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Official Review by Tyler Green, Guest Reviewer
Commonwealth Stadium is located in the heart of the Bluegrass Region in Central Kentucky. Opened in 1973, it is actually the youngest stadium in the SEC, but an expansion in 1999 updated this venue to a fully satisfactory southern football venue. The stadium is listed at a capacity of 67,000, but close to 71,000 spectators will pack it for big games. Commonwealth may not have the character, history, or fans of some of the other SEC stadiums, but a fall evening spent at Commonwealth Stadium will definitely be an enjoyable one.
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".
The concessions at Commonwealth Stadium are very similar to the food available at most college football stadiums. Hot dogs, drinks, and nachos are all $3.50, pretzels and popcorn are $4, and a personal Papa John's pizza is $7 from the main concession stands. Beer is not served inside Commonwealth. Some specialty and local food items are also available from dedicated stands found throughout the concourses. Fans may purchase a Sony's BBQ sandwich ($6), Philly Cheesesteak ($6), gyros ($6), Italian sausage ($7), or beef or chicken gourmet nachos ($8).
There is also a tent that makes fresh kettle corn from Bluegrass Kettle Masters that is available for $6. The quality of all the items is very satisfactory and the combination of sports classics and new gourmet items makes the food experience at Commonwealth Stadium a positive area.
The game day tailgating scene surrounds all sides of Commonwealth Stadium for most of the day, and as kickoff inches closer, the buzz in the surrounding area builds proportionally. The parking lots are packed with tailgate parties near pop-up tents and RVs as Cat fans eat, drink, and play games in the hours leading up to the game.
The stadium does not reach capacity until shortly after kickoff (largely due to the dwindling party outside), so the pre-game atmosphere in the stadium is good, but not great, as the band marches and the teams enter the field.
The remaining game atmosphere is directly related to the game flow. The opening drives for both teams are accompanied by total fan support, but if the Wildcats either quickly get ahead or fall behind big, the noise for each down lowers significantly. Kentucky has had a fair share of close games in recent seasons, and the 4th quarter environment can be an excellent display of a classic SEC football game, but give a team a lead, and the atmosphere does not hold up to many other stadiums. When Kentucky is in a close game against a top-10 SEC opponent though, the atmosphere is spectacular as the fans try to cheer the Cats to victory.
The immediate neighborhood around Commonwealth Stadium has almost no restaurant or bar selections. The stadium lies on the south end of the University of Kentucky campus and just north of the University of Kentucky Arboretum. This is a beautiful area that makes for some great fall scenery on the drive or walk to the stadium, and gives a rural feel to the largely urban stadium.
Heading south about 1.5 miles on Nicholasville Road, there are plenty of average places to eat like Denny's, Fazoli's, Burger King, and Taco Bell, but driving north 1.5 miles gives a great food selection on the north end of campus. Here you can grab a bite at the classic college burger joint Tolly-Ho or get pizza from Pazzo's, Mellow Mushroom, or Joe Balogna's. This area also has a SmashBurger, Raising Cane's, and Firehouse Subs. While Commonwealth's dining experiences do require a drive, the extended neighborhood has some great selections.
Fans in Lexington are a very friendly group of people who love to support their Cats together on Saturdays. Related to the average atmosphere at Commonwealth Stadium, the fans will quickly become less vocal once either team gets a lead. Most fans are very knowledgeable, but some of the die-hard nature found in other venues is missing here.
The Wildcat fans have suffered through many years of average football, and unfortunately this is apparent by their game day attitudes. After a loss, the conversation among fans will often contain sarcasm, or "the same thing that always happens, just happened again" type words, but after a big win, it is as if all the fans are sharing a huge catharsis together.
If either team has gathered a significant lead, a large percentage of the fans will start to exit the game as well. Overall, Commonwealth Stadium has a good group of football fans who give up hope and support too easy to be considered a great fan base.
Commonwealth Stadium is surrounded by several large parking lots, which is quite unique for an on-campus stadium, but parking passes for these are expensive and difficult to obtain. Several roads converge on the stadium, and these will get quite congested in the hours leading up to kickoff. In the case of a close game where most fans stay for the entire game, exiting the parking lots can take hours (many fans have Tailgate Session 2 until the traffic clears). A large percentage of the locals know neighborhood back streets that offer parking, followed by a walk to the stadium through the Arboretum.
The stadium offers a good number of bathrooms, which are average in their quality and backup during halftime like in many stadiums. There is plenty of handicapped accessible seating, and ramps and elevators provide access to the upper deck for those in need.
A trip to Commonwealth Stadium will definitely be a positive experience. The ticket prices are starting to compete more with the bigger SEC football programs, as a single game ticket for a conference game is $46. This is definitely on the pricey side, but there are not many places with lower prices in the SEC.
The game experience is a pleasant one and the competition is normally excellent during conference play. Kentucky football is normally good to watch, and often highly ranked SEC teams come to Commonwealth to play as well, so normally a really great team can be witnessed.
Saturday games in October are most often night games to allow both local and visiting fans a chance to "double-dip" by attending the fall meet at Keeneland Race Course in the afternoon and the Kentucky game that night. +2 Bonus Points
Lexington is also a medium-sized city surrounded by beautiful rural areas filled with white picket-fence horse farms and fields of bluegrass, and has been considered by some to be "The Garden Spot of the Country". +1 Bonus Point
*Guest review by Tyler Green, Founder of StadiumFanatic.com.
Member Review by cacapu01 on Feb 13, 2013
The fans are often non-existent and the attendance after losing a few games early drops off significantly.
Member Review by BamaBob on Feb 28, 2013
I attended the Bama/Kentucky game in October 2009. It was an 11:30am kickoff so the tailgating consisted mainly of breakfast items. My buddy and I were wearing our Crimson apparel but the UK fans were extremely nice and several invited us to stop by for foot - which we did.
The fans were resigned to the fact that the game wouldn't be very competitive and for the most part they were right. But they showed up in nice numbers and did their part. The loudest cheer of the day however was reserved for the men's hoops team who were introduced between the 1st and 2nd quarters.
Commonwealth Stadium is a beautiful setting, especially on a clear, crisp, October day. It isn't as intimidating as some of the other temples of the SEC for the historical lack of success of the football team, it is more than worthy of a visit.
It is a shame that Rupp Arena isn't on the UK campus as that would be a nice place to visit pre or post game.
1000 Export St
Lexington, KY 40504