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Utah is trying to get fans in Rice-Eccles Stadium earlier for the ASU game

What are some of the aspects of the game day experience that can make it harder for fans to get in seats at kickoff?

View of Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City
Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City is photographed on Tuesday, March 31, 2020.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Utah’s game this Saturday against No. 18 Arizona State (8 p.m., ESPN) is big.

Both teams are undefeated in conference play, and whoever wins the game will be in the Pac-12 South driver’s seat with six weeks left in the season and will hold the tiebreaker over the losing team if both schools end up with the same record.

It’s by far the most important game of Utah’s season thus far, and though a loss to the Sun Devils doesn’t put the Utes out of contention, it would make it a lot tougher to get to the Pac-12 championship game.

In addition, some of Utah’s top 2022 recruits will be on their official visits, according to 247Sports. Four-star linebacker Lander Barton (Brighton High), three-star athlete Carson Tabaracci (Park City High) and three-star defensive lineman Dallas Vakalahi (West High) will all be in attendance, and Utah no doubt wants to give them a good impression of the program and the atmosphere at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Utah wants fans to arrive early and have the 51,444-seat stadium full before kickoff to boost the Utes from the very start of the game, which hasn’t happened yet this season.

In an effort to try and get fans in the building earlier, Utah is offering 30% off all concession sales at stadium-managed concessions stands on Saturday from 6 p.m. until 7 p.m.

Fans are showing up to Utah football home games — Utah has an impressive 66-game sellout streak dating back to 2010 in an age where college football attendance as a whole is on the decline — but in the two games so far this year, and in games in past years, there have been plenty of empty seats at kickoff, which is something Utah appears to want to correct.

The home opener against Weber State started at 5:30 p.m. on a Thursday, so it was understandable that the stadium wasn’t packed at kickoff, with fans having to drive to the stadium after getting off work. Utah’s next home game against Washington State had a 12:30 p.m. kickoff on a Saturday. Again, there were empty seats at kickoff, with possible scheduling conflicts due to things like kids’ soccer games and the early start time.

At the end of the day, Utah fans have proven they can pack the stadium before kickoff for big games if they want to — like 2004 and 2008 against BYU and TCU in 2010.

As Utah’s high season ticket holder renewal rate and sellout streak shows, fans still love attending games at the stadium, but it’s worth looking at some of the aspects of the Rice-Eccles Stadium game-day experience that can make it hard to get in seats at kickoff.

No. 1 is the time commitment. The average college football game length is three hours and 24 minutes, per NCAA statistics. Add in the time to drive to the stadium with traffic, park, walk to the stadium, watch the game, walk back to the car and drive home in traffic and you’re looking at about a five-hour time commitment if you show up exactly on time or a little later. Fans are already spending a lot of money on tickets to games and some may not want to, or can’t, expand that already big time commitment to get to a game 30 minutes to an hour earlier. Life just gets in the way sometimes.

Parking is also an issue. Because of the University of Utah’s limited parking space right by Rice-Eccles Stadium, fans have to park in designated lots as far as a mile from the stadium. That means either waiting for the next TRAX train if you’re close to a station or a lengthy walk to the stadium. Over the years, Utah has also developed a strong pregame tailgating culture, and some fans enjoy tailgating right up until game time.

When fans do get in the stadium a few minutes before the game, the Rice-Eccles Stadium concourses on the east and west sides are often gridlocked, with lines from the concession stands sometimes stretching across the width of the concourse, leading to a packed concourse and not a lot of room to move. Fans have also expressed frustration with the length of time it takes to get though the line to order.

Rice-Eccles Stadium tweeted that they are looking into solutions.