Headed to Penn State this weekend? Here's what you need to know

KYLE J. ANDREWS
Centre Daily Times (TNS)
Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford runs for touchdown in front of a big crowd at Beaver Stadium in 2019. For the first time since 2019, another big crowd is expected for this Saturday's game at Beaver Stadium vs. Ball State.

For the first time in nearly two years, Penn State is planning to welcome back a full crowd to Beaver Stadium on Saturday for its home opener with Ball State.

While fans can expect somewhat of a return to normalcy, there will be a few changes and added experiences.

As of Tuesday afternoon, deputy athletic director Scott Sidwell said Penn State is expecting "upward of 107,00" fans and had less than 4,000 tickets left to sell.

"We know our fan base and community is going to come out in full force," Sidwell said. "For the first time in two years, we're all going to be back together in what we're tabbing the 'Family Reunion.' It's an unbelievable atmosphere, the best in college football. And it's going to be on display Saturday."

One of the most noticeable changes is that Gates E and F at Beaver Stadium have been expanded in order to make entering the stadium easier. The expectation is that the change will reduce congestion near Beaver Stadium's ticket office and increase the ability for fans to trek around the stadium's extended walkways.

Mobile ticketing: Another big change this season will be the switch to full mobile ticketing. Sidwell urged fans to make sure they download their tickets before arriving at Beaver Stadium.

"Make sure you download the PSU app," Sidwell said Tuesday via Zoom. "You can get that at GoPSUsports.com. It's a very simple and easy way for folks with mobile ticketing to access all of the information that we have going out on game day. We're going to be posting a lot of information this week as far as instructions on how to do things. We did today with a number of changes that we're making going into the season."

How will mobile ticketing work?

This will be the first season that Penn State will fully implement mobile ticketing. Students and those who bought tickets online already transitioned to the digital system during the 2019 season. According to Sidwell, 48% of fans were using the mobile ticketing that season.

The biggest message Sidwell wanted to convey is that people should make sure to have their tickets already downloaded into their Apple Wallet or Google Pay before arriving at Beaver Stadium. As of Tuesday afternoon, he said 34% of fans had already done so.

For fans who do not have a smartphone, there will be "resolution booths" around the stadium and ticket box offices where fans can print off their tickets. Those printing tickets at the stadium are asked to have a valid photo ID that matches the name on the ticket account. Penn State will also have "ticket assistants" in the parking lots and around the stadium to help people and answer any questions about tickets.

Will there be changes to parking? The parking patterns will return to the same plan that was implemented during the 2019 season. One-way traffic will start four hours before kickoff and at 8:30 a.m. for noon games. One of the biggest changes, Sidwell said, is that anyone who has not yet purchased a parking pass will be directed to the Innovation Park 100 lot to do so, with cash or credit only, then directed to a lot from there. Game day parking sales begin when lots open and will stay open until they are sold out or kickoff begins.

Other changes to help ease congestion, according to Sidwell, are a one-stop dropoff and pickup location for ride sharing on University Drive, and changes to outflow on Fox Hollow Road, which he said has been communicated with fans parking in those lots.

Penn State is encouraging fans to come early. General parking purchased before game day is $40 per car. If one parks in the general lots on game day without a prepaid parking pass, it will cost $60. Parking maps and instructions can be found on the back of the tickets.

Will there be game day shuttles available? The Centre Area Transportation Authority will be resuming its game day shuttle service with two main routes.

The Downtown shuttle has pick-ups along Beaver Avenue, as well as at all CATA bus stops along University Drive, Easterly Parkway and Atherton Street from Easterly Parkway to Beaver Avenue. The South Hills route has pickups from Hills Plaza on South Atherton Street to Easterly Parkway, and along Rolling Ridge and Windmere Drives, Easterly Parkway and University Drive. Parking at Hills Plaza is limited to the rear of the plaza.

Shuttles begin operation three hours before kick-off and run until one hour after each game is over. Fare for either shuttle is $2.20 per one-way trip (exact fare only, cash, tokens and bus passes accepted). Day Passes are available for $6 via the Token Transit mobile app, and people 65 and older with a Senior Transit Identification Card and children less than 40" tall ride free.

What will the entry process look like at the gates? Before scanning a ticket, there will be new metal detectors at each gate to speed up the entry process to the stadium. Fans don't need to move any possessions from their pocket, they just walk through the detectors.

Fans can use clear plastic, flat-seemed one-gallon plastic bags. These bags are not to have rectangular bottoms and cannot exceed 11″ x 11″ x 0". They can be used for child care and medical needs, along with other personal items. These general items can include but aren't limited to wallets, keys, cell phones, wallets, coats, blankets and iPads. Small clutch bags or wristlets (4" x 6" x 1") are also allowed.

Backpacks, fanny packs, purses, string bags, diaper bags, messenger bags, camera bags, briefcases, roll bags, binocular cases, duffle bags and any other bags are prohibited. Clear tote bags (12" x 12" x 6") are also not allowed.

Once clearing the bag check, fans should have their ticket ready on Apple Wallet or Google Pay where the mobile tickets should already be saved. Apple Wallet will not have a barcode and fans will just tap their phone at one of the ticket scanners as they enter the stadium. Once the mobile app displays a ticket, the phone or device can be placed under the scanner to enter the stadium.

What's new this season? There are multiple phone charging stations in and around Beaver Stadium. Fans will also have access to external customer relations booths. Each kiosk will have chargers and adapters for both Apple and Android devices.

Once entering the stadium, each of the ribbon LED boards have been replaced for an upgraded programming capacity and visual appearance. There have been upgrades to the emergency evacuation system, fire suppression system, natural gas heaters and security cameras since fans were last allowed in 2019.

Penn State has added a 50/50 Raffle to each home game. One fan will receive 50% of the funds received at the game and the proceeds will be used to support athletic scholarships through the Nittany Lion Club Levi Lamb Fund. Sellers of the raffle will be around the stadium wearing bright green vests and ticket sales will end in the third quarter. A winner will be selected and announced before the end of the game. Prizes will be given to the winner, even if they are not there to claim it.

What is Penn State doing to mitigate COVID? The widened entries at Gates E and F, new metal detectors and mobile ticketing are all efforts to spread people out, make the entry process quicker and lessen person-to-person contact, Sidwell said. They're also opening the gates two and a half hours before kickoff at 1 p.m. and encouraging fans to come early to avoid long lines. Fans who come early will receive a concessions discount for the first 45 minutes after gates open, which is $1 off of every $5 spent.

Masks are mandated for everyone, vaccinated or unvaccinated, in indoor areas such as the Mount Nittany Lounge and box seats. The concourse is considered an open-air area, Sidwell confirmed, and masks will not be required. Anyone who is unvaccinated will be encouraged to wear a mask inside or outside, per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. Penn State is not mandating fans to be vaccinated or proof of vaccination status.

What is the theme for Saturday's game? Saturday's theme will be the "107K Family Reunion," to welcome back fans and mark the first game in front of a full-capacity Beaver Stadium since Nov. 30, 2019. Penn State's annual White Out game is slated for next weekend against Auburn.

What is Penn State doing to commemorate 9/11? Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics and the Blue Band plan to honor all the lives lost on 9/11 and the efforts of first responders with a moment of silence and a special halftime show. The chimes at the Old Main bell tower will also ring at 8:46 a.m., 9:03 a.m., 9:37 a.m. and 10:03 a.m. in remembrance of the victims on each of the four plane crashes.

What will the weather be like? While State College is rainy on Wednesday afternoon, that's expected to clear up by Saturday. Both the National Weather Service in State College and AccuWeather are calling for "mostly sunny and nice" weather, with a high near 74-76 degrees.

How about pregame festivities and tailgating? Pregame festivities such as tailgating and team arrival will largely go unchanged. Sidwell did say, however, that there will be a gated "buffer zone" on the sidewalk and onto the road to keep a safe distance between fans and players as they enter the stadium.

"We're messaging to our team to go ahead and have a great team arrival, but we're going to make sure we're focusing on health and safety," Sidwell said. "But to the fans that are coming, they're going to have the great opportunity to cheer on the Nittany Lions."

On Friday night, there will be a Downtown Blue White Block Party and a Welcome Back Pep Rally from 5-6 p.m. on the 100 block of Fraser Street, which will include special guests such as Penn State football Letterman Brandon Short and basketball coaches Micah Shrewsberry and Carolyn Kieger.

The event is free and open to the public, and attendees are asked to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status.