Since the gates to Rice-Eccles Stadium opened 17 years ago on September 12, 1998, fans have poured through them in record numbers. In fact, for the past seven seasons, attendance at Utah home football games has exceeded the venue’s seating capacity.
Rice-Eccles Stadium’s seating capacity was increased to 45,807 prior to the start of the 2014 season, when the Utes averaged over-capacity crowds of 46,436 to set the school single-season attendance record.
Entering the 2015 season, Utah has played to 31-straight sellouts in Rice-Eccles Stadium extending back to the 2010 opener against Pittsburgh. Of the sellouts, 28 were played before crowds that exceeded the stadium’s capacity (which was 45,017 from 1998-2013). There have been 49 standing-room-only crowds the past 16 years.
With the venue’s enlarged seating capacity in 2014, six of the top 10 crowds in Rice-Eccles Stadium history were recorded last year. A record crowd of 47,619 watched the Utes defeat No. 20 USC while 47,528 were on hand for Oregon’s visit last November. Four other games have gone over the 46,000 mark, including California (46,768) in 2003, TCU (46,522) in 2010, BYU (46,488) in 2008 and USC (46,037) in 2012.
With its striking design, stunning mountain backdrop and panoramic views of the Salt Lake valley, Rice-Eccles Stadium is perhaps the most beautiful stadium in the country. The eyes of the world were on the venue in 2002 as it hosted the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Salt Lake Olympic Winter Games. It is the third stadium located on the site, predated by Ute Stadium (1927) and Rice Stadium (1972).
In 1996, Utah Director of Athletics Chris Hill initiated a fund-raising campaign to replace aging 32,500-seat Rice Stadium. A lead gift of $10 million soon came in from the George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation, steered by former Ute All-America skier Spence Eccles. The total construction costs ran $50 million. Preliminary construction work began in June 1997. Two days after the final home game that fall, wrecking crews moved in and demolished Rice Stadium. Only the south end zone bleachers and the Rice name (Robert L. Rice contributed $1 million in the 1972 renovation) would carry over to the new venue. Rising from the rubble less than 10 months later was Rice-Eccles Stadium, an imposing concrete, steel and glass edifice that dominates the Salt Lake skyline.
Visible for miles is the stadium box, located 14 stories above ground and encased in a 400-square-foot expanse of tempered glass. Occupants of the suites, scholarship box and press level are treated to sweeping views of the Wasatch Mountains to the east and downtown Salt Lake City, the Great Salt Lake and the Oquirrh Mountains to the west.
Upgrades have continued in recent years. In June 2003, Larry H. and Gail Miller donated $1.6 million for a video display system and new scoreboards. In 2007, an LED board stretching 200 x 4 feet across the north end zone was made possible by Utah Sports Properties at a cost of $500,000. A second LED board was placed at the bottom of the south end zone stands in 2012. The north endzone scoreboards were replaced in 2014.
Plans call for a new and enlarged state-of-the-art video board and sound system to be installed behind the south end zone stands prior to the start of the 2016 season.
The stadium floor has also changed with the times and new FieldTurf was installed in June 2009, replacing the initial FieldTurf version from 2002. Previous surfaces (dating back to old Ute Field) included natural grass from 1927-71 and again in 2000-01, AstroTurf from 1972-95 and SportGrass from 1995-99.
The south end zone bleachers, built in 1982, house the locker rooms, the Gary L. Crocker Stadium Club suite and a band room. The plaza behind the south end zone was dedicated on Aug. 21, 2003 as the 2002 Salt Lake Olympic Winter Games Cauldron Park. The plaza also includes the Utah Athletics main ticket office.