parking lot rents that, while helpful, have not made up for a loss of revenue brought on by an inability to host the large crowds Aloha Stadium needs to stay afloat financially.
“We’ve hit a point where we need to make some big decisions regarding our operational future,” Andrews said.
By June 30, the end of the current fiscal year, the stadium is expected to gross just $1.5 million in revenue, which is $5.8 million less than what came in 2020.
That enormous revenue drop paired with expenses totalling $5.8 million means stadium officials must contend with a projected $3.8 million budget hole to end the fiscal year, according to budget estimates on the Stadium Authority’s website.
To cover expenses in the past year, stadium officials have tapped into cash balances, which began the current fiscal year July 1 at $3.3 million but now are projected to run out by June 2021.
“The forecast shared with us … can no longer support this course of action,” Ross Yamasaki, the authority board’s chair, said.
Speaking to lawmakers at a briefing Thursday, UH President David Lassner said that the university will continue talks with the Stadium Authority.
“It’s pretty serious to us,” Lassner said. “If we can’t have fans there, we need to identify another place to play for fall 2021. It’s going to be a real challenge.”
Hawaii’s high school football stadiums that can accommodate broadcast equipment are also under consideration as temporary sites for the Rainbow Warrior football team, Lassner told members of the House Higher Education and Technology Committee.
Lassner said he expects at least some spectators to be allowed into college football games for the 2021 season.
UH Manoa Athletic Director Dave Matlin expressed disappointment over the Stadium Authority’s announcement and said UH will start looking for a new place to play.
“Aloha Stadium has such a storied history and carries so many memories for our football program and generations of Hawaii families,” Matlin said in a statement. “We must now take responsibility ourselves to find a suitable venue for our Rainbow Warriors, Hawaiʻi’s football team, to play in front of our loyal fans beginning in 2021.”
The decision to temporarily shutter events comes as the state plans to replace the aging facility in Halawa with a newer, smaller stadium around 2023. A draft environmental impact statement for the new stadium development is expected to be published Wednesday.
State lawmakers plan to introduce legislation in the upcoming session that would give the Stadium Authority, a board made of representatives from government, the private and nonprofit sectors, more power to develop the future site. The new measure would be similar to a bill that died last session.
The new Aloha Stadium would also play home to the UH football team, which travels to Texas next week for a bowl game against the University of Houston.
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Blaze Lovell is a reporter for Civil Beat and a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He was born and raised on Oahu. You can reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @blaze_lovell