Fans weigh in on future of Memorial Stadium: Upgraded seating is a must
When it comes to renovating Memorial Stadium, about the only thing fans agree on loud and clear is that they need more room for their legs and their fanny.
And one more thing, a few more victories would solve many problems.
Indeed, more than 100 HuskerOnline readers offered feedback to a story posted Tuesday about possible enhancements to Memorial Stadium, which turns 100 next year. As you might expect, when it comes to anything involving Nebraska football, everyone has an opinion.
The HuskerOnline story provided details on a Nebraska athletic department survey sent to season-ticketholders and other fans earlier this month seeking input on everything from overall cleanliness of restrooms to the sale of alcohol, upgrades to concessions, more comfortable seating, and donations tied to season tickets.
“Update our nearly 100-year-old stadium and make it a masterpiece,” said longtime fan David Remer.
Randy Chloupek also spoke for many with his comments. “What would enhance my game day would be a victory once in a while,” Chloupek said.
Mike Krause urged the athletic department to take a contrarian approach to any Memorial Stadium project.
“A couple of years back ESPN asked their viewers if they could go to any venue in the country, all expenses paid to see a team play not just football, but any team, where would you go,” Krause said. “That's right you guessed it, Wrigley Field. No glitz, no high tech, no major food court/restaurant row or bars. Why would you want to be like all the other college football venues? Be a leader and innovator and go the other direction.”
Amen to all of those ideas.
Help appears to be on the way. Athletic director Trev Alberts said on his monthly radio show that so far about 20,000 fans have filled out the survey. The results will be released at some point once the information is digested, he added.
However, he said, one change is being implemented immediately – expanding the width of the seat in the end zones from 18 inches to 20 inches or more.
Alberts said in order to do this, the rows might go from 27 seats to 24. While it will affect the capacity, he said the athletic department wants to respond fast and make sure the fans are comfortable. He did not provide more details
That will make many fans happier. But what about other enhancements?
Here’s a sampling of what HuskerOnline readers want or don’t want. Responses were edited for brevity and clarity. Thanks to everyone who responded, including those who wished to remain anonymous.
“I don't care about gambling at the stadium. I'm not an alcoholic so I can handle three hours without booze,” this respondent said.
“If I want gourmet food I can go to Venue or Dish after the game. What I don't like is having to sit so smashed together I can barely move because of a couple of (fans) taking up two spaces on our plank. Give most of the stadium seats with armrests and backs, which will decrease the capacity of the stadium which will in turn help alleviate problems with restrooms and concessions.”
Added this fan: “The absolute number one issue that needs to be rectified is comfortable seating. Husker game day is as good as there is, especially when we are good. If we could just have comfortable seating it would make the day so much better. I for one will never sit in the north or south again. The worst seating of any stadium. I don’t need upscale food, just a little more variety.”
One of Scott Johnk’s biggest concerns is not enough seat room and no leg room. “Packed in too tight,” said Johnk, a longtime season ticket holder. “It’s horrible to try to let people go by,” he said. “We are getting older and now it’s getting almost impossible to comfortably get out of the way, and try to get out of the seat to go to the bathroom.”
He’s also not a fan of allowing ticket holders to pass down tickets to others without paying current donation prices.
“We have been thinking of giving tics up for three years,” Johnk said. “ We are giving them up this year, because of the reasons above.”
On food, beverages and gambling
Many respondents said they get enough beer in the parking lots before the game. The common refrain: “I don’t care if they sell beer, I won’t be buying.”
Kevin Belka, a 72-year-old Nebraska fan who now lives in Georgia, said selling alcohol inside Memorial Stadium is inevitable but there are caveats
“Last season, I saw the Northwestern and Michigan games,” Belka said. “I was displeased that many Husker fans booed the opponents when they came on the field and during the game some people around me shouted vile expletives at the refs and fans of the visiting school schools sitting around them.”
“To some extent, that may have been influenced by alcohol, but there’s always been alcohol smuggled into the stadium…I don’t want alcohol to take over the game like Coors does at Colorado. I only wish the changes being discussed could be supported by some type of public relations campaigns focused on at least controlling behavior if not improving it. Husker fans have long been known as the best hosts in the country for opposing team visitors. I would like that to continue for games my grandsons might attend.”
But Logan Schere, a Nebraska alumni who said he’s been attending games his whole life, offered this perspective:
At this point I won't go to another game until they start serving alcohol,” Schere said. “The fact that so many people binge drink outside of the stadium is crazy and probably unsafe. I've been to games at other stadiums with booze and sometimes it’s just nice to get a drink at the game. Fans don't go bonkers because of it and the holier than though mindset drives me away from even wanting to be there.”
Finally, this comment: “A really nice coffee shop would be perfect, pumpkin spice latte would just hit different inside Memorial Stadium on a November afternoon.”
Allowing sports gambling inside the stadium generated only a handful of responses, with no one in favor of it. “Let’s not sully our team with gambling inside the stadium itself,” said David Remer.
Tear down South Stadium
Laura White, an alumni and season-ticket holder for 15 years, sits in South stadium, row 68. Her current seat donation? $150 per seat, which she says is still too much and prices out the average family.
She didn’t advocate for a tear down; she wants the basics.
“Forget all the lounges and expensive seating,” she said. “Just put in escalators to South and North upper regions. I currently have to walk eight ramps up to row 68. I am lucky I am not higher. Once at my seat I do not leave because it is too hard to go down and back up again on old knees and I am NOT the oldest one up there.”
Another recommendation. Put in regular seating with backs and a cup holder. “Go ahead and take some seats out to accommodate the expansion,” White said. Bathrooms and concessions at the upper levels would also be nice, along with an enclosed area to get a break from the November wind and cold, she said.
“The better to do already have their club seats with indoor amenities,” White said. “This is football, not a night out at a club.”
On the other hand, Robert Harrington believes a complete rebuild of the south end zone is the way to go. ”Start from scratch and create a modern area for the students and younger crowd,” Harrington said. “These are the future ticket buyers that you want to attract when they are young.”
Season-ticket holder Brad Bowen said Memorial Stadium “is one of the worst we have experienced, overly crowded, some of the restrooms, especially in the South stadium, are dumps and South stadium is crap to begin with. Hard to get in and out, after games, sometimes a half-hour or more.”
Bowen suggested Nebraska’s athletic department take a close look at Arkansas’ stadium in Fayetteville, especially the idea of creating an “open area in the South end zone with a nice deck and concessions.”
Finally, this reader offered a plan for stadium reconfiguration that included taking out benches and putting in chairs.
“It seems if you take out the benches and put in chairs they would be near on top of the row in front of you and knees in the back. The whole stadium would need reconfiguration.”
That said, the reader added, “I would suggest removing some of the bench seating per row. So let’s say a 20 seat row should now be 15 seats to give much more room, make the seats that are available for rent a bit wider too. Go from a 90,000 capacity to 75,000 and add in some rows closer to the sidelines, and move the student section to behind the visitor’s bench.”
Music, grass and a kid zone
“Please update the music that’s played throughout the experience,” said Matt Benda, who’s not a season ticket holder but has been attending games since the mid-1980s “I don’t get pumped with the music in the stadium. It actually makes me cringe when I hear it now. I can only imagine how the younger fans feel, and the players.”
“We lost four home games this year,” Benda said. “Maybe better music is the X-Factor needed for us to win those games. It can’t cost that much.
Kalim Dumas, a student season ticketholder had one suggestion. “I saw Liberty (University) has a section of grass for students to hang out on. I don't know if that would be possible given student turnout and the general rowdiness of the student section, but a grassy area somewhere in the stadium would be awesome!
Dino Armetta focused his comments on creating a robust, kid-friendly activity zone outside the stadium.
“I took my son down to a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game. I wanted him to see Tom Brady at least once while he was in a Bucs uni. I had only been by myself or with friends before so I was unaware of any kids activities outside the stadium until this year’s Bills vs Bucs game.”
“They have a huge lot set up called “Jr. Buccaneers Play Football”… where a parent signs a non-disclosure in case the kid gets hurt,” Armetta said. “But they had this huge area where a ton of kids were doing different drills with Bucs staff. They had some staff with pads and kids had to run through the standup dummies that always pop back up while getting hit with pads from staff and they had to try and score a touchdown. They had staff running pass plays with one WR on each side and other kids as the DB on both sides and the staff would try to complete passes for TDs.”
“They had an area where you could throw balls through a wall with holes in it and there were Bucs players stickers all over the wall so it was like you were throwing to Bucs players. It was a huge fun area where kids got to have fun and the parents got to hang out and enjoy it.”
“One small thing that I enjoyed from the Bucs game this year that would be awesome to have in Lincoln,” Armetta said.
“My folks bought their two Section 25 lower bowl seats back in the 50's, and really did suffer through thick and thin,” said John Pace of Atlantic Beach, Fla. “When dad died and left them to mom, we started paying a couple hundred per seat. When mom died and I ended up with them, we started paying $500 per seat.”
“Of course, I can understand some wanting to pay less,” he said. “But, hey, they knew what they were getting into when they first laid down the cash! I'm a nurse--money don't grow on trees for us. But we've remained loyal all these years. If they jack up our annual contribution for the sake of "equity," completely ignoring loyalty, I'm gone.”
Eric L., a season ticket holder for more than 40 years, said he goes to Memorial Stadium to watch football. Period.
“I don’t care about social clubs, chairback seats, or the food. I’m sure I’m in the minority of thinking but to me there are already too many distractions.”
His question? How do you grow the future fan base if you price too many people out of the market?
“If you reduce capacity, spend to renovate and want the same revenue stream, prices only go one way, up,” he said. “Based on the projected pricing for 2023 in the survey the cost of our donation to keep the seats we have increases by a factor of 5. Do I want to pay that much more? I can afford it but that doesn’t mean I will pay it especially given the product on the field. My sons are in their late 20’s. They have good jobs but they can’t afford the proposed costs.”
“How do you attract a younger crowd of future donors if you price them out now? You stand a good chance of making the crowd even older. “ Eric said. “Great, more old people telling me to sit down during the game.”
Paul Eckerson said he prefers to tailgate and then go somewhere to watch the game on television. “My father bought tickets in 1959. He bought two more when asked when they built the North stadium. Later, my brother got those seats. Then (the athletic department) changed the rules and my father got old and couldn’t go so I tried to buy his two original seats.”
“By then you made them ridiculously expensive and I decided I’d had enough. There are more that feel that every day.,” Eckerson said. “Capitalism drives the show, not the fans. You’ll never bring it back to its glory.”
Just win baby
Eric L. the longtime season ticket holder, offered this additional comment. “Is the future state of the stadium going to be a social event where a football game just happens to be played on a given day?”
“When I was a student in the early 90’s we sat in East Stadium, the place was out of control and we had a blast. The place rocked and there were no amenities,” he said. “Given the way the games are policed and activity tamped down now how do you ever get that back? You don’t.”
“Family-friendly and an SEC-type atmosphere don’t coexist,” he said. “That’s how I want to see the stadium again, raucous and crazy. Ultimately if you don’t win there’s one outcome no matter what perks you throw inexpensive or not. Fewer and fewer people will pay to see losing. It just takes longer here.”
A fan from Rapid City, S.D. echoed those thoughts. “For a period of at least 30 years, the draw was the product on the field,” said a fan from Rapid City, S.D. “Your ticket allowed you to watch possibly the best college football team in the nation. We might get beat, but nobody could say they were better. Now the ticket must give us more value.”
Steve Rosen writes about the business of sports for HuskerOnline. Questions, comments, story ideas? Reach Steve at email@example.com.