New protocols to enter WKU football games

Fans watch the Western Kentucky University Hilltoppers season home opener at Houchens Smith-Stadium on Sept. 19, 2020.

Nick Kieser

No added noise from the loudspeakers was needed as the Hilltoppers (0-2) took the field for the first home game of the season against Liberty University (1-0) on Sept. 19.

There were 4,276 fans that attended Saturday’s game, although entering the stadium didn’t look the same as normal in previous seasons.

Fans and students had to enter the game with a new protocol that the ticketing sales team created. Separate apps were used for the general public and students who attended Saturday’s game.

Students were to download the Red Wave student app and sign in with their Topper email account and RSVP to attend a game. Students can RSVP for a home game as early as Monday on a game week.

“We wanted students to reserve on the app,” Associate Athletic Director of Marketing and Ticket Sales Matt Morrison said. “If any of the one thousand students do not show up, the students who were put on a waiting list then can come into the game.”

As for having any additional student seating for the opening game, the Berm was closed to students to gather in for week one.

“Hopefully after the first game, some of these protocols and mandates can loosen up a little bit and get more people into the stadium,” Morrison said. “The capacity could go up and it could, unfortunately, go down.”

The next game where students could perhaps be allowed in the Berm is homecoming on Oct. 10 against Marshall University with a 6:30 p.m. kickoff.

Ticketing for the general public is done through the WKU Hilltoppers App. Purchasing a ticket is done through Ticketmaster.

“The general public will have a seat block,” Morrison said. “They go where that seat block is. Ticketmaster doesn’t speak to our student accounts, so using an 800 number to Ticketmaster doesn’t really matter.”

Morrison added that sections 128, 133, 134 and 135 are reserved for WKU students and that the overflow would go up into section 335 if necessary.

“You don’t know how they will show up,” Morrison said. “If they show up with three buddies we still want those three buddies to be close to them, and that’s why we’ve done it based on how they enter the game. That way they can still sit closer to their friends.”

Operations in Houchens-Smith Stadium is also something that has changed for the 2020 season due to COVID-19.

“Normal concession stands will operate just like a normal game,” Associate Athletic Director of Facilities and Administration Craig Biggs said. “We have switched a few vendors. Some we’ve lost due to COVID-19 reasons, and others we’ve changed because of corporate deals.”

Biggs added that this year the stadium will have a new sponsor Local Taco for home games. The tacos can be bought on the west side of the stadium.

As it pertains to what has changed, Biggs said that Chaney’s Dairy Barn is indeed back this season. Pizza Hut is not and there is currently no vendor for pizza. However, Chick-fil-A will be open on the east side of the stadium.

“A lot of things will be pre-packaged,” Biggs said. “There’s a couple of things coming off the menu because it’s hard for them to be served safely.”

Aside from getting to a designated seat and what there is to eat at a WKU football game, the cleanliness of the venue is high in regard. Gov. Andy Beshear and his office had to work in conjunction with WKU to settle on a capacity limit and the protocols in place.

“We have a 1-to-1 ratio of custodians for every restroom; those will be fully sanitized every 30 minutes,” Assistant Athletic Director of Facilities Les Forsythe said. “We also have staff dedicated to wiping down the high touchpoints like door handles, railings, those type of things every 30 minutes.”

According to Biggs, WKU worked in conjunction with counterparts such as the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky. The respective schools have larger stadiums, but in comparison the plans are mirrored across the board with all three schools.

Altogether WKU and the ticketing staff had to have about 1,500 to 2,000 season ticket holders sit out and transition their credit to next season.

“Being a less than 5,000 facility now, it was going to be extremely hard to get any amount of students and all 7,700 season ticket holders that we had last season,” Morrison stated. 

With the reduced crowd, there are also new updates regarding the pregame activities. 

According to Morrison, the parking lots and tailgating lots remain the same and so do the spots for vehicles. Tailgating activities are discouraged throughout the state of Kentucky. WKU will not have tents available for rent, and grills are prohibited as well.

“Folks by all means if they want to have some catered food or bring in food and hang out in the parking lot, by all means, that is ok,” Morrison added. “We are just trying to limit those people to 10 or less.”

“We spent a lot of time this summer working together that we felt like the Governor’s office would support,” Biggs said. “We just hope that our fans and students understand that we don’t really want to do the restrictions any more than they want to have to do them themselves, but we hope they understand that when they come in the facility.”

Sports Editor Nick Kieser can be reached at [email protected] edu. Follow Nick on Twitter at @KieserNick.