Ryan Field is getting a makeover. After much neighborhood debate, the Evanston community must brace itself for over a year of construction. Despite mixed opinions among residents, the Evanston City Council voted on Nov. 21 to green light the football stadium renovations.
Dyche Stadium, the field’s original name, has served as the home of Northwestern Football for almost a century. Built in 1926, Dyche Stadium was named after the director of the facility’s construction: Northwestern graduate and Mayor of Evanston William A. Dyche.
After an enlargement in 1949, the addition of a press box in 1961 and a switch from grass to AstroTurf in 1994, Northwestern completed the first major reconstruction of the football stadium in 1997. Northwestern alumni and leading donors Patrick and Shirley Ryan provided the funds to turn the outdated Dyche Stadium into the concrete fortress that stands today. To thank them for their generous and sustained financial support, the University named the reconstructed stadium Ryan Field in their honor.
Ryan Field. Ready for Saturday. pic.twitter.com/gyE42izqui— Northwestern Football (@NUFBFamily) November 18, 2023
Since Ryan Field will be out of commission for over a year, the ’Cats will need to find a temporary home for the 2024 football season. Northwestern has yet to release a statement concerning solutions for this issue, but I have some suggestions.
Elements to consider
Seating Capacity: Despite Ryan Field’s current capacity of 47,000 fans, the ’Cats averaged only 20,794 fans per game (excluding the Wrigley trip) in six true home outings. While this is a grim indication of Northwestern’s school spirit, this may make finding a stadium replacement much easier given that capacity is not the deciding factor.
Stadium Features: The temporary venue will need to accommodate concession stands, sufficient restroom facilities, equipment storage, a press box and space for the athletics administration and game day employees to operate behind the scenes. It will also need to provide sufficient technological support and power capacity.
Student Transportation and Attendance: The 30-minute walk from Northwestern’s Evanston campus to Ryan Field is a deterrent for students who would attend football games if they were closer. The University provides buses to ease transportation challenges and stymie this effect. Since the temporary location will be farther from campus, it is essential that the University maintain this bus service.
Budget: The Northwestern administration has found itself in hot water facing criticism from professors in response to the high cost of constructing the new stadium. Professors are wary that the pricey project will negatively impact funding for academics and faculty salaries. The University should keep the cost of renting the stadium low to avoid additional financial burden.
Possible options ranked
4. Martin Field
Currently the home of Northwestern soccer and lacrosse, Martin Field is located conveniently in the heart of Northwestern’s campus right next to the football training facility. While its current seating capacity is only 2000, temporary bleachers could be installed around the three unoccupied sides of the field. Playing at Martin Field would make games much more accessible to students, likely increasing student attendance substantially. To make up for limited seating capacity, the University could hike ticket prices for non-students. Northwestern would also save money on buses and renting space, although a lack of concessions equipment would be an issue.
3. Soldier Field
Perfectly equipped to host a day of football, it would be logical to choose the home of the Chicago Bears as the ’Cats temporary digs. However, this would likely be an expensive choice. Because of Northwestern football’s notoriously low attendance, the University would not be able to count on ticket sales to compensate for the costs of renting the 63,500 capacity stadium. Also, student attendance would likely decline sharply due to the nearly one-and-a-half hour trek to the stadium from campus.
2. SeatGeek Stadium
Ex-home of the MLS’s Chicago Fire and current home of the NWSL’s Chicago Red Stars, SeatGeek Stadium has the ideal seating capacity and fan resources to host Northwestern football. With the ability to hold 28,000 spectators, it would more closely mimic the capacity of the new Ryan Field. Because of its smaller capacity, renting out this stadium would likely be more cost-effective than renting out Soldier Field. The main drawback is its location. SeatGeek Stadium sits on the Southeast Side of Chicago, down the street from Chicago Midway International Airport. Students would have to commute about an hour to get to the stadium from Evanston.
1. Wrigley Field
Wrigley Field is likely the best choice to host the ’Cats during the Ryan Field renovations. It is the closest stadium to Northwestern’s campus on this list that has both the capacity and the resources needed to run a football game. The beloved Chicago ballpark has proved itself quite capable of housing the Northwestern football team having hosted the ’Cats for one game in each of the 2010, 2021, and 2023 seasons. Northwestern’s most recent matchup at Wrigley against Iowa (10-2, 7-2 B1G) proved to be popular, drawing approximately 37,000 spectators, although it appears Iowa fans dominated this demographic. While this would likely be an expensive option, the high cost of tickets would hopefully balance out Northwestern’s spending.
Another potential issue is timing. The beginning of the NCAA football season overlaps with the end of the Cubs’ season. Hockey and basketball teams have demonstrated that sharing an arena across sports is possible. However, this may not be the case for grass-based sports. A persistent hole in the sod of the red zone during the Northwestern-Iowa game created trouble for the grounds crew who attempted to repair it multiple times during the fourth quarter unsuccessfully. It also tripped up Northwestern’s offense, which failed to score from this spot starting with a first-and-goal from the two-yard line.
The Stage. pic.twitter.com/UWasmgWRgK— Northwestern Athletics (@NU_Sports) November 4, 2023
What Comes Next?
No matter where the ’Cats end up, football will be played. It is difficult to have high expectations for such an unprecedented season, but it will undoubtedly be a season to remember.
Thumbnail photo courtesy of Northwestern Athletics.