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Official Review by Andy Mantsch, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
The University of Central Florida is located not far from downtown Orlando, and is an extremely large university, with about 50,000 undergraduate students. Still relatively new to big-time football, the UCF Knights started a program in 1979 and ascended to the FBS in 1996. They’ve been incredibly successful for a school with such a short football history.
Bright House Networks Stadium opened in 2007 as the new home for the Knights, who had previously played off campus at the Citrus Bowl. The stadium seats 45,323, and has had capacity crowds up to over 48,000 in its brief history. Located on the northern edge of campus, the stadium is much easier to access for students on gameday.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Food selection is just about on par with most college football venues around the country. They have a fair selection of specialty items, but in general, it's pretty consistent with what you'll find anywhere else. A positive is that vendors are pretty consistently walking the crowd, so it's not hard to get a cold lemonade, which is a huge bonus on a muggy Florida day. If you need to get up and look, another hidden advantage is that it's pretty quick to get down to the food vendors and back up to the stands without missing any action. Alcohol is not served at Bright House Networks Stadium, but outside the stadium, you can walk the campus with open container without a problem if you're there for the tailgate experience.
Just like with the fans (see below), this is a bit of a mixed bag at a UCF game. The size of the university and proximity to campus makes the tailgate scene pretty impressive. That translates to the stadium in a passionate and decidedly loud student section at the game. The student section is affectionately known as the "Bounce House", which is only re-enforced by the metal bleachers surrounding the stadium that give the stadium a bouncing effect as the student section jumps up and down.
On the other hand, the fan base seems a bit fickle. For as loud as it can get, it can get every bit as quiet even when the game is still in doubt. Fans also were quick to leave with the game I attended still very much up in the air. My impression was that this is still a young program without the long-term loyalties and ties of some of the more passionate fan bases in the country. In that regard, the future looks bright for this category as the program continues to climb the ladder.
First and foremost, there's always a sense of charm about having the stadium right on campus. Campus literally lies outside the gates of the stadium, and tailgating pre-game is only a walk away. If you're a visitor and/or arrive late it may be a long walk (as it's a large campus and free parking is located on the other end), but it's still a good experience to walk through tailgate at a new location. The only reason the neighborhood doesn't get a full five stars is it doesn't have the "college town" vibe that makes for the greatest college weekend experiences. You're basically going to drive off campus into the city of Orlando.
Drinking almost seems encouraged on campus, so much so that there's a sports bar in the student union, as well as some standard college quick food stops. You're relatively close to downtown, so if you go off campus, you'll find some pretty busy strips in every direction full of restaurants.
If you're truly traveling to town for a UCF game, the obvious allure is staying on the other side of Orlando around International Drive near Disney. There's not a much better college football trip than Saturday tailgate and Sunday dinner and drinks at Epcot. Obviously, there is an abundance of options for food, drinks and sports bars in the greater Orlando area.
I was pretty torn on the fan front, so I rated them right in the middle. I've been to a lot of college football stadiums and have never experienced such a wide variety of fan interactions on one day. Some of the fans are incredibly warm and welcoming, so much so that they'll walk you around campus to show you the sites before inviting you over for a drink at their tailgate. Although a little less passionate about the game than some other southern football schools, they still show up loud and proud for their Knights.
On the other side of the coin, I witnessed (and experienced) some of the rudest interactions I've seen at football games. Even after a defeat for the Knights, on three separate occasions I witnessed fans approaching visiting fans in an unwelcoming fashion. To be fair, that's to be expected to a degree, but it felt almost uncomfortable at times to see the extent some of the fans went to so they could be heard. I definitely wouldn't say to let it deter you from visiting, because there are far more of the positive than negative, but it again re-enforced the feeling that proper football "etiquette" hasn't completely spread to this young football program.
Everything I had heard when I got into Orlando was that the stadium is "right off I-4", but that is anything but the case. It's a considerable drive from I-4 to the stadium, and you basically have two options: tolls or lights. Gameday traffic isn't particularly bad, and parking is free at a lot of locations, but if you're not staying nearby, you should be prepared for a fair amount of time spent driving in. If you choose to come from I-95 it's probably a little easier, but you're also taking away a lot of the allure of Orlando as part of the trip.
Campus is a circle with the stadium on the north side, so depending on where you choose to come in from, you'll find a variety of parking experiences. I would recommend walking through campus and parking for free on the south side. If you choose to walk the perimeter of campus and not through the heart of it, you'll experience one of the stranger pedestrian situations I've seen at a sports venue. The police are all around campus and give clear priority to cars over pedestrians, so you'll find yourself waiting at intersections with a couple hundred people. Don't think of crossing early, because police at the intersections and with motorcycles won't hesitate to ticket jaywalkers (I saw this twice). Moral of the story, the walk through the heart of campus before -- and especially after -- the game is advised.
Inside the stadium, you'll find the concourses and gates are wide and easy to navigate. You can enter any gate and walk the concourse all the way around to get to your gate. Restrooms are easy to access, and lines at concessions aren't too long, which helps to avoid holding up walking traffic. Overall, flow is generally a positive.
Overall, prices are about right for the level of college football you're getting to experience. Tickets really shouldn't cost you more than $30-$35, and are, for the most part, considerably cheaper. Concessions are very reasonable and there are a lot of free parking options. Hotels actually aren't bad at all (largely because of abundance of hotels in Orlando) and you have a wide variety of pricing options. In general, it's hard to complain about anything you'll pay for here.
I'll give additional points for both the cheerleading squad (specifically the guy that does the impressive array of flips and spins across the end zones) and the on-campus advantage, which is always a seller for college football. An overall solid experience without a ton of frills, it does feel as though UCF is sort of lost in the big city venue of Orlando. But with the newness of the event, the size of the student body and the upward trajectory of the athletics program, there's a lot of potential for the future of football at Bright House Networks Stadium.
Member Review by JasonClary
Bright House Networks Stadium is the home of the University of Central Florida Knights. The Knights, a team on the rise, are in the mix this season to win a conference title in Conference-USA. Every year the Knights' fan base continues to grow, as UCF has a student body of over 50,000. The Knights have already been brought up in talks with the Big East Conference expansion, which would help this huge school gain national exposure. Every football game at Bright House Networks Stadium is better than the last.
Member Review by JimFolsom on Oct 08, 2012
Bright House Networks Stadium is a five-year old stadium on the campus of the University of Central Florida. In the interest of full disclosure, let me admit to you that I am a graduate of the school and have on and off been a season ticket holder for the last 15 years or so. So I bring a little different perspective than other venues I’ve been to where I have no particular affinity for the team or any prior knowledge of the venue. I know the history of both the school and the surrounding area around the stadium and also the previous UCF football venue, the Florida Citrus Bowl.
Having stated this, I thought of another way I could make this review a little bit different than the typical reviews we do here at Stadium Journey. It just so happened that UCF had two home games in one. One was a day game at 12:00pm on Saturday against the Missouri Tigers of the SEC. On Thursday night at 8:00pm, the Knights played a conference game against the East Carolina Pirates. So what I will do is compare the two so that if you did want to visit the stadium, you might be better informed on when to go as well.
504 N Alafaya Tr
Orlando, FL 32828
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Orlando, FL 32817