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Official Review by Andy Mantsch, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Most people don’t wander off of the Las Vegas strip when they visit Sin City, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other attractions. If you ask the locals, there’s much more to Vegas than palatial casinos and neon lights. The University of Nevada – Las Vegas (more commonly UNLV) lies minutes from the strip and is a hidden sports show in the desert. Known for its temporary basketball dominance, the university boasts a few other Division I programs, including the Runnin’ Rebels football team.
Sam Boyd Stadium is the home to Rebs football and is noticeably off campus and away from the bright lights of the strip. Located several miles off campus in Henderson, NV, the stadium directly faces the mountains in the midst of a large community that most visitors forget even exists in the Vegas area. Lest you should try to forget that you’re in Vegas, the stadium is named after the late Sam Boyd, a prominent casino and hotel owner.
Built in 1971, the stadium (also known as the Silver Bowl) has served as the primary stadium for many Las Vegas sporting ventures, from the XFL to the NASL. It’s also host to the annual Las Vegas Bowl as well as the popular USA Sevens rugby tournament. The stadium seats 36,800, but has an expandable capacity of over 40,000.
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".
Food options are pretty simple at Sam Boyd. You'll find exactly the food options that you'd find at any generic sporting event around the country without any unique additions. The good news is price isn't a problem at all. Hot dogs, brats, pretzels, burgers, chicken fingers, pizza and the like all go from anywhere between $3 and $7, definitely low for a major college football venue. You'll also find all kinds of smaller side vendors selling things like kettle corn, Dippin' Dots and smoothies at reasonable prices. Pepsi products are available around the stadium starting at a very reasonable $3. And trust me, those low prices come in handy with the scorching desert sun.
Alcohol is readily (almost too readily) available all around the stadium. I swear there are more beer and alcohol vendors around Sam Boyd than there are food vendors. Prices again are a reasonable $6-$8 for beer and $6-$10 for an adult smoothie. Lines are never an issue, as these locations are all spread throughout the concourse.
Based on the program being buried in D1 football obscurity, the atmosphere is pleasantly surprising. I can't award more than 3 stars to Sam Boyd because there are just too many other college venues that really own the atmosphere rating. All the same, there are some unexpected traditions to be found in the desert that separate the UNLV experience from their non-BCS conference competitors.
First off, the crowd is larger and louder than expected. Even for a game against FCS competition, there were more people at the game than expected. Tailgating isn't altogether lacking, but is obviously nowhere near the elite level that you'll find in the 5 star college programs. Inside the game there are some cool moments as well. The "Re-bels" chop (as I'll call it) is a pretty cool chant after each score and a late game rendition of "Hey Jude" is a vocal performance not often seen in college venues. I won't oversell this category, as the stadium was far from sold out. But overall the fan support feels engaged and strong. And to add a final note, the mustache laden "Hey Reb" mascot is one of the cooler sites of college mascot-dom.
The stadium itself boasts beautiful views of the mountains beyond the open end of the horseshoe, so there's no doubt you're in the desert. Conversely, from the seats atop the open end of the horseshoe you'll have a great view of the lights of the Vegas Strip a few miles away. The press box looks newer and frankly, better than press boxes of larger and much more heralded stadiums around the country. Bleacher seating around the bowl is the standard uncomfortable kind, so if you have a seating pad of some kind it can be put to good use here.
How many points can you award for being close to the Vegas strip? To be fair, there are some nice restaurants and shopping centers in the Henderson area immediately around Sam Boyd Stadium. Put those together and you've got at least 3 points. I'd love to rate this higher, but the stadium is off campus and far off the strip. The immediate area outside the stadium has bit of a strange feel to it. The stadium is overly fenced in with imposing barbed-wire topped fences that channel all of the foot traffic to certain gates and make it difficult to navigate around the stadium if that's your choice. It seems a bit odd for a stadium in such a nice larger area.
To go with this point, there's really nothing to do within immediate walking distance of the Silver Bowl. Driving is essential. So if you take a 5 star city with a 1 star immediate vicinity...well, there's 3 stars.
They try, oh how they try. But how do you compete with what Las Vegas is all about? Not a whole lot of people are visiting Vegas for football, so the small but passionate UNLV fan base will have to settle for average. They get points for their passionate cheering and loyal devotion, but the strength is in numbers that don't exist. Perhaps if the stadium was closer to campus you'd get a larger student contingent, but with the Vegas strip also being close to campus it may ultimately be a lost cause.
One unique aspect I noticed more about UNLV than fans in most college football cities makes perfect sense. There's a lot more talk about lines and covering the spread. I've been to quite a few college stadiums around the country, and I can assure you the fans that actually go to the games generally could care less what the line on the game is or whether or not their team covered. But the nature of the beast for a major college football team in Las Vegas is that it will be forever linked with Sin City's favorite past time.
Not only is Sam Boyd Stadium located off campus, it's not really located within easy access to the major routes that cut through Las Vegas. I-515 passes fairly close to the stadium, but not close enough to avoid hitting several lights on the way in. And if you're coming into town on I-15, it's about halfway around the city in either direction to arrive at the game. For those looking to take in the entire Vegas experience while still hitting a game, it's about a 10-15 minute drive through city traffic to go between the two.
Parking will cost you $10 at the tailgating lots across from the stadium, but free parking can be found in the surrounding areas. Of particular annoyance is the fencing surrounding the entire stadium, resulting in longer than necessary walks to get to your desired gate.
Once in the stadium, the concourse is wide and easy to navigate around the horseshoe. There are plenty of large restrooms available, although they feel quite dated inside. Bleacher seats may require climbing some stairs as there is only one entrance to each section from the concourse.
There is handicapped seating at the top of the bowl with elevator access behind it. However it does not appear that there is any way to access the handicapped seating section except by these elevators.
It's hard to complain about a FBS experience at $19 face value price (prices range up from there) with free parking. It's probably about right if you are going to weigh a $19 experience against the $90 experiences like the big SEC schools. Add to that the low cost of concessions, and it's all in all a pretty good deal. Just make sure you have the money left for it once you leave the strip.
I can't attribute a lot of the extras to UNLV football, but being somewhere like Las Vegas holds an advantage (and disadvantage) over any other college football program in the country. The views around the stadium are wonderful and there aren't a lot of better places from which to get an all-encompassing view of the Las Vegas strip surrounded by the majesty of desert mountains than from the top of the bleachers. I'd like to go on and give more points to something that's actually inside the stadium, but it's really just a pretty average college football experience without any particular frills.
Member Review by DrewCieszynski
Las Vegas has been known for glamourous sporting events, such as the NBA All-Star game and Pay-Per-View Boxing Matches, but still remains without a professional franchise. Until a team from one of the big four leagues (MLB, NFL, NHL, NBA) actually does relocate to Las Vegas, the University of Nevada Las Vegas Rebels are the most popular team in town.
There is a misconception that the UNLV football nickname is the "Runnin' Rebels," however that only refers to the basketball team and the football team is simply known as the "Rebels".
While the basketball team plays near the Las Vegas strip in the community known as Paradise, the football team plays approximately seven miles away from the strip, closer to Henderson, NV at Sam Boyd Stadium.
The Stadium opened in 1971 after a construction cost of $3.5 million and was originally known as Las Vegas Stadium. The stadium would have two other names before finally landing on Sam Boyd Stadium in 1994. Sam Boyd, who passed in 1993, was a Las Vegas businessman who created the Boyd Gaming Corporation and had a part in hotels such as The Sahara, Sam's Town Hotel, and The Mint.
The capacity now sits at 36,800, however the stadium has been expanded to over 40,000 on several occasions. The stadium also plays home to the Las Vegas Locomotives of the United Football League and the annual MAACO Bowl Las Vegas. In the past, the stadium was home to the Las Vegas Posse of the CFL and Las Vegas Outlaws of the XFL.
Member Review by Chorizo16 on Jul 09, 2013
About the only good thing I can think of
Member Review by HarshCritic on Sep 06, 2013
I like this because it is Vegas, but it is soooo far away from the strip that it makes it a pain to go to. I've been there for a regular season UNLV game and a bowl game. The stadium itself is comfortable and cozy, but the location sucks. I sure hope they build one closer to the strip and take advantage of their biggest draw.
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