When fans of the University of Utah football team arrive at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Sept. 2 to see their Utes face Weber State, they’ll look to the south end zone and see 4,500 more people than they’re used to.
That’s because the stadium’s expansion is complete. The university unveiled the Ken Garff Red Zone Thursday in a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Afterward, donors and media received a tour of the facility that cost a total of $80 million, more than half of which was paid for through donations.
The expansion includes suite, loge box, ledge, club, premium terrace and bench seating. All of those are on track to being sold out by the home opener, Utah Athletic Director Mark Harlan told reporters.
“We have very few premium seats left — less than a handful,” Harlan said. “We project those to be sold in the next 10 to 12 days. And a few left in up the bleachers. We anticipate those all being gone shortly.”
What will likely get the most attention from an athletics standpoint, though, are the new digs for the Utes football players and coaches. They all got new locker room space, highlighted by the 5,500-square-foot area for the players themselves.
The player locker room has a tribute to the late Ty Jordan that will be there all season. It also has leather seating that doubles as storage space, triangular cabinet space above the seats, seven televisions, and photos of every player at their individual locker.
On each side of the players’ space, it says “Utah football” on one, and “A Utah man am I” on the other — all in capital letters illuminated by white light.
Coach Kyle Whittingham also has a new space. While it’s not as sprawling as his players’, it does have three areas: a lounge, an office and a personal locker room. Each member of his staff also got a locker.
In another part of the new facility is an area where recruits can lounge and talk to coaches.
While the new facility and amenities are at the football stadium, University of Utah officials stressed that they would not only benefit the football program. The end zone expansion will open the doors for the brand new U Club. Meanwhile, Dr. Michael Good, CEO of University of Utah Health, said the stadium’s expansion could help seal the deal for students who are considering the U for academics.
“I already envision bringing our recruits out there, showing them the magnificent valley on one side, the impressive Rice-Eccles Stadium on the other, serving them a fine meal, and completing their recruitment to the University of Utah with that same statistically higher opportunity that our football team will accomplish on the field when they are in the red zone,” Good said.
Harlan said the extra seats are a money-making opportunity that helps the entire athletics program.
“This isn’t just for our football program,” Harlan said in remarks before the ribbon-cutting. “This will allow additional revenue going forward to support the scholarship efforts of all our student-athletes and enhance their lives. So this is a gift for everyone.”
University of Utah President Taylor Randall said he attended the Garth Brooks concert that was recently held at Rice-Eccles and recalled a moment when he heard the crowd cheer loudly. In that moment, he couldn’t help but think about how the crowd of more than 51,000 will sound when the Utes play the Wildcats.
“I think this place is going to be completely electric,” Randall said.
But while officials said the expansion will benefit the entire athletics program, there’s seems to be no doubt the football team could get the most out of it.
“This will help our football program to thrive,” Randall said. “It will become, I think, even more elite than it is now.”