The ZONE...this is going to be really cool!

Alright, so there won’t be a major stadium overhaul or even a much needed remodel in the immediate future, but the Washington Huskies have already made some interesting and necessary upgrades for the fans. Finally, Washington is doing some things that will enhance the sport of football from the fans' perspective.
The Zone, or a designated tailgating party area, finally brings Husky football in line with most of the other great programs in the country. It's being brought to Montlake by ISP, in association with the athletic department.

Starting this season, the Huskies will be featuring a designated party area on the practice field just east of the stadium. Not on the softball field, which is finally going to be finished with lights, but just south of it, on the football/track throw-events practice field. Bigger than a football field, The Zone is being designed to hold upwards of 10,000 fans, hopefully before and after games. There's a thought that it might be open all day for night games, as will be the case for the first game of the year against LSU.

The Zone won't be open after night games, and won't be open during the games.

"Our intent is to have The Zone open at least three hours before game time," said UW Senior Associate AD O.D. Vincent.

The best thing about it is that it will be free to enter. You will have to go in from the southeast or Waterfront Activities corner (look for a giant inflated football player) and there will be a wide variety of food, drink, flat screen televisions and hospitality tents, including a Big W tent for all ex-players, as well as ones for the Tyee Club, ISP, and any other company or group that wants to reserve a spot for their own tailgating.

Now I fully realize many Husky fans prefer to do their own tailgating, as many have been doing for decades. The Zone is not intended to replace, but rather enhance the pre-game and post-game celebrations. In fact, they are also going to be running a shuttle service from E-1, provided by Gray Line Tours, so you can finish your parking-lot cocktails, hop on a shuttle bus, and buy one last beer, wine, shot or “Zonetail” to finish off your pre-game before entering the stadium. Yes, it is true they are going to be selling booze - not in the Stadium, but right next to it. So when the Huskies win, you can let the traffic thin out while. You can throw down a few cool ones and grab a bite before letting your designated driver take you home.

Food options will be provided by The Metropolitan Grill, Anthony's, and the Wing Dome (all part of Consolidated Restaurants), and there will also be a kids play area and a spot for the visiting fans (LSU is expecting to bring thousands). The KJR pre-game and post-game will be broadcast from one stage, while bands will be entertaining on another.

There will not be direct access into the stadium from The Zone, but it will easy to get to your seats because it’s right next door. The team-walk will also go right through this area, making it more exciting for both the players and the fans. This walk had been tried for the past few years, but it has seemed more like a death march than a pre-game rally. The difference in coaches alone will make this way more exciting for everyone.

After years of semi-neglect, Husky Football has finally gotten the full attention of the athletic administration. Vincent, along with recently hired Andre Riley, (that’s right, the Andre Riley who played receiver and returned punts for the Dawgs from 1986-89) have already started the changes and are keeping the fans’ interest first and foremost in their plans. With only six weeks to go before the opening kickoff, they are really scrambling.

"For us, the Sound Transit is going to have a big impact on our prime tailgating spots starting next year, so we wanted to get a little ahead of that," Vincent said Monday. "We wanted to provide something we think is going to be at least as good as what they had, if not better."

Riley has actually been hired by ISP, the company that holds the multi-media rights to Husky football and basketball. He has already moved into the Don James Center and is running as fast as he did when he led the team in receiving and returning.

Just walking around the stadium on game day will be different. Ticket window locations have changed. Most significant is they have almost been entirely removed from the west side or main entrance. This will allow for greater access to the stadium before and after the games and the ticket operation will be shifted to Bank of America Arena.

Those of you who have traveled the country with Husky football over the years know that schools like Colorado, Nebraska, Ohio State and Michigan all have designated pre-game party areas. Heck, even the Cougars turned their fieldhouse into a beer garden 20 years ago. Washington tried it with the Dempsey Indoor Center, but it really never took off because of the location, and the fact it was inside.

Much of this is being pushed because the University will be losing a big chunk of E-11 and E-12, the south parking lots, after this season due to Sound Transit. That also means losing a lot of traditional tailgating spots. This move is also being pushed, in part because the Fifth Quarter just wasn't cutting it anymore.

"We're going to be taking the activities that were in the Dempsey and moving them outside and improving the whole experience," Vincent said. "Our intent is to be outdoors. The Dempsey was successful for a small niche of our fans, but its location and being indoors is not what people want to do. They like to be outside."

Hospitality tents can be rented and corporate pre-game parties will be held all in the same area. Much of the funding for The Zone comes from ISP, but the commitment of the administration is obvious.

"We just want to give our fans more," Washington Athletic Director Scott Woodward added.

Of course, with season tickets still suffering in a down economy, it is easy to see why they want to encourage and enhance the football game day experience for the fans. That is probably the real driving force but the success of this effort, just like selling tickets, is directly related to winning games.

"The game day experience, we are looking at everything we are doing right now," Vincent said, noting that they are paying very close attention to what the Seahawks, Mariners and Sounders are doing that allows their game day experiences to be so successful. "We want to keep the traditional feel of Husky games - like the siren. We've been on the cutting edge of a lot of things like The Wave. Sark believes that the game itself is just part of the experience. There's also the show, and we want to have as lively of an environment as we possibly can."

Even the opening and introductions to the game are being looked at with this overhaul. Jon Horton and FlyingColours have been given the green light to put together a video package second to none. Included in the ideas that are being thrown out there is a twist on the starting lineups, where the players get to call out their own names - like in the NFL.

None of these ideas are set in stone yet, but it sure does get the mind racing when thinking of the possibilities.

So how cool will it be to party in The Zone before knocking off LSU, a team that nobody expects us to beat? Nobody except the players, the coaches, and the die-hard loyal fans, of course. Note: According to Vincent, UW is right around 40,000 in season ticket sales, and single-game tickets go on sale Monday. That number does not include student tickets.

This story courtesy of DAWGMAN.COM

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