Photos by Aaron S. Terry, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71
Rynearson Stadium 799 N Hewitt Rd Ypsilanti, MI 48197
Year Opened: 1969
Move over Smurf Turf, there’s a Gray Field in Town!
Affectionately known as ‘The Factory,’ Rynearson Stadium opened in 1969, and currently has a capacity of 30,200 (incidentally the same capacity as Western Michigan’s Waldo Stadium). The largest crowd ever to attend an event at Rynearson Stadium was in 2008, when 26K+ fans watched the Eastern Michigan football team triumph over Central Michigan, with a score of 56-52.
The stadium underwent a major renovation project back in 1991-92, during which time about 10K seats were added, as well as the scoreboard, new bathrooms and concessions, and the team building. The most recent round of renovations occurred in 2014, with the installation of the ‘EMU Gray’ FieldTurf surface, making this only the second FBS team to play on a non-green field. Rynearson Stadium originally had a natural grass field, but the team has been playing on artificial turf since 1991 (the playing surface here has been replaced four times since the facility was built).
The football field at Rynearson Stadium is surrounded by the track, so the venue is home to not only the Eastern Michigan football squad but also the track and field teams. In addition, the Convocation Center, home of EMU basketball, sits on a slight rise behind the south end zone.
Food & Beverage 4
Food options at Rynearson Stadium are reasonably priced, and there is a good amount to choose from – perhaps not as many options as some other sports venues, but a very impressive list. The drink options, however, are where Rynearson Stadium excels.
Food choices at the main stands include hot dogs, brats, and sandwiches with your choice of meat (BBQ pork, chicken, or beef), as well as nachos, pretzels, popcorn, chips, candy, beef jerky, ice cream, popsicles, Cracker Jack, and even hummus. In addition, the stadium brings in outside vendors such as Dominoes and Bearclaw Coffee Company. Domino’s adds pizza, boneless wings, and oven-baked sandwiches to the concessions mix, while Bearclaw offers bagels and pastries, in addition to their wide array of beverages (see below).
Rynearson Stadium offers a wide range of drink options, the highlight of which may be their beer truck from Arbor Brewing Company. This truck has taps built onto the sides and is parked on the south side of the stadium, which is the only section where alcohol can be sold. Still, many college stadiums don’t even sell alcohol at all, so this is a plus.
Besides Arbor Brewing Company, Rynearson Stadium also has the aforementioned Bearclaw Coffee Company, which sells a wide variety of hot and cold coffees, as well as smoothies. In addition, the main stands sell bottled and fountain sodas, bottled water, lemonade, coffee, and hot cocoa.
Even though attendance is usually very small, there is a decent bit of crowd noise at Rynearson Stadium, and the staff does lots of fun things to enhance the experience. To start, a live eagle flies over the stadium as the final bars in the National Anthem are played, which is a neat thing to watch.
In addition, when the team enters the field, they run through a wall of concrete bricks, which may not seem as cool as cones spurting fire, but it is unique. There is also cannon fire after every score, and continual activity during breaks in the action – including music blaring over the loudspeakers, accompanied by fans dancing, as well as performances by the band, dance team, and cheerleaders.
Rynearson Stadium is designed as a near-horseshoe, with stands on both the east and west sides that curve slightly toward the south end. The Convocation Center sits in the gap on that end and looks impressive with its glass fronting and giant lettering that spells out the word E-A-S-T-E-R-N. The south end zone is called ‘Touchdown Terrace,’ and has standing room for fans, as well as a giant ‘E’ on the grass behind the goalpost.
The north end zone includes the practice facility, which is a large bubble-like structure reminiscent of the old Minnesota Vikings’ stadium. The team building is also on that side and features a very imposing photo of an angry eagle staring you down. The scoreboard is located in the north end as well, so it is in easy view of fans sitting anywhere in the stadium. The team enters on that end, and the band sits near there as well.
Rynearson Stadium is located on the western edge of Eastern Michigan’s campus, and there isn’t much in the immediate vicinity except other athletic fields and some apartment complexes. The closest restaurant is probably the family-friendly Big Boy, your classic American diner that does not serve alcohol – you could walk there from the stadium.
Most of the other good restaurants in town are located near the center of campus, the best of which is The Wurst Bar, which specializes in bratwurst. The Wurst Bar is on Cross Street and has plenty of different beers on tap, plus unique brats made from interesting, uncommon meats like elk and venison. They also offer different types of buns, such as pretzels, and they even have hard-to-find appetizers like scotch eggs.
Most of the hotels in town are located along Highway 23, which is on the west side of the stadium. Regent Hotel & Suites and Days Inn are over that way and are probably the closest ones to Rynearson Stadium. However, a little further away you can also find more well-known brands such as Days Inn.
There is not a ton to do in the small town of Ypsilanti, but there are a couple of local attractions. The Ypsilanti Water Tower on Summit Street is listed on the national register of historic places and has some fascinating architectural features – a detailed sign in front will tell you more about it. Seeing the water tower will only take a few minutes, so if you are going to be in town for the day, you might also check out the Automotive Heritage Museum or the Michigan Firehouse Museum.
While attendance tends to be very low at Rynearson Stadium (less than 5K per game on average), there is a surprising amount of crowd noise, especially from the student section, which is below the press box on the east side of the stadium, next to the band.
The Eagle’s mascot, Swoop, usually stands in front of the student section during the game and keeps them revved up and on their feet the whole time. The students sing their fight song at the end of the game, and do their ‘I believe we will win/we won’ chant after a win – the students make a lot of noise for such a small group.
Like the students, most of the other fans also sit on the east side of Rynearson Stadium, and altogether that side gets about one-quarter full. You’ll see lots of green on that side, including hats, shirts, and also light-up plastic glasses, which are given away at the gates by local companies.
The stands on the west side, however, are almost completely deserted. Though not officially, that side seems reserved for visiting fans, of which there are very few. You will see lots of green on that side too, though, in the form of giant covers over most of the seats – this is done by the administration to reduce capacity, to make Rynearson Stadium appear fuller.
Ypsilanti, MI is basically a suburb of Ann Arbor, and is also not far from Detroit, so getting there is fairly easy – most fans will use either I-94 or Highway 23. Once you get to the stadium, there isn’t much traffic, so parking is a cinch and is only $5 in any of the lots right outside Rynearson Stadium, so you will have only a short walk to the gate.
There are multiple gates all around the stadium, so getting in is no issue, and the concourses are wide and not at all crowded, thanks to the low attendance. Rynearson Stadium does have a clear bag policy, meaning no backpacks are allowed in, but they do sell approved bags at Gate 2 if you don’t have one.
Ticket sales and will call are located inside the Convocation Center (next to Gate 1), and if you go inside take a look at the EMU Athletic Hall of Fame, which is a wall of photos and plaques that curves around the inside of the center. One other nice feature at Rynearson Stadium is that they do let you re-enter the venue if you need to leave for any reason, which is a rarity at sports stadiums nowadays.
Return on Investment 4
Tickets to Rynearson Stadium are only $15 if you buy in advance, but $20 at the door, so make sure you plan. Group tickets are slightly cheaper, but buying from the box office is your only option (since the games aren’t sellouts there aren’t any re-sellers or scalpers).
Even at $20, seeing a game here is worth it. The small crowd doesn’t seem like an issue because they bring so much energy, and unique features like the gray field make this a bucket list stadium in some ways. And since Eastern Michigan plays in the MAC, there is an opportunity to see games on weeknights, if your Saturdays happen to be booked.
The gray field is worth seeing, as is the eagle flying across before the game. There is also plenty of great Eagles-themed decor, including seat covers, banners, and paint jobs on and around the field. One interesting feature at Rynearson Stadium, which is starting to crop up at stadiums across the country by the way, is four-top tables in the stands. These new ‘loge’ sections are great for small businesses, or even groups of friends who can’t afford (or fill) a full ‘box,’ and they also come with wait staff to take your order and bring your food.
Rynearson Stadium is a superb place to watch a college football game. Sure, you could drive a few minutes further to The Big House in Ann Arbor, and see better teams, have more amenities, and enjoy a wider selection from the concessions stands, but then you will also have to deal with heavy traffic and fight a massive crowd. Why not give small-town college football a chance instead? At a cool venue like Rynearson Stadium, it would be worth the trip.