Nebraska football’s rich history is intertwined alongside that of college football, and its home stadium is, too.
Ground broke on the first iteration of Memorial Stadium on April 26, 1923 — about 33 years after Nebraska football played its first-ever game. Incredibly, the 31,080-seat stadium was ready in time for the following season, hosting Nebraska’s 24-0 victory over Oklahoma in the stadium’s inaugural contest in October 1923.
The rest is history.
Nebraska has sold out 382 consecutive games at Memorial Stadium, a stadium that’s served as the backdrop for so many of the program’s 908 all-time wins. The stadium, too, has undergone several facelifts then, as several changes occurred since the turn of the millennium.
And as the Huskers enter their 133rd season of play this fall, the building blocks for yet another facelift for one of college football’s most historic venues will already be underway. Nebraska athletic director Trev Alberts announced on Jan. 12 that it would be seeking input through a survey on the stadium’s modernization. The survey features a variety of questions about potential upgrades to Memorial Stadium, with the only glaring omission being questions related to the UNL student gameday experience.
The survey, according to UNL senior associate athletic director Brandon Meier, was a process sped up by Alberts’ arrival over the summer.
“He’s really preached transparency and also it was something that we haven’t done in a few years,” Meier said. “I would say kinda a lot of things went into it.”
Thus far, Nebraska’s athletic department has been “extremely pleased” by the input they’ve received from the Husker faithful. Meier said that the results of the survey won’t be made public until a later date, in large part due to the overwhelming amount of data points they need to sort through.
Meier said that the department has received over 23,000 responses on the survey to date, a stark increase from the 5,000 responses that they were expecting. Most impressively, Meier said that they’ve received close to 12,000 responses when the survey asked for any additional input or feedback in potential changes to Memorial Stadium.
Alberts, if his public comments are any indication, agrees, using the survey responses as a testament to Nebraska’s devout fanbase.
“Typically you’re looking at a response rate that is, I don’t know, it’s not a high rate,” Alberts said on his weekly radio show on Jan. 26. “Husker Nation, as they always do, is just a little bit different.”
The athletic department has already started taking some of that feedback to heart in the form of immediate change. On Jan. 26, Alberts announced that all 18-inch wide seats at Memorial Stadium will be expanded to 20 inches. The change will go into effect in 2022 and have a direct impact on the stadium’s capacity.
While it’s still unknown the totality of the immediate change, Meier noted that the decision is an example of the department’s ability to analyze trends in survey responses and take immediate action.
“We met with Trev and told him that, while we’re still in the middle of this, the overwhelming theme of all of these surveys is that people want more comfortable seats,” Meier said. “If we can take a row of 24 seats down to 21 and make it more comfortable, then let’s do it.”
In total, the Memorial Stadium survey is incredibly thorough. Questions range from general satisfaction about Wi-Fi connectivity to the concourse/crowd circulation and everything in between. Some of those larger-scale changes, according to Meier, might take time to completely change. Others, like boosting Wi-Fi speed or widening seats, can be tackled immediately.
One of the more popular changes not mentioned in the survey, but a topic of crucial importance if social media is any indication, is updating the location and placement of the student section. Currently, UNL students are seated in Memorial Stadium’s southeast corner, with entrances split between east and south stadium.
Nebraska’s student section, the Boneyard, is a tradition-rich group that is normally a key contributor in contributing to the overall experience at Memorial Stadium. That group is the main sport-specific, student-led fan group overseen by the Iron N, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s official student section.
The group said that it has yet to hear from the athletic department on any potential changes to the student section, and Meier said that “nothing has been discussed” as it pertains to taking immediate action on the matter. Still, Iron N members have been mulling over the potential impacts of a change to Memorial Stadium’s student section.
“We’ve kinda looked into where to move [the student section], but again we don’t really know the best place to move them because of spacing,” Iron N president Jill Gillespie said. “…There definitely could be benefits to restructuring the student section and how it works.”
The survey, while detailed, did not feature any specific questioning about potential upgrades or changes to any student seating. Gillespie herself shouldered a good bit of responsibility, noting that it’s on her and her team to find innovative ways to keep students engaged as active participants in the Memorial Stadium experience. According to Gillespie, weekly meetings with UNL’s marketing department play a role in that as well, although there have been no discussions on the student section’s future.
“We hear a lot from the students’ side of what can be better, and we also get the marketing side of it, like ‘Hey, this is what we have to do, this is what we can do for students,’”” Gillespie said. “A lot of students just see the student side.”
Aside from changes the athletic department has already made, nobody outside of the Nebraska athletic department ultimately knows the results of the survey and the changes to Memorial Stadium that it could bring. Student section changes, updated seating, luxury boxes — all could be on the table as Alberts and company embark on planning Memorial Stadium’s future.
What is known though: the foundations of change are being laid at Memorial Stadium. Alberts is to thank.
“Trev really said ‘Hey, we need to create a roadmap for the next 20 years of Memorial Stadium, how do we do that?’” Meier said. “And it’s started with research and listening to the fans and trying to see what they want.”