With its striking design, stunning mountain backdrop and panoramic views, Rice-Eccles Stadium is recognized as one of the most beautiful college stadiums in the country. While the exterior scenery is captivating, the charged atmosphere inside Rice-Eccles Stadium makes it one of the 25 “toughest stadiums in the country” for opposing teams according to Bleacher Report.
It is also a venue that will take on a significantly different look over the next year. An $80 million expansion and renovation of Rice-Eccles Stadium is underway, scheduled to be completed for the 2021 season. The project has been funded in part by a lead gift of $17.5 million from the Ken Garff family, which is the largest donation in Utah Athletics history. The new south end zone structure will be named the Ken Garff Performance Zone.
No state or taxpayer dollars will be used. The current structure, built in 1982, was the only piece of old Rice Stadium retained when the current structure opened on the same grounds in 1998. The project will enclose the stadium bowl by connecting the east and west concourses on the south end.
Seating capacity will be increased from 45,807 to 51,444 with the addition of over 1,000 bleacher seats. Fans will be provided with several premium seating options with a large number of luxury suites, loge boxes, ledge and club seating, a rooftop terrace and club area. A field-level club with an outdoor patio, recruiting lounge, and full-service kitchen are also included in the new structure, as are additional points of sale for concessions and restrooms.
The dilapidated locker and meeting rooms below the current south end zone stands are being replaced and modernized, along with new spaces created for coaches, officials, athletic training, equipment, press operations and the band. The 7,800-square foot south end zone videoboard will remain in its current place.
Fueling the expansion has been Utah's tremendous fan support in recent years. Entering this season, the Utes have played in front of 64-straight home sellouts (60 which exceeded the seating capacity) extending back to the 2010 opener against Pittsburgh. In its first 22 years, there have been 83 total standing-room-only crowds.
The venue's seating capacity was increased from 45,017 to 45,807 in 2014, and as a result, the top six season attendance averages and 12 of the top 15 single-game crowds in Rice-Eccles Stadium history were recorded in the last six years. The Utes averaged a school-record 46,533 fans per game in 2015, when they also recorded their best single-game attendance mark of 47,825 vs. Michigan. Dating back to its 13-0 Sugar Bowl campaign of 2008, Utah's average attendance has exceeded the stadium's capacity for 12 consecutive years.
Opened in 1998 on the grounds of the old Ute (1927-71) and Rice (1972-97) stadiums, Rice-Eccles Stadium has seen several upgrades in ensuing years. The latest is a state-of-the-art 122 x 64-foot video scoreboard that rises 137 feet above ground and was completed in the summer of 2016. One of the largest college football video boards in the country, it features a high definition display with a 16:9 aspect ratio. The enhanced software to run the board delivers some of the best special effects in the sports industry and synchronizes with the LED boards in the north end zone. Another improvement in 2016 was a distributed sound system that enhances the sound quality in every section of Rice-Eccles Stadium while also reducing noise to the surrounding community.
Rice-Eccles Stadium has also hosted a number of other major sporting events, the most prominent being the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 2002 Salt Lake Olympic Winter Games.
Visible for miles is the stadium box, located 14 stories above ground and encased in a 400-square-foot expanse of tempered glass. The box is supported by twin towers containing four high-speed elevators. Occupants of the stadium box 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.
The stadium floor has also changed with the times. A FieldTurf surface with CoolPlay cork infill was installed in September 2015, marking the third version of FieldTurf laid down in Rice-Eccles since 2002. Previous surfaces (dating back to Ute Field) were natural grass from 1927-71 and again in 2000-01, AstroTurf from 1972-95 and SportGrass from 1995-99.