Mackay Stadium – Nevada Wolf Pack
Photos by Andrew Maurins, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.29
Mackay Stadium 17th St. & E. Stadium Way Reno, NV 89501
Year Opened: 1966
The Law of the Jungle
The modern era of Nevada Wolf Pack football has had two constants for most of the last fifty years: Chris Ault and Mackay Stadium. From the very first game played there on October 1, 1966, when the young quarterback from San Bernardino guided Nevada to an upset of nationally ranked Santa Barbara, the two have been firmly intertwined. Ault went on to spend 41 years of his life at Nevada as a player, coach and administrator, nearly the entire lifespan of Mackay Stadium itself.
In that time, both the stadium and the football program grew from humble beginnings further south on campus. Since moving into the “new” Mackay – named after mining magnate and university benefactor Clarence Mackay – the Pack has played in eight conferences across four divisions, winning eleven conference titles along the way. It’s even borne witness to two “miracles” with the Mackay name: the first in 1991, when Nevada overcame a 35-point deficit against Weber State to complete the biggest second-half comeback in NCAA history; and the second in 2010, when the #19 Wolf Pack came from behind to stun #3 Boise State in overtime. It even saw the birth of Ault’s famous “pistol offense” in 2005.
Ault resigned in 2012, and the historic field on North Virginia Street he made his own was named after him the following year. In 2016, Nevada completed a slew of renovations to coincide with the facility’s 50th anniversary. These include a new club area, seven sections of chair back seats, loge boxes, patio areas, more ADA seats, a new video board and a new sound system. Even though the updates to the stadium lowered its capacity to around 26,000, it’s now much more in line with its peers in the Mountain West Conference.
Food & Beverage 4
Mackay Stadium’s selection of food and beverages represent a good combination of quantity and quality, and are a few small complaints away from a perfect score. The attendants are friendly, and the stands all accept credit cards, but the lines can sometimes get long.
Fixed concession stands in the two end zones have standard stadium fare like hot, jumbo and Polish dogs, nachos, pretzels, peanuts, Cracker Jacks, popcorn and candy ($4-$6), and the north end zone stands also offer a large cheeseburger with a bag of potato chips ($10), tortilla chips with either queso or salsa ($4.75) and a large burrito with your choice of meat ($10). The pop-up stands in the south end zone offer more varied choices, like six-inch sub sandwiches ($7.50), chili cups, loaded baked potatoes, French fries, cheese fries, sweet potato fries, deep-fried pickles, tater tots, potato wedges and potato skins ($6-$9), pulled pork or chicken sandwiches with kettle chips, barbecue nachos, rib tips, rib platters, a full slab of ribs and barbecue sides like coleslaw, beans and spicy mac and cheese ($4-$24). Two more stands in that area also have kid-sized hot dogs, nachos and pretzels ($3-$4), cotton candy ($5.50) and a “healthy choices” menu that includes fruit skewers, red pepper hummus, a chicken Caesar wrap, beef sliders, Asian chicken wings and pork tacos ($5-$8) as well as whole pieces of fruit ($2 each). Our recommendation is the pulled pork sandwich and spicy mac and cheese from the Famous Dave’s barbecue stand ($8).
For drinks, the sodas (Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Mug Root Beer and Sierra Mist) are primarily served in 20 oz. bottles ($4.50), but are also available in cans ($3) and souvenir cups ($5). Bottled water is sold in 20 oz. ($4) or 1-liter bottles ($6), while alcoholic beverages like beer ($8 for Budweiser and Bud Lite, $8.50 for “premium” drafts like Shock Top, Red Hook and seasonals from Sam Adams and Alaskan) and margaritas ($12) are also available.
An outing at Mackay Stadium represents a mostly typical experience for a college football game outside the power conferences.
Metal bleachers comprise the majority of the stadium’s seats in four non-symmetrical sections around the field and its accompanying track, pitched at a good enough angle that all but the lowest seats afford a good view. Those bleacher seats can feel cramped for games with bigger crowds or anyone on the taller end of the height spectrum. The newly added sections of padded chair back seats, however, are much roomier, and include their own cup holders. The ones in the club level on the west sideline have their own closed circuit viewing screens and outdoor heaters for cold games. General admission seats in the south end zone and student seating in the north end zone go right up to the field, but the closest sideline seats are separated by the track. Mackay’s 36 foot by 64 foot video board is believed to be the only one in college football with a 12-millimeter display, and it replays all of the action with terrific clarity.
In-game promotions are similarly typical for mid-major college football experiences, with t-shirt tosses and several “text to win” drawings among others. The Wolf Pack’s costumed mascots and cheerleaders move around for some of the game, but primarily stick to the end zone sidelines. The Pride of the Sierra marching band plays a nice selection of contemporary and older tunes, and the stadium’s new sound system and PA announcer are both in the Goldilocks “just right” zone, but the referees often have a difficult time being heard.
Section D on the west side affords you the “dead center” view of the middle of the field, but usually doesn’t have single game tickets available. If you can afford one, any of the chair back seats are a great way to take in a game, but a seat in the east side’s upper deck offers a more complete view of the whole game day scene at the cost of a bit of stair-climbing. In general, seats on the west side will be in the shade and colder for most games, while every other section – especially the east side – will be in the sun. All areas except the suites and the sliver of east side loge boxes are exposed to the notoriously unpredictable northern Nevada weather.
Originally built at a time when there was little else on the north end of campus, Mackay Stadium now sits near the hub of university-related activity. It’s bordered by parking lots to its north, a parking structure and intramural fields to its east and west, and the rest of campus to its south, with Interstate 80 and downtown beyond that.
A five-minute stroll from the stadium across Virginia Street will take you to Red’s Little Waldorf Saloon, known as “the Wal” to locals, and catering to the pre and post-game crowd. About a mile south of the stadium on University Terrace is GourMelt, a sandwich joint specializing in upscale grilled cheese creations with a devoted following in town from its days as a food truck. The third floor of the student union next door also has several chain restaurants for a quick bite, while downtown offers a greater variety of cuisines and price ranges.
Speaking of that area, the Riverwalk District of the city has enough shops, restaurants and bars to appeal to a wide variety of travelers, along with several nice, green spaces like Wingfield Park. The National Automobile Museum on Lake Street also has an impressive array of more than 200 cars from the personal collection of former casino magnate Bill Harrah. Being a casino town, Reno’s other entertainment options can include concerts and performances that change with the seasons. Broadening out to the greater Truckee Meadows area, day trips up to Lake Tahoe or Virginia City are also fun options.
Lodging choices are as varied as your wallet and personal preferences allow, with most of the area’s hotels clustered downtown. The University Inn is across the street from Mackay, and can satisfy a budget traveler, but we suggest saving up more for either the Whitney Peak Hotel next to the famous Reno arch or the Peppermill south of downtown.
Mackay Stadium fans are sufficiently passionate and engaged in their team’s fortunes, but would benefit from a string of great seasons in order to really give them a jolt.
An average game day on North Virginia Street is in the neighborhood of around 21,000 fans, putting them in the middle third of the Mountain West and slightly below the conference average. The “big ticket” games against UNLV and Boise State tend to draw some of the only crowds that approach sellouts.
On that note, the fans are appropriately responsive for big plays, get loud on defensive third downs, fill the air with “Packfetti” after each Nevada touchdown, and finish the PA announcer’s calls of “And that’s another Wolf Pack…” “FIRST DOWN!” One particular segment that needs work are the students, who seem disinterested even though their section of the stadium starts off mostly full. Fans in all areas of the stadium often leave late night games in noticeable numbers, even if the game is still close.
Getting to Mackay Stadium is not generally a hassle, but once you’re inside, a few problems crop up.
A public transit option to consider is the Sierra Spirit bus, which has several stops throughout the downtown and university areas on a round that takes about half hour and charges 25 cents per person, and also has free WiFi on board. Reno-Tahoe International Airport provides commercial flights in and out of the area, and is fifteen minutes away by car.
Parking in the surface lots near the stadium requires a permit with an accompanying season donation ranging from $100 to $700. If you don’t mind walking, there are free areas in the Whalen parking structure (our recommendation) and the lots behind Peccole Park and the School of Medicine, as well as the aforementioned bus line, which has stops near a few of downtown’s free parking structures. After games, cars parked north of the stadium get diverted to McCarran Boulevard, and those south of the stadium go down to Interstate 80.
Any of Mackay Stadium’s entrances will give you a fairly similar experience getting in: a quick search of small bags for any prohibited items. There are no ticketless entry options at this time, but Nevada’s athletic department informed us they’re hoping this will change in the near future.
Moving around the stadium is mostly easy with a few big exceptions. Since the majority of the concession stands are located in the north and south end zones, that’s naturally where fans have the most room to spread out and mingle. It’s at field level on the east and west sidelines that things get dicey, as the new ADA seating (of which there is now much more) has greatly reduced the amount of walk-able space to as little as five feet wide in some places. The upper concourses – now diverted into a parking structure on the west side – are better, but can still get crowded for bigger games. Bathroom lines for most games are reasonable, and ADA parking is easily reached on the first level of the West Stadium garage next door.
Return on Investment 4
Even after its recent renovations, tickets to a game at Mackay Stadium are consistent with Nevada’s peers in the Mountain West, and offer a number of options for prospective fans.
Single game tickets are typically $19 for the plaza reserved sections (3, 7, 8 and 9), $25 for the south end zone and family areas (section A), $39 for the field reserved sections (G, I, L, 4, 5 and 6), $90 for premium field sections B and F, and $115 for premium field sections J and K. Season tickets in the above areas range from $99 to $550, and do not include a Pack Educational Fund donation for some of the more expensive sections. All of those prices often go up for “big ticket” games like UNLV, Boise State and power conference opponents.
Discounts of $9-$10 off per ticket are available for large groups of 20 or more people, military service members, senior citizens (65 and over) and youths (8th grade and under), as well as 3-game mini plans ($51-$105), a “Pup Club” for youths with an adult season ticket holder ($55 for access to all home, regular season football, volleyball, women’s soccer, women’s basketball, baseball and softball games and other perks), university staff members ($20 off per season ticket for up to two tickets), and employees of Washoe County School District, Nevada System of Higher Education and the State of Nevada ($396 for four season tickets in select sections). Lastly, a game program will run you $3.
If you’re attending a night game at Mackay, consider getting a seat in the upper deck on the east side. Provided you’re not averse to climbing some stairs, you’ll enjoy a very pleasant view of the downtown Reno skyline to go along with the action on the field.
Slightly unusual but nonetheless welcome for a college football stadium is the line of trees in the north end zone.
If you’re having trouble finding your way around, there’s a group of volunteers wearing white polo shirts, blue vests and white baseball caps that will happily answer any questions you might have. We also like that there’s a children’s play area with bounce houses in the north end zone free of charge.
Ultimately, Mackay Stadium is a fine place to watch a college football game made better by its recent renovations. What separates it from truly great experiences elsewhere in the country is better fan support and more deeply ingrained traditions of excellence.
Right now, it’s something fun to do at a certain time of year, but it’s not what one would call “the place to be” on fall Saturdays just yet. A few consecutive seasons of stellar play from the Wolf Pack would do wonders to increase the number of people at their games and, by extension, enhance the rest of the Mackay Stadium gameday experience.