K-State players pumped to play Stanford at NFL stadium, even if ticket sales are slow

Kellis Robinett
The Wichita Eagle (TNS)
Kansas State defensive back Jahron McPherson, left, is excited for the opportunity to play in an NFL stadium when the Wildcats take on the Stanford Cardinal on Sept. 4 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

ARLINGTON, Texas — During their down-time at the Big 12 Media Days last week, Jahron McPherson and Skylar Thompson explored every inch of AT&T Stadium as if they were tourists.

The pair of Kansas State "super seniors" gazed up at the massive video board that hangs over the playing surface, they looked out at the venue's 80,000 seats, they toured the locker rooms and even lingered in each end zone imagining what it might sound like to score a touchdown where the Dallas Cowboys play on fall Sundays.

"I feel like I know the whole building now," McPherson said. "I have been all around the place."

He had good reason to be curious. McPherson and Thompson will be back here sooner than any other Big 12 football player who was in attendance last week.

Instead of opening their season against Stanford at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, as originally scheduled, the Wildcats decided to move that non-conference game south for a unique game-day experience that will net their athletic department $2.8 million at the AllState Kickoff Classic. For the first time since 2003, they will open the season inside an NFL stadium and play the Cardinal on Sept. 4 at AT&T Stadium.

The move was met with mixed reactions from fans, some of whom were looking forward to hosting a marquee non-conference football game in Manhattan. But McPherson and Thompson said K-State players were unanimously in favor of the stadium switch.

"It's going to be a mind-blowing experience for all the players on my team," said McPherson, a senior strong safety. "We can't wait. We have been looking forward to it since we found out about it. Playing in a NFL stadium has been a dream of mine since I was little. I can't wait to do that."

Before he left Arlington to serve as a camp counselor at the prestigious Manning Passing Academy, Thompson made several pleas to K-State fans to support the Wildcats at the neutral venue.

"Let's fill this place up with purple," the senior quarterback said.

It sounds as though K-State fans will need to start purchasing tickets at a faster rate if they want to truly fill the place.

Athletics director Gene Taylor said the Wildcats have sold "the majority" of their ticket allotment of 30,000 for the game, but he's not sure how much interest there is in attending the game beyond that group. He is not expecting Stanford to sell its full allotment of 3,000 tickets. And it's too early to predict how many K-State fans will purchase tickets through the Cowboys or on the secondary market. Those tickets go on sale Friday.

"I don't know that ticket sales have started out tremendous," Taylor said, "but I think a lot of people know there are tickets left. They are waiting for the best available to get posted online. I think as we get closer, ticket sales will go up. This will help. The more we talk about football, that will increase sales."

Those ticket projections mirror what K-State is experiencing in advance of its home games. Taylor said season ticket sales have been just as good, if not better, than before the coronavirus pandemic began. But student ticket sales are down and plenty of single-game tickets remain.

Taylor expects ticket sales to increase in all areas as the season approaches. Starting off with a bang at AT&T Stadium would set a nice tone for the remainder of the season.

K-State vs. Stanford won't rival the kind of crowd that showed up previously for Alabama vs. USC (81,359), but perhaps it can match the attendance of TCU vs. Oregon State (46,138) in 2010.

"It's a beautiful stadium," Taylor said. "It will be fun for our players to come in here and play in this atmosphere against a very good Pac-12 team. We won't fill it up. This is a massive stadium. But if we can have a really good crowd that would be a good thing for us."

After playing in front of sparse crowds throughout all of the 2020 season, K-State players are eager for a return to a normal game-day atmosphere.

McPherson spent plenty of time imagining what that will feel like last week when he was inside AT&T Stadium.

"It will be like I'm a freshman year again running out there," McPherson said. "I will probably have goose bumps like crazy, even though I have done this before. It will be fun."