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Uncomfortable in the football stands? So was NMSU’s Pride band

Footballs were thrown and touchdowns were made, all while the Pride of New Mexico marching band had the pleasure of being shoved into the stands like sardines at University Stadium in Albuquerque.

NMSU Pride band members support and cheer on the UNM Spirit marching band during their halftime performance at University Stadium in Albuquerque Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023. (Photo by Noah Apodaca/Kokopelli)

For years, the Rio Grande Rivalry game has drawn thousands of spectators to Las Cruces and Albuquerque for fans to party and celebrate their hometown or college teams. The first battle of I-25 took place back in 1894 and has since been a season staple for New Mexico college football.  

In years past, it has been common practice for both UNM and NMSU to bring their spirit squads, including the entire marching band, to the game-day stadium. However, this year was different.  

On Tuesday, Sept. 12, NMSU’s student-produced newscast, News22, broke a story that revealed the UNM athletics department was going to require the NMSU band to purchase tickets for every member to attend the game, even those performing in uniform in support of the football team. This move came as a curveball for NMSU, since band members have never been charged in the past just to sit in the stands in support of their team. The main question was, why now, all of a sudden, was it necessary to charge every band member, down to the last tuba player, admission for the game?  

Following the initial breaking news report, News22 ran an on-air story regarding the matter, which included interviews with several NMSU band members and their thoughts on the developing situation. The interviews in no way included banter or hatred toward UNM, its athletic department, or the opposing marching band. 

Regardless, News22 and other campus press organizations were later told they would not be allowed to talk with band members regarding the matter until it was sorted out. This seemed like an interesting note coming from NMSU leadership, but that kind of unwillingness to talk with the press can be a regular part of the news business

NMSU’s Pride band director, Steven Smyth, right, shakes hands with a UNM Spirit marching band staff member at University Stadium in Albuquerque on Saturday, Sept. 16. This comes after UNM athletics officials required NMSU to pay $18 a seat for band members to attend the game. (Photo by Noah Apodaca/Kokopelli)

The story garnered large regional coverage, and UNM’s decision to charge the visiting band was met with criticism from NMSU and UNM fans alike. In fact, News22’s initial X post generated nearly 18,000 engagements. 

Fast forward to game day, and the crowd size at kickoff was sad, to say the least. From the turf, University Stadium at 6 p.m. looked more like a college campus during the summer. Fans actually in their seats were sparse, at best. The biggest flop was seeing the NMSU Pride band seated in section AA. This section is in one of the stadium’s upper levels on the visitor’s side, and it’s the farthest away from the bulk of NMSU fans and the field.  

It’s important to note that this section is not a general admission seating area, but rather an assigned seating area. However, capacity and attendance at this game were not an issue, which is why Pride band members should have been allowed more room to spread out.  

An ESPN crowd tally following the game showed attendance peaked at just over 27,000 people. The total capacity of University Stadium is just over 39,000. The fact that the band couldn’t spread out into the next section is also interesting, given that photos from the game display a rather sparse crowd in the upper-level next to the band. 

This placement seemed very strategic. It seemed as if UNM athletics officials were attempting to make the point that they did not want the NMSU Pride band there. Keep in mind, 12-15 private donors paid for the tickets that band members needed to attend, which came out to just over $5,000.  

“Shoving over 230 band and color guard members into an area that small is nothing short of inappropriate.”

Shoving over 230 band and color guard members into an area that small is nothing short of inappropriate. UNM athletics officials would in no way, shape or form consider shoving their entire football team into one bus on its way to play UMASS this weekend. Imagine trumpet players standing so close to each other they could play each other’s horns. Yeah, that sounds uncomfortable. However, that was the disrespectful reality that NMSU Pride band members had to face last Saturday.  

Despite the circumstances and very uncomfortable conditions for the band, the group played loud and proud, and ultimately helped the Aggies secure a second consecutive victory over the Lobos, 27-17.  

One week after the game, it’s important to note that there was never any type of animosity between the UNM Spirit Marching Band and the Pride of New Mexico. In fact, band members on both sides of the spectrum were nothing short of respectful and loving toward each other.  

While I do wish there had been better communication from the Pride band and NMSU leadership, rather than refusals to speak to the press, ladies and gentlemen, that’s life in the news business. In the end, the game was a win for everyone except the Lobos.

The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to New Mexico State University, the NMSU Department of Journalism and Media Studies, Kokopelli, or any other organization, committee, group or individual.

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