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Mackay Stadium becomes friendlier confines

Joe Santoro
Special to the Appeal
A look at the scoreboard and chair back seats at the renovated Mackay Stadium on Wednesday.
Thomas Ranson/LVN

Nevada Wolf Pack football supporters will be greeted Friday night by a more fan-friendly Mackay Stadium.

The 50-year-old stadium on north Virginia Street has undergone a $12 million facelift that will be unveiled Friday night (6:30 p.m.) when the Pack hosts the Cal Poly Mustangs in the season opener. The most noticeable difference that will be enjoyed by all the fans is a new ultra high-definition video scoreboard.

“You will be able to actually see it in the daytime,” smiled Nevada Deputy Director of Athletics Rory Hickok.

The new video screen is 64 feet wide and 36 feet tall, about 30 percent larger than the old board. The previous video board, which was installed in 2006, was difficult to see clearly, especially in the sunlight.

“After every play we all look up at the board to see the replay,” Hickok said. “Fans do it, coaches do it, everybody does it. It was hard to see on the old board. Now we will all be able to see it clearly. The new scoreboard is going to make a big difference.”

Wolf Pack Athletic Director Doug Knuth has warned football coach Brian Polian about the new scoreboard. “I told him to be careful about his language when he’s talking to the referees,” Knuth said with a smile. “Now we will all be able to read his lips with this new board.”

The new board, which comes with a vastly improved sound system, will change the viewing experience at Mackay Stadium dramatically, Knuth said.

“In the past we would have fans complain to us that the sound system was so bad,” Doug Knuth said. “Some fans would complain that it was too loud and it hurt their ears and some would complain that they couldn’t even hear it. And that was from the same game. Our old scoreboard was so outdated. Now we will be able to see every single replay clearly. It is beautiful.”

Knuth said the idea of this Mackay Stadium renovation began while Cary Groth was athletic director in 2010. “That is when the conversation and the dream first started,” he said.

The Wolf Pack surveyed its fans in 2012, asking them what they wanted to see at a renovated Mackay Stadium. More than 3,000 fans responded and offered their opinions.

“We asked our fans what they wanted and this shows that we listened,” Knuth said. “I believe we’ve really addressed the needs of our fans. We’ve responded to our fans.”

The renovation was approved by the Nevada Board of Regents in December 2014. Knuth said the renovation centers on five areas: the scoreboard, sound system, more permanent restrooms (mostly added last year), club level hospitality and chairback seats.

“We really feel that we’ve made coming to games an enjoyable experience for our fans,” Knuth said.

The Wolf Pack has increased legroom and increased the width of the aisles in the outdoor seating areas. The stadium now features about 4,000 chair back seats, mainly between the 40-yard lines. The wider aisles and additional legroom, as well as a new club level suite (under the press box) that will host more than 200 fans before during and after the game, did cost the stadium about 4,000 seats. Mackay Stadium’s new capacity is expected to be about 26,000, down from just more than 30,000. The first game at Mackay Stadium was played on Oct. 1, 1966 when the Wolf Pack beat UC Santa Barbara, 33-17. The stadium opened with 7,500 seats in 1966 and expanded to as many as 31,000-plus from 1992-2005.

Outside of the new scoreboard, most of the noticeable improvements for fans will cater to the more expensive seats. The original dozen suites in the stadium now will feature outdoor seating in front of the suites (called patio suites). Those suites, which used to accommodate a dozen fans each, now can handle 20. The new club level suite just under the press box, which is filled with televisions, restaurant-style seating, a bar and restrooms, also includes an outdoor seating area that features more televisions and heating elements which will try to keep fans warm on cold November nights. The area includes nearly 240 new club level seats.

Another change at the stadium will be the track that circles the football field. It’s now silver instead of red.

“I liked to call it rust,” Knuth said.

“When you walk into the stadium now there is really a dramatic difference to the eye,” Wolf Pack coach Brian Polian said. “It all starts with the new scoreboard, the look of the chair back seats. And they got rid of that ugly red track and replaced it with a beautiful silver and blue. It all just looks cleaner and sharper.”

The new silver track, Knuth said, was an important change.

“It just feels like Nevada now,” Knuth said. “That’s the color it is supposed to be.”

The Wolf Pack players, which practiced at Mackay Stadium last week for two days (Thursday and Friday), also are excited about the changes.

“Our players were blown away by how different it looks,” Polian said.

“It looks awesome,” offensive lineman Austin Corbett said. “When we were at practice I just wanted to stand back and take it all in. I can’t wait for our fans to see it.”

“When I first walked in there I did a full circle to look at it all,” defensive lineman Malik Reed said.

“It’s crazy. The new scoreboard and the rest of the stuff just makes the stadium pop now.”

“I call the scoreboard ‘Nevada’s little Jumbotron,’” running back James Butler said. “It is really cool. The silver track is awesome.”

The Wolf Pack is also going to install a new scoreboard at Lawlor Events Center for this coming basketball season. The scoreboard at Lawlor and in Mackay Stadium, in addition to a new ribbon board along the wall just under the old suites and above the Wolf Pack sideline cost the university $3.1 million total, Knuth said. The ribbon board will feature, among other things, messages, advertisements, the game clock and the down and distance.

“I think our fans are going to be real happy with what we’ve done,” Knuth said.

Knuth said he believes the stadium investment will pay for itself down the road.

“This project will drive additional revenue back to our athletic programs,” Knuth said.

Polian is hoping additional revenue starts immediately with additional football tickets sold this season.

“The opening of the renovated stadium will attract fans that will show up just to check it all out,” Polian said. “Hopefully we’ll have a sellout on Friday and have some fun.”

The Wolf Pack will play six home games this season at Mackay Stadium: Friday (Cal Poly), Sept. 17 (Buffalo), Oct. 8 (Fresno State), Oct. 22 (Wyoming), Nov. 12 (San Diego State) and Nov. 19 (Utah State).

A West Division championship could also result in an additional game at Mackay Stadium in the Mountain West championship (December. 3).