Opened in 2010 to some acclaim but also much criticism for its corporate motif, MetLife Stadium continues to do double duty during the NFL season, as it also hosts the New York Giants. Built in the Meadowlands Sports Complex using private funds jointly provided by the two NFL teams, the stadium is the largest in the NFL in terms of permanent seating, and the most expensive stadium ever built, coming in at a cool $1.6 billion.
The stadium was constructed so that it could be easily converted for use by either team. MetLife is essentially two different venues depending on which club is at home. Most notably is the lighting system which glows green or blue depending on which team is in action that day. With the complete changeover taking just a matter of hours, having the two teams at home on the same weekend is not impossible, and Stadium Journeyers who want to experience the show for each club might want to find a Sunday/Monday doubleheader, which the league schedules from time to time.
Originally (or unoriginally) named New Meadowlands Stadium, the venue gained its current handle when insurance behemoth MetLife purchased naming rights in 2011 in a rare situation where a corporate name actually might be a slight improvement.
The stadium hosts concerts and other events such as international soccer friendlies, but its time in the limelight will be February 2nd 2014, when it is the site for Super Bowl XLVIII. Neither New York team will be there so it will be interesting to see how different the stadium will look for the signature event of the 2013 season.
What is FANFARE?
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
- Food & Beverage
- Return on Investment
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Food & Beverage
Concessions are everywhere and this ubiquity means you don't have to wait long in line at most places, at least before the game. Prices are not as outrageous as you might have heard, and there are some value options that work well. Most prevalent are typical stadium concessions such as the Boardwalk Fryer with hot dogs ($6) and chicken tenders with fries (4 pc for $11, 3 pc for $9) and Papa John's with $10 pizza (cheese or pepperoni).
Portable stands are also plentiful, with the Food Network offering $10 Sloppy Joes and Buffalo Chicken Mac'n'Cheese for just $5. If you have a sweet tooth, stop by Mrs. Fields where 2 cookies are $6, the same price as a single brownie.
The MetLife Central area has some good variety, including an Asian Noodles and Dumplings stand, which has $10 rice bowls and 4 dumplings for $5. The Premium Grilled Cheese stand is nearby and for $8 you can try the sandwich or perhaps you would like bacon on a stick for $5.
Home Food Advantage has some different choices, including a Pepper & Egg Sandwich, Pork Roll, and Nona Fusco's Meatballs. Section 146 is the place to get a look at all of these, although other stands are scattered around.
I had the Value Turkey Wrap ($7), which came with a small bag of sliced apples and the smallest soft drink cup I have ever seen (6 ounces I would guess). The wrap was huge though, but a bit bland, while the apples had an expiration date of the day before. Other value meals include hot dogs, while there are value pretzels for just $3.
Specialty options for those who require kosher options are available on the 100 and 300 levels, and there are Gluten Free stands throughout. Your best bet is to stop by a guest services booth and pick up a Fan Guide that lists all concessions and their locations.
Soda is the one area where you might be shocked at the price, with a small pop running $5, souvenir cup costing a buck more, and a large cup at $8. Budget conscious visitors should sign up for the designated driver option, 30 seconds of your time gives you a free small soda, although it precludes you from purchasing the seriously overpriced draft beers. If you want to join in the masses in imbibing and prefer tastier options, Goose Island can be found for $12 a pint and there are Beers of the World stands throughout the upper concourse as well as the MetLife Central plaza, while I did see $5 12 oz. Busch cans available if you are more concerned about saving cash.
Finally, there is the Captain Morgan Club, a full-service bar open to the public and located near section 143.
Twenty giant LED pylons are in place around the stadium exterior and display videos and trivia facts along with lots of advertising. These might keep you occupied for a few minutes as you wait for gates to open, which happens two hours before kickoff. You can also spend some time at the Bud Light garden, where bottles are just $5 and there are other activities in which you can win prizes.
Inside, the Jets maintain the aviation theme with their cheerleaders dubbed the "Flight Crew" and a drumline known as the Aviators, who are also found marching around outside the gates before game time.
Before kickoff, the Jets get some fans, equipped with white placards, to run on the field and form JETS. Then everybody stands and the rallying cry is performed. If you don't know it, you will remember it after one try - it goes something like "J E T S - Jets! Jets! Jets!" This cry happens throughout the game, follow along and you will fit in nicely.
Each corner of the stadium has a large HD video screen that shows replays, highlights from other games, and a few ads from time to time. The out-of-town scoreboard is displayed on a continuous loop on ribbon boards beneath the 200 levels.
Overall, the atmosphere here is solid but the size of the stadium and some empty seats in the club area keep it from competing with other venues in the league.
The Meadowlands is really a swampland about 10 miles west of Manhattan. There are a few other venues in the Sports Complex, including the Izod Center (formerly the Brendan Byrne Arena), which once hosted the Devils (now in Newark) and Nets (now in Brooklyn), but is currently mostly used for concerts. The Meadowlands racetrack is also nearby. However, there is almost nothing within walking distance, so once the game ends, you will climb in your car (or on the train) and get somewhere else as soon as possible.
There are a few restaurants nearby that might be worth trying, including Redd's, which bills itself as upscale and offers parking ($20-$30, price varies depending on the game, but that comes with a free appetizer) and a shuttle.
The Jets have always been the secondary team in New York, and that certainly has not changed with the Giants winning two Super Bowls in the past decade. The fans reflect this, showing a grit that is not as apparent for their NFC counterparts. The Jets show season ticket holders and their tailgates on the big screens and you could get a sense that being a Jets fan is like belonging to a family. Of course, jerseys and other items are prevalent, but that is the case in nearly every NFL stadium.
Unfortunately, I need to dock a point for a couple of reasons. First, the fans were quick to grumble when their team fell behind in the 2nd quarter. Many around me complained about the play calling (the Jets were running the ball 2/3 of the time) and fans wanted more passing. The coaching staff knew what they were doing though, and the Jets eventually came back to win, and of course those fans who were complaining earlier were very happy. I'm docking a half-point for knowing little about the game and not keeping your mouth shut.
The other problem is, of course, drunks starting fights. I saw three separate incidents where security was called. I'll never understand why some fans take their allegiances beyond some good-natured trash talking, or why they spend $100+ just to get out of control, but such behavior is not uncommon at NFL games, which combines alcohol and testosterone, an often-dangerous mixture.
The first problem with MetLife Stadium is figuring out how to get there. All parking lots require a permit, which season ticket holders purchase with their plan. You can purchase a permit via the NFL Ticket Exchange, which is a secondary market so prices will fluctuate. Getting to the stadium is easy enough through the Lincoln tunnel or points in New Jersey, with NJ-3 and the New Jersey Turnpike (I-95) providing access, but as you arrive on the stadium grounds, you might be confused by the signs if you are not familiar with the area or the parking situation. Do your research and get there early if you are a first time driver to the stadium. Exiting the parking lots works surprisingly well, with cars moving slowly but surely to one of many nearby highways.
There is no free parking in the area, but some businesses offer parking along with a shuttle ride. The aforementioned Redd's is one, while the Sheraton Hotel provides a shuttle for $5 each way, but parking for non-guests is $30. You might want to try telling them you are a guest, but no complaints here if your car is towed. There is a hotel with a free parking lot that lies next to the Sheraton (check Google Maps, as we want to avoid liability) and you can try this as they don't seem to check parking even on game days, but again, this might be risky as the lot has signs posted indicating guests only. Still, I saw people park there and walk to the Sheraton; again, it's your call.
For a city the size of New York, transit options are relatively limited. The stadium's website lists your choices, but they are somewhat incomplete. The easiest way to get to MetLife Stadium from New York City is better explained on the Jets transportation FAQ page, which lists two trains, one via Hoboken, the other via Secaucus Junction. Either will get you there fairly quickly and the drop-off point is right next to the stadium, but expect long waits on the way back, especially as transfers can take some time.
Once there, you can do a lap around the entire stadium but there is an inordinate amount of fencing and signage that seems to serve no purpose other than to confuse you. Inside the stadium, the outer plaza was blocked by a phone tower under construction, so a full lap was not possible when I visited in fall 2013, but this should be fixed shortly.
Concourses are wide enough down low, but the 300 level can be busy as game time approaches and at halftime. After the game, exiting via the stairwell from the top level will take several minutes, while ramps move more consistently.
Washrooms have long lines at halftime and even after the game, so expect to wait unless you can sneak out during a break in the action.
Return on Investment
This is New York, so you can expect to pay more than average. I sat in the first row of the upper deck end zone (my favorite place to watch a football game) and the ticket was $105 plus taxes and fees. This is the most expensive I have seen except for the Giants. If you sit a few rows back, you can save $20, while lower deck seats are going to cost you considerably more, as they are generally only available on the secondary market. The original prices are listed on the Jets seating chart for comparison purposes should you try that route.
If you are a risk-taker, you can show up a few minutes before game time and find someone with an extra ticket outside the MetLife gate, with prices significantly lower, but there is a small chance you will be left out in the cold. Bring lots of small bills if this happens, and you might be able to get in for $40 or less if you are persistent.
Given the location and difficulty in getting here along with the prices of the tickets, the return on your investment for a Jets game is about average. The Jets refer to themselves as Gang Green, and you will need lots of green in your wallet to fully enjoy MetLife Stadium.
The MetLife Central area, both inside the gate and along the Plaza Level is a good spot to relax before the game.
An extra point for maintaining the Jets theme with the Flight Crew and Aviators, as well as by being next to Newark Airport and having real jets flying over throughout the game.
Finally, a point for the venue's capability in changing its appearance in such a short time. I saw the Giants on the following day and had trouble believing I was in the same building.
There is a view of Manhattan, but it is obscured by the exterior of the stadium, as well as by a nearby building, so there is no bonus for that.
MetLife Stadium bills itself as the "nation's preeminent destination for sports and entertainment." Certainly it is the largest in professional sports, but its location and difficult access for those that don't have season tickets challenge that claim. The stadium gets a lot of grief for too much corporate signage, but to be fair, it was not built with public funds, so this is not a valid complaint. I'd rather look at a few extra Bud Light signs than have my tax dollars used to enrich billionaires. It is certainly worth visiting once, but if you had a choice, the Giants might present the more interesting overall experience.