LARAMIE — War Memorial Stadium, the home of the University of Wyoming Cowboys football program, is getting $85 million in upgrades, which school officials and some Pokes fans said is long overdue.
As a hardcore UW Cowboys superfan, Sue Nelson of Laramie told Cowboy State Daily that she’s ecstatic for the upgrades, even though they could mean higher ticket prices.
“I’ve been to games at a lot of other schools where it’s much more expensive than it is here, and I think what we pay here is reasonable and will still be reasonable,” said Nelson.
She’s been bleeding brown and gold and loyally attending Cowboys football games and practices at War Memorial since the late 1960s.
Nelson added that she appreciates upgrades done few years ago to UW’s Arena-Auditorium, where she goes to cheer on the Cowboys and Cowgirls basketball teams. She’s confident that the War Memorial project will turn out just as well.
“We’re very lucky here,” she said. “UW has great facilities, and they do a great job at everything they build.”
Rebuilding the West Side
Crews started tearing out the old sections right after the Pokes won their final home game of the 2023 season last month against the University of Hawaii. All the lower-level seats on the west side of the stadium have been torn out, primarily to the center section.
“It’s amazing how fast they took all of this out,” UW Deputy Director of Athletics Matt Whisenant said while visiting the site this week with Cowboy State Daily.
Amid the rumble of heavy equipment, crew were busy inside the hollowed-out lower sections of the stadium’s massive west side.
The work will continue at a brisk pace, UW Athletics Director Tom Burman said.
The first part of the project is slated to be ready in time for the Cowboys’ 2024 season, he said. That will include improved middle-seating sections, as well as some ongoing work on concession areas and restrooms.
Another round of improvements — including higher-end, more private “loge seating” areas and an upgraded media center — is set to be done in time for the 2025 season.
Simply put, War Memorial Stadium was past due for an upgrade, which is needed to improve the comfort and game experience of fans and to keep it competitive with other stadiums in the Mountain West Conference, Burman said.
First opened in 1950, War Memorial is the oldest stadium in the conference.
To help cover the $85 million price tag for the project, $20 million came from private donors, Burman said. The rest came from UW’s major maintenance fund, as well as direct allocations from the Wyoming Legislature.
Fewer Seats, Higher Prices
Many of the seats on the west side of the stadium are cramped by today’s standards, Burman said.
So, the improved seating will include chair backs and “more room between your knees and the person in front of you,” he said.
The “loge seating” areas also will include more spacious seats, as well as partitions to create a greater sense of privacy.
Of course, all of that will mean fewer seats overall in War Memorial, Burman said.
Before the preliminary demolition started, the stadium had a maximum capacity of about 29,000. Once all the improvements are completed, the capacity will be about 24,000 to 25,000, Burman said.
Home game attendance this past season averaged about 22,000, he said.
“In a situation where we might exceed capacity, we do have metal bleachers that we can set up behind the south end zone, but we would rather not do that because of the impact it would have on the atmosphere and fans’ experience of the game,” Burman said.
The improvements could also mean higher ticket prices, particularly for coveted seats right at the 50-yard line, he said.
Now those tickets run in the $200 range, but it’s not certain what the new prices might be. Burman said he anticipates some fans not liking the improvement project because of higher prices.
Fans Won’t Mind
The cost of new premium seating will probably also include a mandatory donation to the Cowboy Joe Club, club board member Jake Anfinson of Laramie told Cowboy State Daily.
Even so, he said he’s not worried about too much grumbling over fewer seats and higher ticket prices.
“I think anybody who has been on that (west) side of the stadium the last several years can understand the need for improvements,” he said. “They can see the situation with the concessions, the bathrooms and the stand themselves. We can afford to lose a few seats. It’s been quite some time since we sold that out.”
Pricing also will be tiered so that “there’s going to be opportunities for everybody to have seating that’s affordable to them,” Anfinson said.
And the changes won’t affect the overall feel of War Memorial, which has great views of the field from any angle, he said. “There’s no such thing as a bad seat in that stadium.”
Inflation Hits Home
Higher ticket prices also reflect the growing cost of the Pokes doing business, Burman said.
“Inflation has been phenomenal just the past few years,” he said, adding that athletics runs on a $44 million expenses budget.
For some of their away games, the Pokes fly out of Laramie Regional Airport, Burman said. Not that long ago, the bill for those flights was running around $70,000.
“Now, it’s gotten well north of six figures. The cost of the flight, just that one flight, is now well over $100,000,” he said, adding that once the team reaches its destination, there are increased lodging and food prices to deal with.
Given the loyalty of Cowboys fans, Anfinson said he’s confident the program will stay ahead of expenses.
“You have to be able to monetize the assets you have, and War Memorial Stadium is one of the best assets we have in this state,” he said.
Mark Heinz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.