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Official Review by Jordan Baer, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Starting in 2008, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers began playing as a Division I FBS football team after successfully making the transition from Division I-AA where they won one championship in 2002. In 2009, Western Kentucky gave up their independence and became a member of the Sun Belt Conference. Since that time, the Hilltoppers have taken on the best of the best in NCAA football as they’ve played games against BCS opponents like Florida, Tennessee, Virginia Tech, Alabama, and Kentucky (whom they beat 32-31 in 2012).
As a result of WKU’s progress, the Hilltoppers have made numerous improvements and renovations to their football stadium. Built in 1968, Smith Stadium initially seated 19,250 fans. Then in 1989, renovations brought the capacity down to 17,500. Finally in 2008, a new round of renovations brought the stadium up to its current capacity of 22,113. Since these renovations were funded by a $5 million donation from Houchens Industries, the stadium is now called Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium- a name that makes the name Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim look simple.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
I was thoroughly impressed with the concession selection at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium. Although the facility had the basic soft drinks and popcorn that can be found at just about every other stadium in the country, the facility also offered Sonic brand food such as Coney dogs and foot longs. This seemed to resonate with the fans as all the concession stands in the stadium were backed up during the entire game.
One of the best things about the food and beverage at the stadium is that they are conveniently located on all sides of the stadium as well as on all levels. Usually, when I'm at other facilities I have to walk a mile to find a concession stand. At Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium, you can find concession stands located on both sides, both levels, and even on the end of the western side of the stadium.
The atmosphere is great. Granted, I attended the game that set a new attendance record for Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium, but you just can't beat the small perks that can be found around the stadium. What stuck out to me most were the CSX trains passing right next to the western end zone of the stadium. This perk does a great job reinforcing the train image of Bowling Green which has the Rail Park Museum just down the road.
Another great perk about the stadium is the shallow lower level. Because of this, fans in the upper level are closer to the action. It also makes for a more intimate and intimidating environment for opposing teams to have to deal with.
The neighborhood around the stadium didn't impress me much. In fact, I felt like the stadium was crammed in between the arena and the ballpark next to it. Everything seemed to be stacked on top of everything else. I also felt like the stadium was stuck between a rock and a hard place given that it wasn't centrally located on campus and it wasn't centrally located in Downtown Bowling Green, which kind of put it in no man's land. In other words, if you want to enjoy most of the retail or restaurants in Bowling Green or next to Western Kentucky, you will have to head north a minimum of 3-5 blocks. The only exception to this rule appears to be a few restaurants and retail at Old Morgantown Road.
The one thing I did like about the location of the stadium was its proximity to the tallest bell tower on the campus of WKU. After the game, the bell tower rang for at least 15 minutes after the Hilltoppers victory. I found this to be an excellent way to coordinate the campus of WKU with their premier stadium.
My impression of the WKU fans is at a 50-50 good-bad ratio. On the one hand, I saw a woman who was having health problems take a quick break behind a fan who was already sitting down. This lady just needed to catch her breath and was resting for a split second. Instantly the fan threw a fit that she was too close behind him and asked her to leave even though she was breathing hard.
On two other occasions, I watched fans cheer and clap when visiting team players suffered game ending injuries. I understand every team has bad fans, and I also understand that WKU is not used to winning on the Division I level or having their stadium filled all the way up to 23,000 fans. But at the same time, some of the WKU fans need to show some better sportsmanship and character. I'm not the only fan who was appalled by some of the actions of other fans there.
With all of that being said, there are definitely some bright spots about the rest of WKU's fans in general. They are dedicated, they are loud, and they are certainly loyal. The WKU football program is on the rise because their fan support is on the rise. The WKU fans are doing a good job of increasing attendance at each game, increasing their support for WKU football, and increasing noise during WKU football games. There is something to be said for those fans as well.
I'm going to let everyone in on a secret to get free parking. If you go to the corner of Chestnut Street and Regents Avenue, there is a university owned parking lot that is free and open to the public on the weekends. Yes, it's a few blocks away from the stadium, but unless you are parking in the parking garage north of the stadium, it appears to be the best bet for parking.
Outside of the WKU parking lot and the parking garage north of the stadium, it becomes a little hard to find parking. The stadium is bounded by a lot of roads that have limited parking and even limited space to tailgate. So if you aren't satisfied with the above two parking locations, you better be prepared to hunt for your parking space. I would love to see the CSX line to the west of the stadium serve as a rail line shuttle during game days.
I don't think anyone who lives in or is passing by Bowling Green, Kentucky during a Hilltoppers football game should miss out on the opportunity to see a game at Houchens Industries- L.T. Smith Stadium. Although it is technically the smallest stadium in NCAA FBS/Div I, it certainly won't give you that impression when you leave. During a Hilltoppers game, the atmosphere is vibrant and alive which hasn't always been the case while the Hilltoppers were Div I-AA.
I came away with the impression and the belief that Hilltopper football is on the rise and will only get better as each year passes. Although I haven't been to many stadiums in the Sun Belt Conference, I have to believe that Houchens Industries-L.T. Stadium ranks somewhere near the top in the conference. I highly recommend a visit to Houchens-Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium on the edge of the Western Kentucky University campus in Bowling Green, KY.
I give one point to Western Kentucky University for their commitment to their football program. Over the years, there were times when the university was considering disbanding their football program. Thankfully, the Hilltoppers stuck it out and are now one of the fastest growing programs in the NCAA. WKU's football program is a perfect example of how resilient Hilltopper fans and faithful have been over the years.
I give one point to the maintenance crews at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium. It's now been over 4 years since the last round of renovations to the facility, but when you enter the stadium it looks like it's opening day of the first event to be held at the facility. From top to bottom, the stadium is shiny and clean.
Member Review by MikeStunson
Houchens Industries- L.T. Smith Stadium is Western Kentucky University's 22,000 seat stadium rested at the bottom of their campus hill. The stadium expanded before the 2008 season. The new side of the stadium contains approximately 5,000 seats, as well as a 832-seat club level. The 2010 season is WKU's 43rd season the Hilltopper football team has used this stadium.
Houchens-Smith Stadium is named after L.T. Smith who was the Hilltoppers' fourth football coach, and the stadium was dedicated in his honor in 1968. The stadium also includes a 10,000-square-foot weight room and a state of the art training room for WKU athletes.
1265 College St
Bowling Green, KY 42101
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