Higher-ranked teams have travelled to War Memorial Stadium in recent years.
Long-time rivals have drawn bigger crowds when the venue allowed for them.
That said, when the No. 9 Nebraska Cornhuskers visit the Gem City on Saturday, many — including athletics director Tom Burman and head football coach Dave Christensen — believe that the University of Wyoming is hosting the biggest home game in its history.
“It will be the biggest game that’s ever been played in Laramie,” Christensen said. “It’s a game where we have absolutely nothing to lose. It’s a full stadium, it’s at our place, it’s against a great football team, and we can turn it loose.”
GETTING NEBRASKA HERE
When Burman was hired in 2006, he admits he wasn’t all that excited about two-for-one deals — arrangements where Wyoming would face a team three times during the course of several seasons, once in Laramie and twice on the road.
But he quickly made a list of schools which he believed would work in such situations.
“Nebraska was top of the list, [then] Notre Dame, Texas, probably Ohio State and Michigan, as schools that it might be worth doing if you had the opportunity,” Burman said.
He began working on Nebraska shortly thereafter.
Early discussions centered around a series of four or five games, Burman said. One was to be played at what is now Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver, one would take place in Laramie and then two or three meetings would occur in Lincoln, Neb.
Those talks of a game in Denver eventually fizzled out as pinpointing a successful date that worked for all three entities became tough.
“After spending probably months in dialogue with Denver and Lincoln, we just said, ‘Would you consider a two-for-one, first game is in Laramie, one game having a payout?’” Burman said. “They were interested.”
The two programs signed a deal on Nov. 21, 2008, that called for games on: Sept. 24, 2011, in Laramie; Aug. 31, 2013, in Lincoln; and Sept. 17, 2016, in Lincoln.
Rumors since swirled that the game in Laramie would be moved to Denver. Burman said he was contacted by promoters, but, “We were never interested.”
DRAWING A CROWD
Wyoming is expecting its largest crowd since the turn of the century.
Additional bleacher seating has been added to both ends at War Memorial Stadium, and Burman said that he is expecting a crowd of more than 32,600 fans.
UW has drawn bigger crowds just twice in history — against Colorado State in 1997 and BYU in 1990, before renovations lowered maximum capacity.
“I heard people talking about it in just about every single one of my classes today,” junior Ghaali Muhammad said Monday. “The hype is all around campus.
“There’s going to be a lot of people coming out to this game, so I’m ready to get it going.”
The biggest question that remains is just how much of the sellout crowd — single-game tickets never even went on sale to the general public — will be sporting brown and gold and how many might be supporting the Huskers.
Burman estimated that 3,500 Texas fans attended a game at War Memorial in 2009 but anticipates many more Nebraska fans than that.
“This game is going to be different,” Burman said. “I hope there’s not 8,000 Nebraska people, but there probably will be. They’re coming, and they’re going to scalp tickets and get in here.”
Stubhub!, a popular online site which allows fans to buy or sell tickets to events nationwide, listed 119 tickets available on Tuesday afternoon with prices ranging from $135 to $383.
“I hope there’s not 10,000 [Nebraska fans]; I would be disappointed,” Burman said. “If there’s 10,000 people, that means a large number of our season-ticket holders sold their tickets.”
A MAJOR EVENT
Regardless of the number of fans in the stadium and the breakdown of their affiliation, the university is preparing for a major event.
Burman estimated that about 5,000 people without tickets would be milling around War Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
Because of the added traffic, Tailgate Park, which usually hosts vendors, live music and a video board broadcasting college football games prior to the kickoff at Jonah Field, will be open throughout the entire game.
“We’re going to have a video screen out there so they can watch, and there will be vendors set up the entire time,” Burman said. “They usually tear that down.”
Burman also estimated that UW has doubled gameday staff, including security, ticket-takers and concessions workers.
“We’ve met at length talking about security issues, postgame issues and how to be prepared for it all,” said Burman, adding that they drew on previous experiences like the home date against Texas. “It’s definitely different and it’s requiring more discussion on how to handle it, but I think we’re in pretty good shape.”
Wyoming stands to make major profits this weekend, perhaps in upwards of a 33-percent increase on what was made on the home game against what was then No. 2-ranked Texas.
Estimates heading into the weekend are that UW will make more than $1.6 million.
“That’s a lot of money,” Burman said.
He estimated that UW will make about $1.1 million in single-game ticket sales. The face value of tickets for Saturday’s game is $75.
The university stands to make another $500,000 in incremental season ticket sales. UW easily set a record, selling more than 10,700 season tickets.
And Burman also estimated another $100,000 in profit from “ancillary revenue” — things like concessions and profits made from auctioning off sideline passes to donors.
“What we’ll do is roll some of that money over to next year, so we can continue to operate in the black,” Burman said. “We’ve operated in the black for six straight years, and we’re not going to change that.”
When it comes to earning money for the two-for-one deal with Nebraska, UW will need to wait a couple of years. The visiting team is paid $300,000 for the meetings this year and in 2016, but the Pokes will be paid $750,000 for their trip to Lincoln in 2013.
“The money in this game is enormous when you add it all up,” Burman said.
And when you put a bow on it all, it’s hard not to believe that it is the biggest home game in UW’s history.
“I’ve been here for Virginia; it was a sellout,” Burman said. “Texas was a sellout. Boise was a sellout for all intents and purposes.
“But there’s so many people that want to come that we can’t fit in the venue. It’s a big deal, and it’s an unbelievable opportunity for the state of Wyoming.”