McMahon Stadium - Calgary Stampeders
Photos by Matt Finnigan, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.57
McMahon Stadium 1817 Crowchild Trail NW Calgary, AB T2M 4R6 Canada
Year Opened: 1960 Capacity: 35,650
Much More Than Meets the Eye
Calgary, the most populous city in the Canadian province of Alberta, has long been known as “Cowtown.” This nickname is a nod to Calgary’s agricultural importance to Canada and the city’s role as host of one of the world’s largest rodeos, the Calgary Stampede. However, the moniker overlooks many of the city’s significant assets: culture, history, and beauty. Calgary sits at the confluence of the Bow and the Elbow Rivers, with several national parks, such as Banff and Jasper, in the Canadian Rockies within an easy drive west on the Trans-Canada Highway.
Calgary is also a football town. The Calgary Stampeders, known to fans as the “Stamps,” boast a rich history in the Canadian Football League and are the CFL’s third-oldest team, having begun play in 1945. The Stamps have brought home eight Grey Cup CFL titles and have appeared in 17 Grey Cup championship games. The team’s home since 1960 is McMahon Stadium on the campus of the University of Calgary, where opening and closing ceremonies were held during the 1988 Winter Olympics. McMahon Stadium is both the CFL’s third-oldest and the third-largest stadium, making it a great place to appreciate the Stampeders’ history while enjoying modern updates.
Canadian football may seem like a curiosity to those accustomed to American football but it’s more than that. The CFL field is larger than its American counterpart, measuring 110 yards long by 65 yards wide, with 20-yard goal areas (end zones), with the goalposts positioned almost on the goal line. Twelve players take the field in the CFL – one more than in American football – and CFL rules permit only three downs per offensive possession, meaning that teams rely more on passing than rushing. In the CFL, receivers and backs can be moving forward when the ball is snapped. There are other rules that affect play but the upshot is that CFL is an entertaining brand of football supported by passionate fans.
Food & Beverage 3
The variety of food and beverage options at McMahon meets expectations. Fans can easily find hot dogs (C$5.75), pizza slices (C$6.25), cheeseburgers (C$8.50), nachos (C$9.50), fries (C$4.50), and chicken tenders with fries (C$8.75). The Baron Haus, under sections J and K on the stadium’s west side, is a carnivore’s paradise. A hand-carved “baron” of beef (i.e., a sandwich) sells for C$11.50 and a pulled pork parfait – yes, this is a real thing – is available here for $C12. Despite its name, the “parfait” consists of smoked pork, redskin mashed potatoes, corn, and house-made BBQ sauce. The Baron Haus also has a baked potato (the “Spud-inator”) with a variety of toppings for C$7.50. An adobo chicken burrito and a Taco in a Bag sell for $C10 and $C8.75, respectively, at the End Zone stand, under the west grandstand.
Thirsty fans will also find the basics. Molson and Coors sell for $C8.75 for a 12-ounce can. Strongbow Cider, Snapple Spiked Vodka, and Vizzy and Truly hard seltzers all sell for $C10.75 per 16-ounce can. Pepsi products sell for $C5.25 per 16-ounce plastic bottle. Importantly during late-season games, coffee and hot chocolate sell for C$2.75.
Well-staffed concession stands abound under McMahon’s grandstands so any lines that form move very quickly.
The Stamps have created an enjoyable experience at McMahon Stadium, with entertainment beyond the on-field play. The Stamps also celebrate touchdowns with a ride from “Quick Six,” a white horse ridden by Chelsea Drake. This is a nice touch that honors Calgary’s renowned rodeo tradition and helps fans celebrate the Stamps’ success. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic required teams to minimize person-to-person contact so a local automobile dealer provided a remote controlled truck to deliver the game ball to officials at the start of each game. The team retired the truck at the end of the 2021 regular season, with a tongue-in-cheek farewell video set to Sarah McLachlan’s “I Will Remember You.”
Another favorite in-game promotion is the World’s Fastest Cow race. The Stamps have retained the services of a sprinter, dressed as a cow, who takes on a local celebrity or former player during an early time-out. The cow’s opponent receives a 10-yard head start as the two race toward the end zone at the far end of the field. COVID-19 sidelined (pun intended) the World’s Fastest Cow during the 2020 season, but he made a triumphant, bovine return in 2021.
The stadium has a first-class sound system and a visually appealing scoreboard beyond the south end zone that tracks game statistics in real time.
McMahon Stadium sits adjacent to the University of Calgary’s campus, a short drive from downtown Calgary. The neighbourhood around the stadium has plenty of options for pre- and post-game entertainment but with downtown just a 15-minute drive or light rail trip away, the entire city provides a legion of places to eat, drink, and celebrate the Stamps.
The stadium’s immediate vicinity does not offer much in the way of nightlife but there are a couple of restaurants and a few hotels. Across Crowchild Trail NW on McMahon’s east side, Big T’s BBQ and Smokehouse offers burgers and barbecue within direct view of the stadium, adjacent to the pedestrian bridge connecting the light rail station with the stadium. Just north on Crowchild Trail NW, Nick’s serves steaks, pizza, and a sports bar. Several hotels (Aloft, Hampton Inn, Ramada Limited, and Comfort Suites) also sit just east of McMahon, along Banff Trail NW.
The CTrain, Calgary’s light rail system, connects McMahon Stadium with neighborhoods throughout the city. Many fans take the CTrain to the Banff Trail station, located just east of McMahon, to Stamps’ home games. A pedestrian bridge connects the station and the stadium without having to navigate traffic on Crowchild Trail NE. Calgary has several neighborhoods worth exploring. The 17th Avenue Retail & Entertainment District has restaurants of all types. The Big Cheese Poutinerie serves poutine, which some consider being Canada’s national dish and is most certainly a delicious type of Quebecois comfort food: French fries, smothered in brown gravy and cheese curds. Alternatively, Alumni Sandwiches has a hot chicken sandwich that rivals Nashville’s.
The Stamps have a loyal and vocal following, with the team’s 2021 average home, regular-season attendance (23,354) outpacing the league average (19,058) by almost 4,300 fans. Although McMahon Stadium does not routinely sell out, the fans who do attend are loud and engaged. Even to a CFL neophyte and even if the Stamps are playing a team such as Winnipeg, for instance, fans loudly deride their team’s provincial rivals, the Edmonton Elks, and their Prairie Province rival, the Saskatchewan Roughriders throughout games at McMahon.
McMahon Stadium is a very easy place to experience a game. The Stamps do not have much parking available next to the stadium but the surrounding area handles the volume of traffic for a home game very well, with relatively inexpensive parking within a short walk. The University of Calgary also has parking available for those willing to make a longer walk. But Calgary’s mass transit system (especially the CTrain) is an easy, quick option for getting to a game.
Once inside, grandstands are positioned on the stadium’s east and west sides. Fans can easily walk from one side to the other after entering; there’s plenty of room on the concourses underneath each grandstand for fans to move without encountering a lot of foot traffic. The stadium has more than enough concession stands and restrooms, which beyond their intended uses provide McMahon’s only heated sanctuaries during a cold game. The stadium’s corners do have metal bleachers, but the large majority of seats are plastic chairbacks.
One important note: a steep climb awaits those sitting in higher rows (i.e., beginning at approximately row 44). That ascent provides great views of the field and the city beyond the stadium, especially sitting atop the west grandstand. But the slope will challenge even the most physically fit of Stamps fans (and the least physically fit of stadium reviewers).
Return on Investment 4
A Stamps game at McMahon Stadium is a good value. Reserved seats start at C$37 apiece for regular-season home games and start at C$47 each for games against rivals Edmonton and Saskatchewan. Concession stand prices are fairly standard for a sporting event, while parking and mass transit mean that fans do not have to empty their kids’ college funds to attend.
“Pick Six” earns McMahon Stadium an extra point, not only because it provides a great touchdown celebration but also because it’s a family affair. Although Chelsea Drake has assumed the reins as Pick Six’s primary rider, her mom, Karyn, served that role from 2003 to 2016 and is still a backup rider. McMahon receives a second point for its Olympic history. The stadium still has the cauldron from the 1988 winter games in the northeast corner. A final point goes to the effort that the Stamps’ front office has made to create an enjoyable experience at McMahon. The in-game promotions are clever and original.
McMahon Stadium fits seamlessly into the fabric of Calgary, with downtown and the university short distances away. The on-field play is enjoyable to watch and the fans deliver enthusiastic responses at all the right moments. For someone wanting to experience CFL play in person for the first time, a Stamps game is a great way to do it. And Calgary itself is a city that does not get nearly enough credit for its beauty and history.
Follow Matt Finnigan’s stadium journeys on Twitter @mattfinniganco