The students and band have traditionally been located in the north end zone with spillover seating in the northeast portion of the stadium. But in 2021, the students are being moved to the south end with the famed Zonies, the most raucous Wolf Pack fans. Additionally, the band will relocate to the southeast corner of the stadium where the opposing team’s cheering section used to reside (they are moving to the northeast corner).
Wolf Pack athletic director Doug Knuth said moving the student section was two-fold, the first part being feedback from the students and the second being an attempt to pack the team’s most vocal supporters into one area of the stadium for a stronger home-field advantage.
“The easy answer is we want to make a hostile environment,” Knuth said on Thursday’s NSN Daily. “We want the visiting team to think Mackay Stadium is a tough place to play: ‘We are not looking forward to going to Reno, Nevada and playing in Mackay Stadium.’ I want every team to think that when they see Nevada on their schedule. For us, we’ve talked to our students the last couple of years and the feedback from the students is they felt isolated, they felt like the north end zone section was sort of isolation. It’s a great section to sit in, but they didn’t feel like they were a part of the environment.
“So that and moving the band to the east side of the stadium, the southeast corner, that’s much, much closer to the visiting team, so when the band is blaring and the band is playing, we want to make sure that the visiting team knows how to sing our fight song. We want to make sure they hear our fight song many times throughout the game so they’re sick of our fight song.”
The Wolf Pack football student section has dwindled in recent seasons. During the 2014 campaign, Nevada averaged 3,109 students per game. In 2018, the latest available figures, that was down to 1,675 fans per game, almost a 50 percent decline over a five-year period. The Wolf Pack is hopeful this relocation will increase the size of the student attendance.
The south end zone, which used to be 100 percent general admission, is being split in half with general admission sitting on the left side of the end zone seating (if you’re facing the field) and the students being on the right side. The band will be adjacent in the southeast corner.
“The folks in the south end zone are amazing,” Knuth said. “They do a great job and get after it, and they take a lot of pride in being loud and proud. To make half of that section the Zonies and half of that section our students, and those two groups playing off each other and the band being in that area as well, it’s going to make that part of our stadium pretty tough to play. My hope is that late in the game the visiting team is playing in that direction, and my hope is our crowd will be going nuts and creating a really hostile and tough environment.”
Nevada also is creating a “We Are Nevada Fan Zone” outside the gates of the north end zone near Jensen Plaza. That will be a no-admission tailgating section that will include food trucks and live entertainment. Knuth said the idea came as a result of fan surveys.
“One of the things we’ve learned, and this offseason we studied and really spent time talking to people, is there are a lot of people who come to our games fully self-contained tailgate,” Knuth said. “They know how to do a tailgate like nobody else. They bring their barbeques, they bring their drinks, they bring their tents and tables and TVs and generators. They do it all. That’s awesome, and we have a lot of people who do that.
“But there’s also a pretty big percentage of our fans that don’t want to bother bringing the tables and tents and barbeques. They want to come to the game. They want to enjoy the atmosphere. They want to get a bite to eat and beverage and mix and mingle with fans and have a lot of fun. We wanted to provide that. The food trucks, we’re partnering with the same team that does Food Truck Fridays at Idlewild Park, and they’ll bring food trucks over and there will be great food there and beverages available for the adults, and it will be a great atmosphere.
“We’re sort of manufacturing an atmosphere, bringing the party to the game for the folks who don’t bring their own party with them. It will be an all-fans-welcomed thing. It’s not a ticketed event. If you come in and park and walk over, it will be right next to the north end of the stadium next to the scoreboard end of the stadium. Park wherever you park, walk to that part of the stadium. There will be some great food there, live music and obviously you’ll get to see everybody in town there.”
The Wolf Pack’s home schedule begins Sept. 11 against Idaho State. Nevada also hosts New Mexico State, Hawaii, UNLV, San Jose State and Air Force at Mackay Stadium in 2021. The department cut all season-ticket prices from the 2019 season in an attempt to boost a season-ticket base that has fallen from 12,783 fans in 2013 to 7,877 fans in 2019, a decline of 38.4 percent. Total attendance also has dropped in recent seasons, which is a national trend but has been sharper for the Wolf Pack.
Season tickets for Nevada football start at $109 per person for general admission seats and go up to $1,138 per fan for club level seating.
“Attendance has been going down the last couple of years,” Knuth said. “Our team performance is getting better and better and winning a big bowl game last year, winning six out of our eight regular-season games last year, Coach (Jay) Norvell has this team going in a great direction and we want to make sure it’s as easy and affordable as possible to have fans come check it out because there’s plenty of room on the bandwagon right now. One of the conversations we’ve had is benchmarking things and looking at, ‘What are the prices for the rest of your conference and your peers?’
“Going into this year, I said, ‘I don’t necessarily care what the prices are in San Diego. I don’t necessarily care what it costs to go to a football event or basketball game in Fresno. We have to look at what it takes in Reno, Nevada. What are the other alternatives? What does it cost to go to a movie? What does it cost to take your family to go miniature golfing? What does it cost to take your family up to Tahoe for a day?’ Those are our comparables, and we have to be priced affordable to compete with those so people say, ‘Let’s go to a Wolf Pack game, and we can do it at an affordable price and have some fun and go cheer for the Pack and bring our neighbors and friends with us and pack the stands.'”
Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.