Mackay Stadium had this magical feel about it, especially when Coach Chris Ault roamed the sidelines in his last stint as the team’s commander.
The Wolf Pack had a strong home-field advantage and would find a way to pull out the victory. Even when fans left the stadium with their heads hung low after a defeat, Nevada was in the game for at least half of it. Mackay Stadium, which enters its 50th year this fall, is home to many great memories, including the comeback victory against Weber State and the overtime win over nationally ranked Boise State.
Since its inception, though, the stadium has gone through several upgrades to keep up with the Ccompetition but until this year, the last big change was the addition of lights last decade. In the last 12 years, however, the stadium has felt out of place in comparison to what fans see on TV or three hours away from Reno. Instead of a college arena where football gladiators fight on the battle six times a team, Mackay Stadium acts more like a glorified high school venue. High school stadiums throughout the country, especially in Texas and even Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, have more pizzazz than Northern Nevada’s only Division I venue. But all of that is changing and fans will get to experience the new Mackay Stadium to kick off the Labor Day Weekend.
New sound system and video board are being installed. Stadium seating on the West and East levels will replace deteriorating bleachers. A new pavilion and luxury boxes will overlook the field. And the stadium capacity will drop a few thousand but ticket prices will go up. General admission will now cost fans $25.
Even video games used to depict Mackay Stadium as this primetime arena with nothing but stadium seating. It’s all about the fan experience and creating an energetic atmosphere every time Nevada takes the field.
Attendance hasn’t been great since Ault retired from the college ranks. Granted, some of the teams that come into Reno have a worse resume than Reed High School but that doesn’t stop the teams Nevada should be emulating. Unless the team comes from Boise, Las Vegas or any Pac-12 school, the university is lucky to fill half of the stadium, which is about 15,000. It says a lot when 30,000 can’t show up to a game on a Saturday afternoon when Northern Nevada boasts a population large enough to sell out 50,000 stadiums consistently.
Teams like Hawaii, Idaho, New Mexico or Utah State should attract enough attention for fans to see a football game. They’re not a Boise State, Fresno State or even a rival like UNLV, but these programs are on the rebound and will be competitive. Nevada should aspire to becoming the Stanford or Utah of the Silver State where those programs are still able to sell out, even when the opponent is not as worthy as the conference leader.
The upgrades to Mackay Stadium, however, should boost attendance, and it helps that the renovation dropped the capacity to the low 20,000 range. The fan experience will feel different this season but for this to last past this season, Nevada will need to have its best season since the 2010 Dream Team.
Mackay has lost some of its magic since Brian Polian took over with opportunities to put Nevada back on the map falling short in losses to Arizona, Boise State and even UNLV on its home turf. The magic can come back, and it begins with the fans showing up in herds to watch competitive Division I football.
Thomas Ranson can be contacted at email@example.com.