Photos by Matt Finnigan, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 2.71
Nottingham Field 2100 17th Ave Greeley, CO 80639
Year Opened: 1995 Capacity: 8,533
A New Sheriff at Nottingham
Since moving from a successful run in NCAA Division II up to NCAA Division I (FCS) before the 2006 season, the University of Northern Colorado Bears have struggled. UNC has just two winning seasons (6-5 marks in 2015 and 2016) in FCS play and the Bears compiled a 7-26 record between 2017-19, including two-win seasons in 2018 and 2019. To inject life into the program, after the 2019 season, UNC hired former Denver Broncos wide receiver and three-time Super Bowl Champion Ed McCaffrey as head coach. The school opted out of playing the 2020 season because of COVID-19. But McCaffrey’s presence along the sidelines at UNC’s Nottingham Field has brought renewed interest in a program that won NCAA Division II titles in 1996 and 1997.
The 8,533-seat, multi-purpose Nottingham Field has served as the Bears’ home field since 1995. Grandstands are placed along each sideline in sufficiently close proximity to the field that fans can sit very close to the action. Perhaps because the facility is not fully enclosed (and definitely because the facility is in northeastern Colorado), gusty winds present challenges to both players on the field and fans trying to stay warm in the stands. Nottingham has just one scoreboard, behind the southeast end zone. It has a small video board to show replays and promotions, with the score, down and distance, clock, and remaining timeouts are shown as well.
The program is heading in a new direction under McCaffrey. Bringing in his son, Dylan, to quarterback the Bears as a graduate transfer from Michigan drew positive attention to UNC. And the McCaffreys were not the only new sights at Nottingham in 2021, as UNC replaced the field’s natural grass with a synthetic turf before the season. Crowds have been sparse, averaging around 4,000 fans for the past decade. But McCaffrey’s leadership has the UNC faithful optimistic for the program’s future.
Food & Beverage 3
Dining and drinking options at Nottingham Field are exactly what fans would expect at a college football game, with concessions stands behind the grandstand on both sides of the stadium. Hot dogs ($3.75), pretzels ($4), nachos ($4), and popcorn ($2) are all available. The Grillin’ Bear serves hamburgers ($5), cheeseburgers ($5.50), and bratwurst ($4.75) in a free-standing location atop the stairs at the northwest end of the home-side bleachers. Pepsi products are sold at Nottingham for $4.75 from the fountain and $3 in bottles. Beer drinkers will find Bud Light, Coors Light, and Modelo on tap for $7 a piece. Cans of Mike’s Hard Lemonade and Corona Hard Seltzer are available, also for $7.
The Bears do not draw large crowds. The fans who do attend games are engaged and alert, responding to the action on the field. However, a 50 percent attendance rate does not create a loud or intimidating atmosphere for visiting teams. And the student section does not fill, either. Should McCaffrey build positive momentum for the program, the empty seat issue should resolve itself.
UNC has a surprisingly robust tailgating scene in the lot adjacent to Nottingham Field’s northwest end zone. Fans connect with each other in a small village of recreational vehicles, cornhole games, and grills before, during, and after games. UNC’s band, the Pride of the Rockies, marches through the tailgate lot en route to entering the stadium before kickoff, adding to the atmosphere.
All of Nottingham’s seats offer unobstructed views of the field of play, with metal bleachers and seat backs throughout the grandstands. Fans can gain a unique perspective by standing at field level near the northwest end zone. This area positions fans just yards away from where one team is trying to score and the other team is trying to prevent that from happening. It offers a unique view of the speed and size of college football players.
One caveat: the play on the field can and does continue beyond the field’s borders so stay alert for players, officials, and footballs finding their way beyond the sidelines and end zone. One other caveat: because the team benches are very close to the grandstands, fans can hear a lot of dialogue from the sidelines. In the heat of a game, players and coaches sometimes use language better suited for a Quentin Tarantino film. Those with kids or disdain for blue language might want to move to higher seats to avoid the impassioned pleas emanating from both sidelines.
Nottingham Field sits on UNC’s western edge, adjacent to residential neighborhoods. There are no bars or restaurants within walking distance of the stadium. A walk through UNC’s campus is easy and worthwhile, however. More than 3,700 trees provide shade and a well-marked path system guides visitors around the 250-acre campus. A sculpture titled “A Place in Time” is a circle of benches shaped like hinges (radius: 45 feet). A 10 foot-tall, bronze hinge pin stands in the middle; its shadow tells time as it moves across the face of this giant sundial. Students refer to this sculpture as “Stonehinge.” Additionally, the Michener Library stands across a parking lot from Nottingham. The library bears the name of Pulitzer Prize-winning author James Michener, who earned a Master of Arts degree in education from UNC (then called the Colorado State Teachers College) in 1937 and taught social science there from 1936-1941. The Michener Library now holds its namesake’s papers and special collections.
Otherwise, several meeting places are less than a 10-minute drive from Nottingham Field. Downtown Greeley has several cafés, bars, and restaurants. Santeramo’s Pizza House is a Greeley institution, serving pizza, sandwiches, and pasta dishes. Southwest of the stadium, the G.O.A.T. Sports Bar has 36 televisions and an extensive menu of food and drinks.
The Bears do not draw large crowds but those who do attend are loud and engaged in the game action. UNC has smartly placed its student section, the “Bear Den,” behind the visitors’ sideline on the southeast side of the stadium. The students who come to Nottingham represent the Bears with noise and enthusiasm. UNC’s band also plays on the stadium’s southeast side, providing visiting teams with an unwanted soundtrack during huddles and timeouts.
Depending on traffic and time of day, Greeley is between 45 minutes and two hours north of Denver. There is no regional or mass transit service between Denver and Greeley. UNC has signs at parking lot entrances, but there are no signs to guide drivers to those lots on approach to the stadium. Ample parking surrounds Nottingham, so the walk from the car to the stadium entry gate is not a long one.
Concourses inside Nottingham are generally wide, particularly on the stadium’s southeast side. However, the concourse above the stands on the northwest side of Nottingham has several narrow points near entrances where concession stand lines and fans entering the stadium congest a popular route of ingress and egress.
Another potential impediment to reaching that concourse: the stairs up and down northwest grandstand might be too steep for some, a paved sidewalk offers a less precipitous ascent.
Return on Investment 4
A game at Nottingham Field is a very good value. A general admission ticket sells for $17, with reserved seats available for $35 and up. Ticket prices are thus very reasonable, as is parking. Parking next to Nottingham Field costs $10; those willing to walk a bit longer distance can park for $5 in an outer lot. Members of UNC’s alumni association enjoy free valet parking at the corner of 17th Avenue and Reservoir Road.
Food is also reasonably priced. UNC offers meal deals at all concession stands. For instance, a cheeseburger combo, which includes a bag of Lay’s chips and a bottle of soda, costs $8.50. The hot dog combo sells for $6.50. Fans can purchase two bottles of water for $5.50 – a great bargain – particularly during early season games when the weather is hot and sunny. This pricing does not exist at most college football games.
Nottingham merits an extra point for its sound system. The PA announcer can be heard clearly throughout the stadium and the music sounds good.
The potential exists for Nottingham Field to be a strong home-field advantage. If McCaffrey can build the program into a regular winner, the fans will come. Until that happens, fans in Greeley can enjoy a nice football experience at a reasonable cost.
Follow Matt Finnigan’s stadium journeys on Twitter @mattfinniganco.