The details are unclear and the process is just beginning to start, but the home of Northwestern football is officially getting a long-awaited redevelopment, according to a Wednesday morning announcement from the university. With the construction process said to be a multi-year affair, much of our staff is unlikely to see the new Ryan Field in its final form as students. Still, we’ve got some advice for whichever architect NU selects, and we’re sharing it here:
Ben Chasen: A smarter and comfier environment with modern stadium features
A new Ryan Field could really become a significantly better home field for the ‘Cats with a few smart and simple changes. For starters, the student section should be moved to the south end zone in a standing-only, railed-row area (none of the students really sit at these games anyways) a la the ones featured at many newer MLS stadiums. The seats on either sideline between the end zones should have individual armrests and backs (purple, of course), and the seating bowl as a whole should be moved closer to the field by removing a lot of the excess room between the stands and the turf.
Then there’s the more aesthetically-focused changes. Northwestern should install a big — and I mean absolutely huge — scoreboard above where Randy Walker Terrace currently sits, with a new sound system to boot. I’d love to see field lighting that is not only permanently affixed to the stadium, but that can also do some cool flashing or colored patterns (like the lights featured at Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium). Add these things and air conditioning to the press box, and I’ll be a happy camper.
Mac Stone: Less seating (and a new sound system)
We’ve all seen it and we’ve all grown accustomed to it — seas of red, green and gold always seem to flood Ryan Field when teams like Nebraska, Michigan State and Iowa roll into town. Cut down on the capacity of Ryan Field by about 10,000 seats or so and that will hopefully prevent opposing fanbases from dominating the crowd every time a Big Ten game is played in Evanston.
On top of seating, a new sound system is absolutely needed. I distinctly remember a time (way back in 2011) when Michigan rolled into town, and their fans drowned out the music constantly with “Go Blue” chants. That’s just one example, and it came way back when Denard Robinson was playing for the Wolverines, so its safe to say an up-to-date sound system is long overdue at Ryan Field.
Daniel Olinger: Laser Beams
Kidding but also not. Get it done, engineering majors.
John Olsen: More diverse, better eating options throughout the entire concourse
Don’t get me wrong, hot dogs and pretzels are great, but I’d love to see the stadium staff get more creative with what is served to NU fans. The NU Athletic department has shown it’s capable of doing so in the past, albeit on a smaller scale. A couple of examples that jump to my mind are the variety of food stands that are open in the southeast corner of Ryan Field, and a one-game special hamburger with a fried egg and bacon as toppings with donuts for buns a few seasons ago. Although my arteries might still be suffering to this day from eating that monstrosity, it was definitely memorable, and that’s what modern-day fan experience is about. Northwestern won’t win every time they play in the renovated stadium, but the renovations should provide fans with plenty of different eating options to enhance the winning feeling and offset the sting of a loss.
Also, bring back Put Your Hands Up in the Air. Please.
Jacob Brown: Better Pre-Game Amenities
The Northwestern Athletic department has done a lot with what they have. Wildcat Alley is a hit for families every year. The N Zone has alcohol, food trucks and music, but is heavily limited by the size and shape of the area. I would like to see a new concourse built to cater to students, young adults, and tailgaters. For one, catering to the younger audience could help get alumni who stay in Chicagoland to come to games. But secondly, it would just be fun. Having more things to do before the game would be better for everyone. Give them the correct infrastructure, and there is no doubt in my mind that NU Athletics’ marketing department will make it awesome.
Bradley Locker: Improved video/scoreboards
Ben alluded to it earlier, but what really stood out during my first trip to Ryan Field (granted, very recently) is the size of the video board. Not only is the screen smaller than that of some high schools, but it’s simply unwise to have just one video board that fans, players and officials have to crane their necks to see. This is, after all, a team that plays in a premier conference in college football.
On top of that, the numbers and letters to see the score, down, yards to go and other information are not as large as one would hope, although that is more of a widespread football issue than something specific to Northwestern. Why not solve both problems with glorious scoreboards installed at both ends of the stadium? No, we don’t need to recreate the 362-foot-wide behemoth that sits inside Jacksonville’s TIAA Bank Field — just an upgrade for both practical and enjoyment purposes would be sound.
Michael Barthelemy: Permanent light system and improved sound quality
I know it’s minor, but the fact that Northwestern doesn’t hold its own permanent lighting system annoys the crap out of me. I’m sick of seeing that snide tweet by an out-of-town reporter about the giant cranes holding lights outside of the stadium every time there’s a night game. Part of adding respect and a feeling of legitimacy to a program is taking care of minor aspects like shipping in lighting that makes the product feel amateur. Also, the sound system at NU kinda stinks. There are times where it feels like I’m on the CTA when listening to the loudspeaker. A new speaker system — and maybe a new playlist (hey NU, email me) — can revamp Ryan Field to make the place feel comfortable and professional.
William Karmin: Excellent local food options
Most of staff has hit the layups in wanting an upgrade to the existing Ryan Field infrastructure such as the scoreboard and lighting, among other features. Call me old-fashioned, but I am a part of the seemingly-growing minority of fans that isn’t the biggest fan of the new Welsh-Ryan Area. There’s a certain nostalgia that comes with attending an outdated Ryan Field on a cold fall day at 11:00 a.m. Either way, I would like to see NU upgrade their food options. With all due respect to Real Urban Barbecue, I’d like to see NU sell Evanston’s best local eats. I remember that NU sold Buffalo Joe’s at games one year, but it was not highly-advertised. Bring back Buffalo Joe’s, start serving 10Q and Bat 17, and we may be cooking with something. It’s already a shame that Northwestern never reached an agreement to sell Andy’s Frozen Custard at games while the chain was still operating in downtown Evanston.
Nikesh Mehrotra: Fan-oriented concourse at the south entrance
Some Big Ten schools struggle to fit their growing fanbases into their stadiums. Northwestern is not one of those schools. Any additions to Ryan Field should focus on selling out games, either by removing sections or improving the fan experience. Replacing the seats by the south end zone with a state-of-the-art concourse would accomplish both tasks and finally give fans a place to congregate without having to leave the stadium. There are many possible uses for this space, including but not limited to: a small bar/lounge serving craft beer, food stalls from local Evanston restaurants, a giant screen displaying the game, or even a Northwestern football Hall of Fame, featuring statues and murals from the glory days.