With its striking design, stunning mountain backdrop and panoramic views of downtown Salt Lake City and the Great Salt Lake, 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.
An $80 million project will expand and greatly enhance the stadium in time for the 2021 season. In April of 2019, University of Utah President Ruth V. Watkins and Director of Athletics Mark Harlan announced the largest gift in Utah athletics history as the Ken Garff family pledged $17.5 million to help fund construction of the Ken Garff Performance Zone in the south end zone.
The renovations will include enclosing the stadium bowl by connecting the east and west concourses on the south end, increasing audience capacity from 45,807 to 51,444 with the addition of over 1,000 bleacher seats. The upgrades will also add to the fan experience by adding premium seating in luxury suites and loge boxes, as well as club, ledge and rooftop seating. The dilapidated current south end zone stands—the only feature of the old stadium that remained when the current facility opened in 1998—will be replaced and modernized. New spaces will be created for coaches, officials, athletic training, equipment, press operations and the band. A kitchen, recruiting lounge, field-level club lounge and outdoor patio are also in the plans.
Entering the 2019 season, Utah has played before 57-straight sellouts (53 which exceeded the seating capacity) in Rice-Eccles Stadium extending back to the 2010 opener against Pittsburgh. In its first 21 years, there have been 74 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 five season attendance averages and 12 of the top 15 single-game crowds in Rice-Eccles Stadium history have been recorded in the years since. The Utes averaged a school-record 46,533 fans per game in 2015, when they also recorded their best single-game attendance mark (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 11 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.