McGuirk Stadium – UMass Minutemen
Uniting the Masses
Named after long-time athletic director Warren P. McGuirk, McGuirk Alumni Stadium has served as the home venue for the University of Massachusetts-Amherst Minutemen since 1965. Despite its location on the UMass campus, McGuirk Stadium is actually situated across the town line in neighboring Hadley.
The Minutemen made the jump to FBS beginning with the 2012 season. At the time, their long-time on-campus home, McGuirk Stadium, did not meet the minimum standards set by the FBS. To remedy these shortcomings, the University embarked on a $20 million renovation project to bring the stadium up to minimum FBS standards. As part of these renovations, a new training facility and locker rooms were built on the north end of the stadium, the old press box was demolished, a new two-level press box installed and luxury boxes added, increasing capacity to 17,000. Even at this increased capacity, McGuirk Stadium remains the second smallest venue in FBS, larger than only the Kibbie Dome at the University of Idaho.
While renovations were being completed at McGuirk Stadium, the Minutemen played all their 2012 and 2013 home games at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA. Despite Gillette’s pro-level facilities, its location 95 miles from UMass’ Amherst campus made it an imperfect alternative for students wanting to attend football games. Beginning with the 2017 season, the Minutemen will play all their home games on campus.
The UMass Minutemen have played football since 1879. They have a long and illustrious history in Division 1-AA and FCS, having won 22 conference titles, a national championship in 1998 along with two appearances in the championship game (1978 and 2006). The team, which now competes as an independent, has struggled since joining college football’s top division, going 10-50 in their first five seasons in FBS.
Food & Beverage 3
The food options at McGuirk Stadium do not stray too far from your typical stadium fare. There are four concession stands operated by UMass dining tucked underneath the stands on the inside of McGuirk Stadium. In addition to the standard hot dog/hamburger/chicken tenders, some unique items add variety to the menu. Items including Legal Sea Foods clam chowder, sushi, apple crisp and macaroni and cheese served in a bread bowl can be found at these stands.
The presence of food trucks located outside the stadium give UMass fans even more choices. Every Minuteman fan is familiar with local favorite Baby Berk. Perhaps the most popular concession spot at McGuirk Stadium, Baby Berk serves a variety of specialty hamburgers and sides. Maple Valley Creamery, a local ice cream shop, also has a truck set up, offering a variety of homemade ice cream flavors.
Coca Cola products are featured at McGuirk Stadium. Alcohol is not served at this on-campus facility.
There is a souvenir stand set up underneath the western grandstand selling a wide variety of UMass souvenirs.
The Minutemen’s struggles on the field have certainly affected the gameday atmosphere at McGuirk Stadium. Playing in front of a half-empty stadium doesn’t exactly create the liveliest of environments. While UMass does have its share of diehard fans, they are certainly in the minority here. The student body at this large school stays away from McGuirk in droves, and many of the students who do show up leave the game at halftime. It’s not unusual to see the crowd decrease significantly here at McGuirk Stadium for the second half.
That being said, all the elements are here at UMass for a fantastic gameday atmosphere. UMass has the largest marching band in the northeast, and their performances are a highlight of the experience at McGuirk. Unfortunately, they are extremely underutilized during the game. You are more likely to hear piped in music over the stadium’s loudspeakers during play stoppages than you are to hear this award-winning marching band. UMass’ cheerleading and dance squad are large, but again, are relegated to corners of the stadium and don’t get much of a chance to show their stuff. Giveaways and contests throughout the game are designed to keep fans engaged and involved. In a twist on the traditional t-shirt toss, UMass staffers toss six-inch sub sandwiches into the crowd in the second half.
Parking lots open three hours before kickoff. While there is a decent tailgating scene, it’s decidedly laid back. College football just isn’t the big deal in this part of the country that it is elsewhere.
Amherst is consistently rated as one of the best college towns in the country. Downtown is located within walking distance of campus (well, walking distance for a college student), and is chock full of restaurants, shops, and things to do. With five colleges located in and around Amherst, the options are many and varied. Take a walk down Main Street and you can find restaurants ranging from African cuisine to French gourmet, from Mexican to Vietnamese, places specializing in brunch to sidewalk cafes. UMass students swear by Antonio’s, home of some legendary greasy pizza slices.
Just up the road from McGuirk Stadium is Hadley, Massachusetts, where many more dining and shopping choices are located. The majority of the eateries in this area consist of chain restaurants and fast food options. Within walking distance of the stadium is The Hangar Bar and Grill, a popular campus hangout with numerous craft brews on tap.
Lodging options in Amherst proper are somewhat limited, but with several options in neighboring Hadley, and with Springfield only 30 minutes away, you won’t have to travel too far to find a place to stay after the game. For those wishing to eliminate the commute after the game entirely, the UMass Hotel and Conference Center is located at the center of campus, and is run entirely by students in the hospitality and tourism management program.
For those looking for more scholarly endeavors after taking in a game, the Amherst region boasts several museums, as any good college town should. Literary fans will find museums chronicling the works of authors ranging from Eric Carle to Emily Dickinson. Eclectic bookstores and quaint shops line Main Street.
UMass averaged just over 14,500 fans per game in 2016, and attendance has dwindled to an average of just over 10,000 for the 2017 season. The newness over the team’s ascension to FBS has worn off, and the Minutemen’s lack of success has certainly affected the turnout at McGuirk Stadium. Only a small fraction of the student body shows up for games, and many of those students who do show up leave at halftime. Even at McGuirk Stadium, which is one of the smallest FBS stadiums in the country, the Minutemen struggle to fill it up halfway. The inclusion of special events like Band Day, where marching bands from high schools all across Massachusetts are invited to perform at halftime, help these attendance figures immensely.
The University of Massachusetts is located in rural Amherst. There are no highways that directly serve the UMass campus, but Interstate 91 is only six miles away if traveling from the north, south, or west. If traveling from the east, the Massachusetts Turnpike (Interstate 90) will bring you about 20 miles from campus. Take exit 8 (Palmer) off the turnpike and follow the signs along the winding country roads to downtown Amherst and the UMass campus. Although the drive from the Mass Pike to UMass takes about a half hour, the foliage during the football season in this part of the country is amazing, and draws many tourists throughout the fall. It’s well worth it to take your time and enjoy the scenery.
Springfield is located 16 miles south of Amherst, and is served by both Amtrak and the Peter Pan Bus Lines. The larger cities of Boston, Albany, and Hartford are all less than a two hour drive from campus. The closest airport is Bradley Airport, just over the Connecticut state line. If visiting the area towards the end of the football season as snow starts falling in the nearby mountains, the fine ski resorts of Vermont’s White Mountains are only a couple of hours away to the north.
Once you arrive at UMass, it’s not too difficult to get to McGuirk Stadium. The stadium is located on the southwestern edge of campus alongside many of the school’s other athletic facilities. There is basically only one road that serves the stadium, but traffic moves pretty well into the parking lots adjacent to the stadium. Wide walkways lead from the lots to the stadium.
Despite the large investment that went into upgrading McGuirk Stadium to get it ready for FBS football, the facility still has an unfinished feel to it. Once you pass through the gates into the stadium, you will enter a large, mostly empty plaza behind the stands. The grounds are not landscaped or paved, and are made up of rock and gravel. Those with an unsteady gait should tread carefully.
All seating consists of aluminum bleachers without backs. The first row is located about ten feet above field level. With McGuirk Stadium’s small size, all seats offer a great view of the action. The western grandstand faces the sun, and is preferred when the weather starts to turn chilly in the fall. The eastern grandstand offers a view of the UMass logo right side up, but the press box puts most of these seats in the shade. Rest rooms are located in a separate building beyond the south end zone. Lines are not a problem here, either at concession stands or rest rooms, even at halftime.
Return on Investment 3
Tickets for Minutemen games at McGuirk Stadium are reasonably priced for FBS, with all tickets priced at $25. Purchasing your tickets in advance will save you five dollars. If you choose to wait until game day, great seats will still be available. Parking costs five dollars if purchased in advance and ten dollars on game day.
Food prices are in line with other venues in the area. Attending a game at McGuirk Stadium is an affordable way to take in some college football played in the top division in the country. With only three FBS squads in all of New England, UMass is in rare company in this part of the nation.
Even though UMass is new to the FBS, they have a long and illustrious football history, including a Division 1-AA national championship in 1998, and appearances in the national championship game in 1978 and 2006. Banners are hung along the back side of the grandstand honoring the great teams and players from UMass’ glory days. Flags honoring championship teams fly along the top of the eastern grandstand.
While McGuirk Stadium may not measure up to the larger FBS stadiums across the country, the full time return of the Minutemen to the Amherst campus is a most welcome sight. The Minutemen played a portion of their home schedule 95 miles away from campus at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro for many years, a situation which did not work out well for the team or their fans. While the team’s struggles on the field have certainly affected the gameday atmosphere here in western Massachusetts, there is hope that improved performance on the field will translate to an increased fan presence in the stands at quaint McGuirk Stadium.
Follow Paul Baker’s stadium journeys on Twitter @PuckmanRI
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The Minutemen made the jump to FBS beginning with the 2012 season. Their long-time on-campus home, McGuirk Stadium, did not meet the minimum standards set by the FBS. To remedy these shortcomings, the University embarked on a 20 million renovation project to bring the stadium up to minimum FBS standards. As part of these renovations, a new training facility and locker rooms were built on the north end of the stadium, the old press box demolished, a new two-level press box installed, and luxury boxes added, increasing capacity to 17,000. Even at this increased capacity, McGuirk Stadium remains the second smallest venue in FBS.