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Official Review by Paul Baker, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Named after long-time athletic director Warren P. McGuirk, McGuirk Alumni Stadium has served as the home venue for the University of Massachusetts-Amherst Minutemen since 1965. Despite its location on campus, McGuirk Stadium is actually situated across the town line in neighboring Hadley.
The Minutemen made the jump to FBS beginning with the 2012 season. Their long-time on-campus home, McGuirk Stadium, did not meet the minimum standards set by the FBS. To remedy these shortcomings, the University embarked on a $20 million renovation project to bring the stadium up to minimum FBS standards. As part of these renovations, a new training facility and locker rooms were built on the north end of the stadium, the old press box demolished, a new two-level press box installed, and luxury boxes added, increasing capacity to 17,000. Even at this increased capacity, McGuirk Stadium remains the second smallest venue in FBS.
While renovations were being completed at McGuirk Stadium, the Minutemen played all their 2012 and 2013 home games at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. Despite Gillette’s increased capacity of 68,756, its location 95 miles from UMass’ Amherst campus made it an imperfect alternative for students wanting to attend football games. The current contract between the university and the stadium calls for UMass to play some home games at Gillette Stadium through the 2016 season. For the 2014 season, the Minutemen will play three games at Gillette and three games at McGuirk.
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".
There are three permanent stands, located in the corners of the concourse. These stands offer limited menus, with cheesesteaks ($7.50) and sausage and pepper sandwiches ($7.50) the featured items. Several snack items are available at these stands, such as chips ($1.50), cookies ($1.50), cotton candy ($3), popcorn ($3), peanuts ($3), odwalla bars ($2), and apples ($1.50). Bottles of Coca-Cola products and water are sold for $2. There are only one or two registers at each of these stands, and long lines form throughout the game.
Variety in concessions is achieved with the presence of a couple of food trucks from local favorite Baby Berk. Their menu consists of specialty hamburgers ($5-$7) and sides. It's very popular among the student body, and long lines are present throughout the game. Maple Valley Creamery, a local ice cream shop, also has a stand set up, offering various flavors for $4.
Two souvenir stands, one on each sideline, are set up underneath the stands, selling a wide variety of UMass souvenirs.
The UMass community has welcomed the Minutemen back to campus in a huge way. Their initial game at McGuirk Stadium sold out quickly, and the student body turned out in droves for the first game back, packing the stands with maroon and white. While the pregame tailgating can't match games from the SEC or Big 10, the fans at UMass have nothing to be ashamed about. The atmosphere at McGuirk is something that the university is not able to achieve at cavernous Gillette Stadium.
If you haven't been to a game in Amherst in a while, Minutefan Way will be a new feature of the game day experience here. A stretch of Stadium Drive is now closed on game days, opening to pedestrian traffic only several hours before kickoff. Live bands, mechanical bulls, inflatable mini golf holes, video game tents, face painting, and photo booths are all located on this stretch of road, and all are free to fans. Concession stands offering items not available inside the stadium are sold here.
So with all the additions to the game day atmosphere and the large crowds, why only the average score for atmosphere? Simply put, the crowd here has no staying power. Almost the entire student body left at halftime during our visit. Despite a game that was as close to a "can't miss" event as you will find in Amherst, the first home game on campus in three years, a halftime score of 26-21 in a game that would eventually finish with over 1,300 total yards of offense, it wasn't enough to prevent the stands from emptying out halfway through the game. Where the first half atmosphere was as good as you will find anywhere in New England, the second half was a completely opposite experience. Thus, an overall score that balances the two halves.
Amherst is consistently rated as one of the best college towns in the country. Downtown is located within walking distance of campus (well, walking distance for a college student), and is chock full of restaurants, shops, and things to do. With five colleges located in and around Amherst, the options are many and varied. Take a walk down Main Street and you can find restaurants ranging from African cuisine to French gourmet, from Mexican to Vietnamese, places specializing in brunch to sidewalk cafes. UMass students swear by Antonio's, home of legendary pizza slices.
Just up the road from McGuirk Stadium is Hadley, Massachusetts, where many more dining and shopping choices are located. The majority of the eateries in this area consist of chain restaurants and fast food options. Within walking distance of the stadium is Amherst Brewing Company, a popular campus hangout with numerous house brews on tap.
Lodging options in Amherst proper are somewhat limited, but with several options in neighboring Hadley, and with Springfield only 30 minutes away, you won't have to travel too far to find a place to stay after the game. For those wishing to eliminate the commute after the game entirely, the UMass Hotel and Conference Center is located at the center of campus, and is run entirely by students in the hospitality and tourism management program.
For those looking for more scholarly endeavors after taking in a game, the Amherst region boasts several museums, as any good college town should. Literary fans will find museums chronicling the works of authors ranging from Eric Carle to Emily Dickinson. Eclectic bookstores and quaint shops line Main Street, and the smell from the eateries up and down the street will make any mouth water.
Even before the renovations at McGuirk Stadium, UMass fans represented themselves well. In 2011 the average attendance at Minutemen football games was over 13,000, not too bad in a stadium that seats 17,000. While the buzz about the team's return to campus was impressive, and the stadium was packed and loud early on in the initial game back, the energy was short-lived. Despite a late September afternoon that felt more like late August in western Massachusetts, most of the student body left at halftime, leaving a half-full stadium for the remainder of this homecoming game. There are two remaining home games on the Minutemen's 2014 schedule, both coming on weekday nights. Time will tell if the fans come out in strong numbers for the remaining games.
The University of Massachusetts is located in rural Amherst. There are no highways that directly serve the UMass campus, but Interstate 91 is only six miles away if traveling from the north, south, or west. If traveling from the east, the Massachusetts Turnpike (Interstate 90) is only a short drive away as well. Take exit 8 (Palmer) off the turnpike and follow the signs along the winding country roads to downtown Amherst and the UMass campus. Although the drive from the Mass Pike to UMass takes about a half hour, the foliage during the football season in this part of the country is amazing, and draws many tourists throughout the fall. It's well worth it to take your time and enjoy the scenery.
Springfield is located 16 miles south of Amherst, and is served by both Amtrak and the Peter Pan Bus Lines. The larger cities of Boston, Albany, and Hartford are all less than a two hour drive from campus. The closest airport is Bradley Airport, just over the Connecticut state line. If visiting the area towards the end of the football season as snow starts falling in the nearby mountains, the fine ski resorts of Vermont's White Mountains are only a couple of hours away.
Traffic and parking around McGuirk Stadium can be challenging for such a small facility. There is basically only one road that serves the stadium, and part of it is blocked off on game days, so getting around can be difficult. Be on the lookout for heavy foot traffic in the area as well, particularly coming from campus. There are only a few parking lots surrounding the stadium, so many fans are forced to find on-street parking. Some of their efforts can best be described as opportunistic, as fans will squeeze their cars into any opening, whether it can actually fit a full sized car or not. Some fans' efforts to find parking close to the stadium are actually quite humorous and entertaining, unless you are unlucky enough to be caught near them.
The area around the stadium is beautifully landscaped, but it inexplicably stops once you enter the grounds of McGuirk. The concourse is not finished, and is made up of dirt and rocks. It is not possible to completely circle the stadium, as the far side of the concourse is blocked off. There are restrooms in the large building that also houses the visitors' locker room in the south end zone, but they are not large enough to serve a sellout crowd. A large row of port-a-johns are located off the north end zone to serve the rest of the crowd.
Tickets for Minutemen games at McGuirk Stadium are reasonably priced for FBS, with tickets priced at $20 for adults, $10 for youth/group tickets, and free for students. Parking is free in the few lots near the stadium, with many on-street options available. Be sure to arrive early, as the competition for spots close to the stadium is intense. Food prices are in line with other venues in the area. Attending a game at McGuirk Stadium is an affordable way to take in some college football played in the top division in the country. With only three FBS squads in all of New England, UMass is in rare company in this part of the nation.
History: Even though UMass is new to the FBS, they have a long and illustrious history in Division 1-A, including a national championship in 1998, and appearances in the national championship game in 1978 and 2006. Banners are hung along the back side of the grandstand honoring the great teams and players from the UMass glory days.
Return to campus: After three years playing all of their home games on the other side of the state, the Minutemen were welcomed home with open arms. The improvements in the game day experience and throughout the stadium are sure to pay dividends as UMass continues to bring a portion of their schedule home every year.
While McGuirk Stadium may not measure up to the larger stadiums across the country in the FBS, the return of the Minutemen to the Amherst campus is a most welcome sight. The Minutemen will continue to play their marquee games at Gillette Stadium, at least through the duration of their current contract, which expires in 2016. The return of several games a year to Amherst gives many students who could not make the trip across Massachusetts to Foxboro access to the team. The atmosphere at a packed McGuirk Stadium is something that just couldn't be replicated in cavernous Gillette Stadium. With the new performance center and press box, McGuirk is now a facility that is part old school, part modern. Hopefully the university will continue to upgrade McGuirk Stadium and continue to schedule more games on campus. For now, McGuirk Stadium serves as a quaint, if unspectacular, facility for UMass' entry into college football's top division.
Member Review by Ben37661 on Dec 19, 2014
I was at the same game as the official review and sitting on the side opposite the press box was nearly unbearably hot (well for New Englanders). It was so hot that at least half of the ice cream was melted before I got back to my seat. I think that may have lead to some of the students heading out at half time. I have been to other games and usually the students leave around the 4 th qtr, usually because the team was getting blow out. It is a fun place to watch a game, very kid friendly both in and outside the stadium (opposite the campus side). Opposite Minutefan way on the practice fields there are lots of tailgating families so it is a great place if you have younger kids. All in all it is a nice place to watch FBS football for a pretty good value and if you are in Western Mass the only other options are UConn or BC about 90 minutes away and into metro areas
Member Review by refmichel on Oct 21, 2015
We went for the Homecoming game this weekend.
Ticket price was affordable at $20 plus free parking. Acces is very easy.
Tailgating was great and people were friendly.
MinuteFan Way is a very nice addition.
Contrary to the review on this site I thought the concession stand choices were diverse, reasonably priced and good.
It was a nice experience.
31 N Pleasant St
Amherst, MA 01002
24 N Pleasant St
Amherst, MA 01002
280 Main St
Amherst, MA 01002
1 Campus Center Way
Amherst, MA 01003
345 N Pleasant St
Amherst, MA 01002
423 Russell St
Hadley, MA 01035