Sooner Softball Success Driving Push for New Stadium
College softball is in the midst of unparalleled growth. From attendance and TV ratings to revenue, the popularity gains are unlike any other sport, and in Oklahoma, the sport is flourishing.
Ratings from the ESPN broadcasts of the 2019 Women’s College World Series were up 15 percent from last season, with Oklahoma City and Tulsa as two of the highest-rated markets. The first-ever Bedlam battle in the WCWS was the most watched WCWS game in the history of the Friday night winners bracket games.
“People love the fast pace,” Sooner hitting coach JT Gasso said. “The field is condensed and there is a lot of action. It’s only seven innings, so it’s constantly moving. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say, ‘I watched it one time and I fell in love.’ I think more people are feeling that, and it’s cool to think it’s going to keep growing.”
Game two of the WCWS Championship Series between Oklahoma and UCLA had almost two million viewers and ended up as the most watched game of the tournament, eighth highest rated of all time. Despite the first game of the series being so lopsided, the total viewers of that Monday night game doubled that of the normal Monday Night Baseball broadcast on ESPN in the same time slot.
Sooner Associate Athletic Director Kenny Mossman has been with the Sooner softball program since he stepped on campus in 2001. The growth and popularity has been exciting, Mossman said.
“TV is undeniable, what ESPN has done to promote the sport has had a very measurable outcome,” Mossman said. “I think it was a sport that was confined to the West Coast. It’s a national game now. Teams from all over the country are fielding outstanding teams and building programs.”
As the sport has increased in popularity, the Oklahoma Sooner Softball program has contributed to the sport’s success. The Sooners have been consistently selling out games. The regional and super regional contests sold out in minutes. The highest-attended sessions during the Women’s College World Series were all games that included Oklahoma, and, during the season, the Sooners had four consecutive sold-out road games.
Attendance has been so strong that the Sooners have outgrown Marita Hynes Field. In June of 2018, OU announced plans for a new $22 million softball facility. The new softball home will be on the northwest corner of Jenkins Avenue and Imhoff Road, a half mile south of the current facility.
“Look across the country, just like college football and seemingly every sport, it has been an arms race of who can have the best facilities. You look at college softball and more and more universities are investing,” JT Gasso said. “People love coming to our games. To put up even more seating and more space, it’s going to separate us from everyone else. Kids are going to come here, and they never are going to want to leave. Fans are going to want to keep coming. We’re so excited and grateful to be in the position that we’re in.”
Sooner softball diehard Allen Moody from Ft. Worth, Texas has dubbed OU’s new stadium as the “Jewel on Jenkins.” In terms of fan amenities, plans include three concessions stands, six restrooms and increased capacity of more than 3,000. It also will feature a 10,000-square-foot indoor facility with several team spaces, including a training room, locker room and a classroom.
“Many people think of a seating bowl and a playing field and let’s go,” Mossman said. “But, there’s more to it. The plan includes one of the best hitting facilities in the country. Meanwhile, plans are evolving as additional needs arise.”
“There is definitely a different momentum for our project, now. Our fundraising numbers have taken a definite turn in a good direction and some substantial gifts have come in for this project.”
But there’s still work to be done. In the case of the “Jewel on Jenkins,” it may require a little more patience than your typical five-inning, run-rule win.
“We are trying to run a department as fiscally responsible as we can, so it takes some time to pull those resources together. Donors have really stepped up to help us out. We need to attract some more substantial gifts, but I like the way it’s trending. We’re feeling very good about it,” Mossman said.
The popularity of college softball continues to grow, and Sooner softball has been a major player in the success of the sport on a national stage. Along with the vision and foundation laid by head coach Patty Gasso and the investment being made into the new stadium, the Sooner program is positioned for sustained success. – BSM