If you’re in Maryland driving on Interstate 95 and take the first exit after you cross the Delaware state border, you’ll be minutes away from the marquee football stadium in the Blue Hen State: Delaware Stadium in Newark (pronounced new-ARK, and not like neighboring New Jersey's largest city, NEW-irk). At 22,000 seating capacity, the home of the University of Delaware Fightin' Blue Hens is the third-biggest stadium in the Colonial Athletic Association, having undergone seating renovations in 1964, 1970, 1972, and 1975. The university itself, a school with a very high academic standard, is about middle of the pack in the CAA in student enrollment with about 16,000 undergrads and 3,500 graduate students. When it was erected in November 1952, Delaware Stadium on South College Avenue had a capacity of just 9,000. Today "The Tub," as it is nicknamed locally, is one-fifth of the David M. Nelson Athletic Complex and home also of the University of Delaware Men’s Lacrosse team since 2010, and the Women’s Lacrosse team since 2011.
Known for having one of the strongest fan bases in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), Delaware Stadium on game days can often become the fourth-largest city in the state behind Wilmington, Dover, and Newark itself. Between 1999 and 2010, Delaware averaged more than 20,000 per regular season game, the only FCS program to do so. A very consistent contender, the Delaware Blue Hens have won six national titles, the last victory being in 2003. All in all, Delaware football has won a little over 60% of all their football games since starting play in 1889.
While the football played in Newark may not be considered "top tier," the experience at Delaware Stadium certainly is. The venue is right on campus in a safe city, and it is the most popular place to watch football for Delawareans without crossing state lines. While there may be some issues with the seating and prices, you will enjoy a day in Newark when you spend at least part of it watching the Fightin’ Blue Hens at Delaware Stadium.
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You can enter Delaware Stadium either through the West or East gate. Either way you get in, one of the first things you will see is the food. There are food stops on both concourses, and they have a lot of the same selection. One feature that does separate Delaware Stadium from almost every other venue though was the Grotto Pizza stands with one on either side of the stadium. Grotto is a very local franchise based in Delaware with only three or four restaurants outside of the state. It is a great place to eat though, especially by the beaches of Delaware and Maryland. I was very pleasantly surprised to see it being offered at the stadium and at reasonable prices, $3.25 for pepperoni and $3.00 for cheese.
Everything else in the food department was what you would expect. Regular hot dogs ($2.75), foot-long hot dogs ($4), small popcorn ($2.75), large popcorn ($4), Philly cheesesteak ($8.25), Italian sausage ($5.50), soft pretzels ($2), and chicken sandwiches ($4) were just some of what was offered at the around-eight stands, of which are equally divided between the East gate and the West gate. Pepsi refreshments were also sold, going $3 for a regular and $3.75 for a large, as well as Gatorade and bottled water for $3.
I personally went to get some food the same time everyone else in the stadium did: halftime. Lines were definitely long, but they moved fairly quickly. The concession workers had thought ahead, and items like drinks and popcorn were already prepared and easy to just pick up on your way to the register. Of course, food that needed to be warm, like the sandwiches and hot dogs, were brought up as they were ordered. I got myself two soft pretzels with cheese ($5) and a purple Gatorade ($3). Suddenly, panic set in when I got to the front and realized that the concession stands were cash only. Luckily I had some, but if I didn't, there is one ATM on each side of the stadium for easy use.
It is important to note though that not every stand had every selection. For instance, you could get Pepsi and popcorn at any of the stands, but if you wanted an Italian sausage, only two of the concession stands were making those. Also noteworthy, the condiments tables featured Old Bay Seasoning, a flavor mix that is produced in Maryland and very popular here near the coast.
Walking up to Delaware Stadium before the game started, I was greeted by the sounds of live music. Good start. The music was part of the Blue Hens Fan Zone that opens two hours prior to kickoff. There is always live music and merchandise, as well as inflatable games for the smaller kids. There is also a Coors Light Coop for the older fans where you can enjoy NCAA football gameday coverage and pregame beverages and food. No outside food can be brought in the stadium, however, and no alcohol is served inside.
The stadium is set up like this: There are east and west stands on the wide sides of the field. The west side is set up A-G, while the east side H-N. There are the general admission stands on the north side of the stadium, and the student seating is located on the south side. The main scoreboard is set up behind the general admission seats, which can be a pain to see if that's where you're sitting. The scoreboard isn't big, but it's effective, showing a live feed of the game and all the important team stats including first downs, team rushing and passing totals, turnovers, and time of possession. Underneath the video are the other essentials like current down, yards to go, score, time, and where the ball is spotted. There's a small scoreboard on the student side of the stadium as well, but it has only the essentials and no video.
The PA system was strong the entire game. High adrenaline hip-hop and rock music was played surprisingly often: During intermissions, timeouts, and before big plays, like defending a third down. In tune with the music theme, the Delaware marching band was a huge bright spot. They played before the game, at halftime, and even after the game. Throughout the game, especially in the second half, they would also line up in the aisles of the stands and play a quick tune, much to the delight of nearby fans. It was obvious that the fans loved their band.
There is no track around the stadium, so the seats are close to the action, which is great. The downside, however, is that all the seats are bleachers. The stands are concrete bleachers while the student section and general admission are metal bleachers. There are no cup holders or back supports; seat cushions were sold in the concourses and some fans brought their own from home. Obviously, sitting on steel for upwards of two or three hours will do work on your back. So, be wary of that beforehand and plan accordingly. The best place to sit would probably be in the west stands. Visiting fans sit in the east stands, which is closest to the visiting team bench. Cleverly, the sun actually shines on the east stands and did in this particular game until about the middle of the second quarter. The west stands were shaded the entire game. General admission seats are cheaper, and we'll get into that later, but you can't see the video board without cranking your neck there, and it was largely neglected, by both the band and the cheerleaders. The general admission seats seemed to be on its own island sometimes.
If you want a place to eat, drink, or just relax after the game, look no further than East Main Street. About two miles from the stadium, East Main Street is a road that is filled with bars, restaurants, and miscellaneous stores that seem to be a hot spot for students and fans after the game is over. I was able to park close-by but had to feed quarters to a meter. I saw an IHop, Barnes and Noble, Grottos, Blue Hens Sports Den, and Walgreens among other places, and the sidewalks were filled with people - mostly students - out grabbing a bite or a drink at about 9PM on a Saturday night. Also remember that everything in Delaware is tax-free! I ended up eating dinner at an Italian place called Cucina Di Napoli. It had great service and fair prices, and although most places I peeked in had waits as long as an hour and a half, I got in with no wait at Cucina Di Napoli, just barely beating a rush that came soon after. Both students and adults were dining there, and of course, there was the obligatory college girl celebrating her 21st birthday at the restaurant with a handful of friends, a bottle of wine, and a camera. Go college.
East Main Street is no Massachusetts Avenue in Lawrence, Kansas, or Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Still, it holds its own as a place that any newcomer to Newark can go to after watching a game at Delaware Stadium to relax and have a beer, as long as they're not driving.
It is important to add, as a footnote, that the game I went to was a rivalry game against Villanova. It was the last game of the 2012 season, and Delaware had endured a disappointing year; that was even before they got pasted this game by the Wildcats. But on the last game of the season, five days before Thanksgiving in a typical ~50˚F day in Newark, announced attendance was 19,523; a little less than 90% capacity. At first, it looked much worse. At kickoff the west and east stands were at about 85% full, general admission was about 70% filled and, student seating, also known as The Cockpit, was about 50% filled. But by halfway through the first quarter, the stands and general admission were about 90 to 95% filled, with student seating still about half empty, though perhaps the looming Thanksgiving holiday had a lot to do with that.
Now, Villanova is about 45 minutes away from Newark, but you would have thought it was 45 hours away by the way that the Delaware fans filled the seats with blue and yellow. While walking around the concourse and paths in front of the north and south gates, I saw a fair amount of Nova fans, but you couldn't spot them in the bleachers; there was too much blue and yellow. As I said, visiting fans sit mostly in the H and I section of the East stands, which is also where the visiting cheerleaders were concentrated. But Delaware fans made themselves heard on the big plays, good or bad. A situation where they didn't make themselves heard though was during intermission trivia or games though. There was almost no fan reaction to that, something I am sure the school will continue to try to improve. One typical chant I heard a few times during the game was the typical callback; the West stands yelled "BLUE!" and the East stands yelled back "HENS!" Another more creative chant went out every time Delaware moved the chains on first down: "FIRST DOWN HENS, DO IT AGAIN!" Fans yelled this throughout the game, except for the last first down Delaware earned with less than a minute left and Villanova up 41-10. Not many fans were left, but I did the chant silently in my head, so don't worry, it was covered.
Coming from Maryland, getting to Delaware Stadium is surprisingly easy. The first exit on I-95 once you cross the Delaware state border is 109B. After you get off the highway, it's about four miles straight on Amstel Avenue to get to the home of the Fightin' Blue Hens. I should note though that driving from close to Baltimore, I had to go through two toll booths to get to Newark ($9 total) and one to come back ($3). When it comes to the parking, it would be good to check the maps online on the UD website before coming down. There are two lots for public parking, but they are both $15 and not overly close to the stadium. One is near the Fred Rust Ice Arena and another is behind Bob Hannah Stadium.
I do have to mention the tailgating, however. The parking lots open about four hours before kickoff and tailgating is permitted in all lots. You can even bring charcoal or gas grills. The amount of tailgating that I saw outside Delaware Stadium was probably comparable to some FBS/Division I-A schools. Blue and yellow fans were out in bunches, listening to the radio, playing games, and drinking. Oh, the drinking. Alcohol is allowed in the confides of the parking lot, and it was not in short supply around the reserved parking lots closest to the stadium when I started walking in about 30 minutes to game time. Coming inside the stadium there were two checks: One for bags and one for your ticket. The workers were moving the lines very well, and there was no logjam entering the stadium at all.
Smoking is allowed inside the stadium but only on the open walking areas on the south and north side of the stadium. There is no smoking by the concourses or in the bleachers. The walking areas are nice, though, because you are able to see the field from it. The concourses are located under the concrete bleachers, so if you need to grab a bite or a drink, you'll have to miss a possession or two. There are signs that make it clear that there is no reentry into Delaware Stadium. Newark police are out in full force before and after the game helping to direct traffic, which made things a lot easier when I came in as well as when I left.
An honorable mention goes out to the bathrooms. At the bathroom I went to, there were about four or five stalls. The majority of the men did their business...against a wall. There are literally no urinals; people stand on one of three sides of a designated area in the bathroom and do what they need to against the bathroom wall. This allows people to come in and out quickly, which is convenient since it was obviously crowded when I went there a little after halftime, but still...maybe it's the public bathroom of the future? I just hadn't seen a setup like this before.
This one is tough. Calling the Delaware Fightin' Blue Hens just another FCS school is neither doing the program nor players justice. Six national championships and sixteen conference titles attest to that. But at the end of the day, they are an FCS football team and bringing in FCS opponents. General Admission seats are $15, while reserved sideline seats are $27. Premium seating, which places you in the middle of the bleachers straight across the 50-yard line will cost you $32, and box seats which are right near the field and all the players on the benches are $42. As I said earlier in the review, general admission seats absolutely do not give you the entire fan experience. But shelling $100+ for just the tickets for a family of four to go watch the Colonial Athletic Association? The demand is certainly there, and that's likely what drives the costs. As I said, the closest place you'll see professional or FBS football if you live in Newark is probably in Philadelphia, and that's an hour away. There are group rates available, but they are only for both advanced sales and if you're bringing 20 or more people. I also took a peek at the merchandise store inside the stadium, called Campus Shop. Jerseys were $65, hats were $30, and sweatshirts were $37. It was all nice merchandise, but similar to any shop inside a stadium, with prices seeming a bit jacked up.
Like I said before though, Delaware football is in high demand and has been for the last decade or two. They were, I reiterate, the only FCS program to average over 20,000 fans each game from 1999-2010.
I will give an extra point for the three busts inside the stadium depicting William "Bill" D. Murray, David M. Nelson, and Harold "Tubby" R. Raymond, Delaware's three most prominent and winningest coaches. Murray, Nelson, and Raymond are also the three coaches in Delaware history to be inducted in the College Football Hall of Fame. Another point to the University of Delaware Marching Band which was a joy to watch and listen to. Third point for being the college where Baltimore Ravens' quarterback Joe Flacco played, and a fourth extra point for everyone being friendly and helpful during my trip there.
What the likes of the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are to FBS football is what the Delaware Fightin' Blue Hens are to FCS football. They are constant contenders year-in and year-out and have faithful fans that stick with them throughout. In 2010, news came out that university officials were planning to expand the stadium sometime in the near future, which includes adding over 8,000 more seats. Those upgrades will be well received and put Delaware Stadium near the top in the FCS, in regards to seating capacity. Watching a home game at Delaware, it's easy to forget sometimes that you're watching FCS football. My experience at Delaware Stadium was memorable and all in all, it's a great place to watch a competitive team play in front of fans that really love their Hens.
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76 E Main St
Newark, DE 19711
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