A sign on the southwest corner of University Stadium, in which the opposing team enters the football field, warns of "Acute Altitude Sickness." It tells University of New Mexico foes of the "dangers" of playing at 5,100 feet above sea level.
Perhaps, if the game-day experience at the stadium was more inviting, that would serve as more of an intimidating factor for opposing teams.
University Stadium opened in 1960 and underwent an upgrade in facilities in the 2000s. However, it lacks the charm and pizazz, respectively of neighboring Isotopes Park (Albuquerque's Triple-A baseball venue) and University Arena (the University of New Mexico's basketball arena that is better known as "The Pit") with a palatial ambience, thanks to a $60 million renovation in 2009.
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".
The concessions lack any sort of imagination, as though school officials are counting on fans to get their feast on during the pregame tailgating.
Fans can choose from $7 chicken tenders or $4.25 hot dogs as an entrĂ©e. Nachos and popcorn are $4, and pretzels are $3.75. No alcohol is allowed in the concourse; soft drinks run from $3.75-$6.50 and bottled water is $3.50.
Late summer and early fall weather in Albuquerque is often ideal for fans. Most of the games in September and early October take place during pleasant evenings. Most of the games are moved to daytime in late October and November, in which sunshine is typical and keeps fans from having to huddle together to keep from freezing. Fans on the east side of the stadium have a scenic view of the Sandia Mountains to enjoy for the entire game. Fans on the west side, however, sometimes have to contend with the sun blurring their vision during afternoon games.
Fans also have been allowed to gather on grassy sections on the southeast and southwest corners of the stadium.
University Stadium is part of Albuquerque's three major sporting venues on the Avenida Cesar Chavez and University boulevard cross streets. The Isotopes Triple-A baseball team plays at Isotopes Park just north and across the street on Cesar Chavez; the Lobo men's and women's basketball teams play at The Pit "" which Sports Illustrated once labeled the 13th best sporting venue in the country "" to the east and across the street on University.
Two of the city's more popular restaurants are within a mile of the stadium. Quarters BBQ on Yale and Dion's Pizza on University give fans better options for pregame or postgame meals than the stadium fare, although Quarters is across the street from a mortuary.
More restaurants, including Coaches Sports Bar and Grill and Frontier are a few miles north on Central Avenue.
Members of a University of New Mexico fan site called "The Red Menace" have tried to make University Stadium a fun place and hostile environment by gathering in the north end zone section. As the Lobos run onto the field, the team runs to the section to high-five those fans before the game.
Back when the team was more successful, players who scored would run to the section and leap into the section of Red Menace fans, mimicking the Lambeau Leap with the Green Bay Packers "" a display called "the Lobo Leap" at UNM.
That being said, the fans are among the most fickle in the nation. Albuquerque is a basketball town, and a football game at University Stadium simply does not have the cache as a basketball game at The Pit. Even when the football team was winning more in the mid-2000s, attendance dwindled as the season wore on. The game just doesn't seem to be an important enough reason in itself for people to attend.
Many families complain about other fans' disregard for the presence of kids when vocalizing displeasure during the game.
Getting in and out of University Stadium usually isn't a problem nowadays, but that's because of the program's recent lack of success (three wins in three seasons combined). But the main turnoff from Interstate 25 to Avenida Cesar Chavez can get backed up during games that draw large crowds.
When the school had been trying to promote the pregame as its own event, it blocked off that Avenida Cesar Chavez exit, and the alternate routes actually eased traffic "" once stadium personnel showed fans where to go.
The venue, however, has been ill-equipped to handle large walk-up crowds; fans complained that they weren't able to get into the 2011 season opener until the end of the first quarter because the school didn't have enough ticket windows open to accommodate the unusual number of walk-ups.
The football team's struggles haven't helped, but the school has been unable to create a faithful fan base for the program.
UNM has the lowest ticket prices in the Mountain West Conference in terms of season-ticket packages that have started at $12 per game. Game day prices range from $15-$32, but fans pay an additional $5 to park "" unless a car has four or more passengers. Also, the school charges more for what it calls "premium games" "" more enticing matchups. It's a common practice among college football programs across the country, but Lobo fans are a different breed. They don't react well with price fluctuations or price add-ons (such as parking), and UNM doesn't seem to understand that.
The game day concessions offer virtually nothing, but the game in the Albuquerque weather makes the event worthwhile. That is, if fans can buy their tickets and get inside the stadium in a timely fashion.
Pregame festivities are limited, but to be fair, the school did feature live music, jumping houses and other games for kids and various food vendors, among other activities until the team began to struggle mightily and attendance dwindled.
The pregame and halftime events are usual college football activities that do little to fire up fans. Patrons are not allowed to reenter the stadium if they leave at any time.
It's not that the school should have to do a lot to attract fans, but being that the Duke City is basketball-first, football always has been regarded as a second-class sport.
A game at University Stadium usually involves great weather, but that's not enough for fans. The school doesn't have a winning tradition with the football team, and that has kept the fans at arms' length. The program also seems disconnected with the community. For example, the school charged $50 for all tickets to a UNM game against Texas A&M, banking on A&M's name to lure fans despite the price. The Aggies ended up having nearly as many fans as New Mexico, nullifying UNM's home-field advantage and resulting in an A&M victory.
The "Acute Altitude Sickness" that warns opposing teams, instead seems to affect the home team's fans and gives University Stadium a less than stellar "" if somewhat undeserved "" reputation.
**Photos courtesy of the University of New Mexico Athletics
Haven't been there for a UNM game, but loved my experience at the bowl game.
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