Football: Gameday staff picks one stadium feature to keep, one to add in Ryan Field rebuild


Courtesy of Northwestern Now

Concepts for the new Ryan Field. The 35,000-seat stadium will be more accessible and sustainable and could be used for multiple events.

Northwestern released designs last Wednesday for its rebuild of Ryan Field. The 35,000-seat stadium will give Wildcat football a much-needed facilities upgrade, along with the possibility to host concerts and championship events for other sports.

From students and alumni to players and coaches, the NU community is buzzing with excitement about the new stadium, especially during a season in which the Cats haven’t given fans much to cheer for on the field.

“This will be the first time that we’ll have a home field advantage in the history of Wildcat football,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said in a Monday press conference. “If 35,000 is done right, it will be the loudest, most raucous, best home field advantage in college football. This is going to set the precedent for future stadiums and future community engagement opportunities in college towns.”

What should the new Ryan Field retain from its predecessor ahead of its 2026 opening? Which new features would take the stadium to another level? Each of the Gameday staff writers chose one aspect of Ryan Field to keep and one to add that would make the upcoming stadium a premier venue for watching sports.

John Riker, Gameday Editor

Keep: The hedges behind the end zone. This is easily the most impressive part of Ryan Field — how does all the shrubbery always look so immaculate and pristine? From SEC stadiums to the Rose Bowl, plants are an oft-overlooked but essential factor behind the appeal of the college football stadium aesthetic, and the letters spelling out “Wildcats” are a nice touch on the Ryan Field hedges. I don’t see much green space other than the field itself in the released concepts, and plants aren’t the first thing that come to mind with a state-of-the art stadium. Still, hedges or other plant displays will imbue the stadium with a liveliness and potential for NU-specific flourishes that you can’t get with steel beams and artificial turf.

Add: An underground tunnel entrance for the football team. Team entrances are one of the best ways to hype up a home crowd, and NU has dropped the ball in this aspect in recent years. Remember the inflatable Cat? NU should take a cue from the Chicago Bulls and former defensive lineman Joe Spivak and spice up the entrance before kickoff: fog machines, concert lasers for night games, the whole works. Even better, they should build an underground tunnel connecting to Welsh-Ryan Arena or the new locker rooms to enhance the entrance’s intensity. This change would make the Wildcat Dash so, so much better. 

Skye Swann, Assistant Gameday Editor

Keep: Even though the renovations aim to completely remodel Ryan Field, the stadium’s architecture is one of its most attractive features. The high rise columns create a classic aesthetic, adding to NU’s gothic uniforms. Views near the top of the columns inside the press box are arguably the most iconic. Destroying that with the new modern stadium would erase the endearing and historic aspects of Ryan Field. By keeping this architectural structure, the Wildcats will have their program history while allowing fans to get the 360-degree views of the field.

Add: A Raising Cane’s is a must for the new stadium. The Baton Rouge fast food chain has taken over Chicago with high demand from students at NU. Including this eatery inside the new Ryan Field would not only increase student attendance but guarantee a sold-out stadium every game. The finger-lickin’ chicken would be one of the best decisions the NU athletic department could make in putting retail stores inside the new modern stadium. With this addition, there would be no question whether Ryan Field would be all purple’d out.

Lawrence Price, Audio Editor

Keep: One aspect I would love to keep is the proximity of fans to the field. I think it brings a personal atmosphere and heightens the feeling of being right next to the action. This is especially true near the student section, with a grassy hill that allows students to even reach out and feel it. Of course, the rebuild of Ryan Field will lead to new dimensions, points of access and more, but the opportunity to be so close to everything can be a game-changing experience for fans. 

Add: At least Skye and I are on the same page here…Raising Cane’s! It’s quickly become a staple in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs, so who wouldn’t want a top-notch fast-food chain right at their fingertips? This would boost the student attendance, at least until they get their food, and, even more importantly, increase revenue for Ryan Field. NU couldn’t go wrong with this addition, considering the pros outweigh the cons by a million! I can tell you this right now, if NU follows this request, I will be the first person in line with no questions asked. Can I get a “Caniac Combo” please?

Charlotte Varnes, Sports Editor

Keep: A bit selfish, but the press box views. I couldn’t believe everything I could see when I first stepped in the Ryan Field press box. It’s a sampling of the best of Chicago and Evanston: the city skyline, Ryan Fieldhouse, University Hall, Lake Michigan and the Baha’i Temple. Like the University itself, Ryan Field embraces its unique location on the North Shore through its beautiful vistas. I hope the new iteration does, too. 

Add: A Dunkin’! Think about it: it’s an 11 a.m. kickoff, you stayed up late the night before and you’re exhausted. Stopping by Dunkin’ for an iced coffee or a sweet treat would be a delightful way to kick off your Saturday morning at Ryan Field. Plus, NU wouldn’t be the only school to have a Dunkin’ at their venue. When I witnessed the horrors of 2022 Georgetown basketball, I was excited to take a break from the action and stop by the Dunkin’ at Capital One Arena. If we’re going to have 11 a.m. kickoffs, you might as well give the people some decent caffeine to push through. 

Angeli Mittal, Digital Managing Editor

Keep: When Cats fans were unable to attend basketball games during the pandemic, the Cats’ athletic department gave them the option to purchase their own cutouts for display in the Welsh-Ryan Arena stands. Though the new Ryan Field will reduce capacity by 12,000 and remove many of the usually empty seats, there’s no guarantee that they’ll fill the stands. My solution is similar to the cutouts and involves recruiting McCormick students to build imposing, life-sized figurines. This could come in handy when we play against tough opponents like Miami (Ohio) and Southern Illinois.

Add: A safety net for the poor reporters and photographers who fear for their lives when the ball gets near the end zone. It’s actually frightening when you’re just trying to get some good close ups of the team, but the players are barreling towards you. Having a net at the sidelines would not only keep the ball but also the players within bounds. Maybe we’d have fewer injuries on the field if players could just bounce off the safety net rather than topple over one another.

Alex Cervantes, Assistant Sports Editor

Keep: The food trucks and variety of dining options. Full disclosure, I say this without having tried much of the food within Ryan Field, but the food trucks on the outer concourse seem to be an integral piece in the game day experience. Please, NU, don’t try to shoehorn people into a small and uniform concessions menu that only features hot dogs, cheeseburgers and the like — although those are all great staples. The “Rebuild Ryan Field” campaign does highlight an improved tailgating experience with a burger and drink illustration, so maybe those in charge already have this covered. All this to say, keep the variety of options open and accessible to fans.

Add: Alcohol sales. I understand that the matter has been a contentious issue within Evanston over the last few years, and given the city’s history, this may not be an immediate addition, but it should happen nonetheless. While Northwestern does offer alcohol in the Wilson Club — which requires a minimum $6,000 donation — other schools in the conference are trending towards full scale sales throughout their entire venue. The new and improved Ryan Field won’t open up until 2026, plus we’re only two years removed from the approval of alcohol sales at Welsh-Ryan Arena, so there is enough time to get the ball rolling on such a proposition. And, you know, NU’s only win in 2022 came in a venue, Ireland’s Aviva Stadium, that served free alcohol. Just sayin’.

Related Stories

— Football: New Ryan Field designs look to reduced capacity, state-of-the-art canopy to enhance gameday atmosphere

— Ryan Revamp: Northwestern announces plans for design of new Ryan Field

— Football: Two programs in flux: Northwestern gears up for clash with Wisconsin and interim head coach Leonhard Saturday