Bobcat Stadium on the campus of Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana opened in 1973 as Reno H. Sales Stadium. It was a serviceable, but unremarkable venue featuring metal bleachers along each sideline and smaller wooden bleachers in each end zone. Major renovations completed in 1998 and 2011 and growing crowds brought on by a streak of winning seasons beginning in 2002 have transformed Bobcat Stadium into one of many great venues, in appearance and atmosphere, in the Football Championship Division (FCS).
Official seating capacity is 17,777 but crowds in excess of the capacity, which have become routine, are accommodated with standing room only areas and temporary bleachers. The 2012 home opener, which was also the first night game in the history of Bobcat Stadium, drew a record crowd of 20,767.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
If you leave Bobcat Stadium hungry it's your own fault. There's something for everyone at one of the many concession stands under the grandstands. Combo meals, including french fries (add garlic sauce for $1), a 32 oz drink (Pepsi products), and everything from hot dogs, polish dogs, nachos, chicken tenders, pizza, and more run from $7 to $9. There are also all the other typical stadium snacks, such as popcorn, cookies, and candy. In warm weather, slushies are popular ($4 for 24 oz.), and in cold weather the hot chocolate is flowing ($2).
It's worth it to walk around underneath the bleachers before deciding what to buy as each stand sells slightly different items, and there are specialty stands along the way as well, including the Smokehouse BBQ with pulled pork or beef brisket sandwiches, an espresso stand, and Big Sky Bakery (the carmels ($5) are wonderful), and much more. I recommend visiting Grid Iron Dogs under the press box side. You get a huge grilled Chicago style hotdog with grilled onions and lots of add-on options for only $4 or a combo with chips and a drink for $7. It was delicious.
As with most college stadiums, beer is not sold, but don't worry, there's plenty on the other side of the fence. Unlike a lot of stadiums, you can leave and re-enter Bobcat Stadium at halftime with a hand stamp, so you can enjoy the nearly unlimited food and drink options at the surrounding tailgate parties.
Bobcat Stadium is not the coldest place to watch a football game in North America, but it is a good idea to pay close attention to the weather forecast when planning to attend a game there. Don't skip out on a game because it's cold and snowy. The cold games are the most memorable, with plays and outcomes that are talked about for years to come. And it's fun to brag you were there and survived. Dress in layers and bring a blanket or seat cushion as sitting directly on the metal bleachers will suck the heat out of your body. Good footwear is especially important in cold weather as there will be ice and snow in the standing and walking areas inside and outside the stadium.
All the stands in Bobcat Stadium are close to the action. Visiting fans are usually located in the bottom left section (facing the field) of the west (press box) stand behind the visiting team's bench. The west stand is in the shade, which is great on hot days, and the site lines are outstanding. The older east stand behind the home team's bench gets full sun the entire game so even if it's cold sunscreen is a good idea. The east stand is a bit outdated and does lack some features like handrails along the stairs, and there's a walkway along the bottom of the stand so the first few rows will have to deal with people walking in front of them. I personally prefer to be near the top of the new end zone stand (known as the Sonny Holland Zone). Not only are tickets cheaper, the site lines are terrific for an overall view of the action, there's more room between rows for us tall guys (I'm 6'5"), and people passing by won't be stepping on your toes.
Get in the stadium early enough to watch the band, cheerleaders and PA announcer build up the excitement which reaches a crescendo with a dramatic highlight video produced by MSU film students. The Bobcats storm the stadium through a big inflatable bobcat head while AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" blares from the loudspeakers. It's a truly goose bump moment as the team runs to greet the student section at the opposite end of the field with the whole place going crazy.
At every media timeout or long stoppage of play, there's something going on either from the band, cheerleaders, or something from the huge video screen that towers above the north end zone. The PA announcer does his part with his signature FIIIIRRRST DOWN call where the crowd finishes the sentence by shouting BOBCATS! followed by the band playing a few bars of the school song.
Bozeman, a city of about 40,000, is full of active and energetic people and there's a vibrancy about the place found only in college towns. Main Street in downtown Bozeman, which is less than two miles from the stadium, was recently voted one of the top 10 streets in America by the American Planning Association.
There are a tremendous amount of eating, drinking, and shopping choices downtown. I'll put out a few suggestions, but they are only the tip of the iceberg here:
Pregame: Breakfast at the Western Cafe or Main Street Overeasy, then stroll over to Universal Athletics for some Bobcat gear and the Leaf and Bean for a coffee.
Postgame: Head back to Main Street to the Rockin R Bar for their 5th quarter party which is advertised on the video board at the stadium during the game. The R bar, as the locals call it, has been a downtown fixture for decades, but in 2010 it was utterly destroyed by a natural gas explosion. In the rubble, a goal post that fans had carried to the bar from the stadium after a Bobcat victory over the Montana Grizzlies was recovered. After the building was completely rebuilt the goal post was put back on display and is a poignant reminder of the tragic explosion that took one person's life.
If you want to eat and drink within an easy walk to the stadium, Spectators Sports Bar and Grill, across the street from the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse is a good choice and popular with Bobcat fans.
If you're looking for a more family atmosphere or seek the familiarity of a chain restaurant, head out North 19th Avenue to Buffalo Wild Wings or Old Chicago. Also, the Club Tavern and Grill inside the Gran Tree Inn on North 7th Avenue is a great place eat and watch a game on one of their many big screen TV's. The Gran Tree Inn, incidentally, is also a great choice to stay if you need lodging for the weekend-just make your reservations early as all the motels in Bozeman fill up on Bobcat football weekends.
Finally, no trip to Bozeman would be complete without a cheese steak sandwich from the Pickle Barrel. The little sandwich shop is located by the north edge of the MSU campus on West College Street. I'm told they have other great sandwiches, but I never get anything but the cheese steak, which I think is the best sandwich in Montana.
If you have the time, take a tour of the Museum of the Rockies, right next to Bobcat Stadium.
It has been said that Montana is a small town with really long streets. Bobcat game days are sporting events and class/family/friend reunions all rolled into one as fans pour into Bozeman from all corners of the state. Just ask around your seating section, you'll be amazed at the distances people travel to come to Bobcat football games. If there's any knock on some Bobcat fans, it's that these reunions at the various tailgate parties sometimes keep people from getting into the stadium on time, or getting back after halftime.
The students and MSU Spirit of the West Marching Band occupy the center of the end zone bleachers, and the entire section of the end zone bleachers below the mezzanine from sideline to sideline. The opposing team receives a raucous welcome to Bobcat Stadium when they enter the field from a tunnel underneath the student section. The students stand the entire game and keep the energy level high and the noise level loud.
Visiting fans are warmly welcomed at most tailgate parties, but those wearing opposing team's colors, and especially the maroon of the arch rival Montana Grizzlies, are cautioned that they may get some flack if walking through the tailgate area east of the stadium (between the stadium and Museum of the Rockies) where the students congregate. But if you can give it back as well as receive it then that might be the place for you. There is a security presence in the tailgate areas to make sure things don't get too out of hand.
When a town of 40,000 hosts a football crowd of 20,000 you can expect some issues. A quick check of a map of Bozeman and MSU and a plan about where you want to park can smooth things out considerably.
Bobcat Stadium is located on the south end of the MSU campus. If approaching Bozeman from the west on I-90 take exit 305 and follow North 19th Avenue south to Kagy Boulevard and take a left (you'll see the stadium). If approaching Bozeman on I-90 from the East take exit 309 and follow Main Street through downtown, turn left on Willson Avenue to Kagy Boulevard. Turn right on Kagy where you will see the Museum of the Rockies and then the stadium just beyond.
The section of Kagy Boulevard that goes in front of the stadium is renamed Bobcat Boulevard on game days and is blocked to vehicular traffic. This greatly enhances pedestrian safety, but does create some traffic circulation issues for those who are unaware.
There are handicapped parking spaces behind both grandstands and attendants at the intersections near the stadium to guide you. Handicapped parking spots fill up fast, so if you need one plan on getting there early.
Most campus parking spots are free. If approaching from the west, there's a large parking lot between the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse and the stadium. There's more parking north of the Fieldhouse and near the high rise dorms. If approaching from the east via Willson Avenue, there is some parking south of the Strand Union Building (SUB) which is a short walk to the stadium.
Some of the private property near the stadium is made available for parking for a fee ($5-$10), and the Museum of the Rockies makes parking available for $20. The museum spaces are handy because they are close to the stadium if you want to get back to your car at halftime and they are the quickest spots to get out of after the game. A museum staff member will guide you to the parking area.
Bozeman has a limited public transportation system, but there are two bus routes that run on Saturday's that connect the MSU SUB, downtown, and various other locations. Check the schedule at Streamlinebus.com.
There are concrete sidewalks leading to the stadium, but the tailgating areas are not paved and can get quite muddy if it's wet and sturdy shoes or boots are a must. The entrance gates get crowded right before kickoff as those who tailgate to the last minute hurry to make it to their seats before kickoff. If you don't want to miss any of the game, I recommended heading to your seats at least 20 minutes before kickoff.
The restrooms in Bobcat Stadium are new, clean, and accessible. The newest restrooms under the end zone stand are the most spacious with no lines. There are also a generous amount of port-a-johns in the tailgate areas.
Snow or shine, a day out at Bobcat Stadium is always a great time and the success of the team has Bobcat fans feeling like they get their money's worth. Ticket prices range from $12 to $33 for most games with prices for homecoming and the Bobcat-Grizzly game costing more. Single game and season tickets in the new end zone stand are a bargain because of the price and the quality of the seats. If all seats are sold, MSU will make standing room only tickets available for $12.
The Big Sky Conference is known for an exciting, high scoring brand of football. The coaches are innovative and the players are highly skilled. In most Big Sky games no lead is safe and no deficit is too great to overcome. The teams put on a great show.
With no pro or big time FBS teams anywhere close, both of Montana's flagship schools, Montana State and the University of Montana, enjoy an elevated status statewide far beyond most FCS teams. As far as Montanans are concerned the Bobcats are big time and the fan support and enthusiasm reflect that.
A few more items that make Bobcat Stadium even better:
Bobcatnation.com: This website (not affiliated with MSU) is where Bobcat fans gather online to talk about their favorite team. If you're a fan of a visiting team and coming to the game, log on to the Bobcatnation.com football message board and introduce yourself. You'll get lots of suggestions about what to do, where to eat, where to stay, etc. and you'll be invited to several tailgate parties.
The Bobcat Prowl: One hour and 15 minutes before kickoff, Champ the mascot, the cheerleaders, and the Spirit of the West Marching Band lead the team from the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse to the stadium. Fans line up along both sides of the procession to get the team pumped up. This is a tradition not to be missed!
The Great Falls Tailgate Party: The Bobcat Boosters from Great Falls, Montana setup a huge tailgate party for every home game. A donation gets you in where keg beer, soft drinks, hot chocolate, coffee and great food are available. The menu changes every week, but it's always good. The Great Falls folks make a special effort to welcome fans from the opposing team. They're always set up at the front entrance of the stadium right off Bobcat (Kagy) Boulevard. Just ask around, everybody knows where it is.
Burning Monte: The Great Falls folks always burn a teddy bear in defiance of the rival Montana Grizzlies' mascot Monte. Some find this tradition a bit crass, but it's become a fixture at every home game. They've even been known to let fans of other opposing teams, who also don't like the Grizzlies, do the honor of lighting up Monte.
Snow Shovel Volunteers: When a winter storm hits Bozeman right before a game (it doesn't happen every year), MSU Athletics will put out the word that they need help shoveling out the stadium. Dozens of Bobcat fans will show up to lend a hand, so when everybody gets to the game on Saturday the stadium is fully functional.
The game this review is mostly based on took place on November 10, 2012, right after winter storm Brutus (as named by the Weather Channel) dumped almost a foot of snow on Bozeman and the surrounding region and temperatures dropped to near zero. Treacherous roads all over the state kept a lot of people home that normally would have been there. I don't want to leave the impression in this report or photos that this is typical. Fall in Bozeman is a beautiful time of year, and most games are played and watched in comfortable weather. If you're ever in Bozeman during football season, come check out a game. You'll have a blast!
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