You won’t find many more imposing venues in the country than the home of the Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville, Tennessee. Neyland Stadium seats over 102,000 orange-clad fans in an enclosed bowl, making it as loud as it is large. Opened in 1921 as Shield-Watkins Field, this college football mecca originally seated just 3,200. It has grown by almost 100,000 in just under 100 years of Volunteer football. In 1962, it was renamed Neyland Stadium for recently deceased Athletic Director and Coach General Robert Neyland.
The Sporting News ranked Neyland Stadium as the #1 stadium in college football in 2001 and Sports Illustrated ranked a weekend in Knoxville as the best college football weekend experience in 2004. Tailgating on the Tennessee River is an event unto itself. While college football fans will always debate the best gameday experience, few would argue with you about ranking a game at Neyland as an essential on the college football bucket list.
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".
If there's one area where Neyland has difficulty measuring up to some of its southern counterparts, it's concessions. Don't expect a huge variety of food options at any of the concessions around the stadium. Hot dogs and hamburgers are largely your options, with a few variations scattered about. In addition, you won't see any food vendors walking the stands (possibly due to the extreme vertical stairs), so grab your food on the way in. Halftime can be a nightmare (especially in the upper deck) due to the narrow walkways, vertical stairs and small concession areas. Your best bet is to run to the concessions during a timeout, as they are scattered enough to always be nearby. Prices, on the other hand, are extremely reasonable. Burgers and dogs will run you $4-$5 and a large drink runs around $7. The $7 with a free refill option is a great deal for drinks, as well. Alcohol is not available at Neyland Stadium, as is the case with all SEC stadiums, so drink your fill as you tailgate on the river.
No one can debate all the positives Neyland has to offer. The tailgating scene is one of the most unique and relaxing in college football. Whether you're walking Cumberland Avenue, grilling a few feet from the Tennessee River or enjoying cocktails on a boat just outside the stadium, Knoxville offers a spectacular gameday experience before and after the game. Fans are friendly and won't hesitate to engage in some hospitable conversation with visitors. Inside the stadium expect noise, even if the stadium isn't sold out. The enclosed structure keeps noise inside, and even a crowd of 90,000 on a bad sales day is large enough to be louder than most stadiums in the country.
I'm always a stickler for gameday traditions in college football, and Tennessee definitely shines in this department. It all starts with the Volunteers running through the band-formed Power T to the stadium rocking cheers of 102,000 fans dressed in orange. The Vols entrance is almost universally ranked near the top of college football traditions, and alone makes Neyland Stadium a required college football destination. The Pride of the Southland Band is one of the best bands in all of college football, and will put on quite an impressive show both before the game and at halftime. And whether you think it's a great tradition or one of the most overplayed anthems in college football, 102,000 singing "Rocky Top" is a sight to behold.
The stadium itself struggles a bit, however. The sound system is shockingly bad. Compared to other stadiums in the SEC or elsewhere, it isn't even close. It sounds like there is one set of speakers below the press box blaring from a distance. The other thing I find incredibly odd is that scores from around the country are not displayed anywhere in the stadium or read off aloud. I've never been to a major college football stadium before where this wasn't offered in abundance. The last concern is what you'll hear most fans complain about on a trip to Neyland. There's not a stadium in the country with narrower seats and more vertical stairs. Climbing the upper deck to be squeezed into your seat is not for the faint of heart. If you need it, though, the usher will be happy to go seat by seat to make sure everyone is squeezed in enough to fit the proper number in the row. Just be prepared to get to know your neighbor.
I can't even imagine a reason to score Neyland anything less than a 5 here. You can debate fan involvement when it comes to tailgates across the southeast and the country, but there's no debating the absolute perfection of the venue in Knoxville. If you go out the night before, there are more than a few areas of town that will offer you everything you need as far as food and drink. The Downtown Grill & Brewery is a great spot to sit down to a meal or grab a few beers. Calhoun's is another great restaurant for gameday or the night before, and is located conveniently right on the Tennessee River.
On gameday, it's a must that you get up early and grab a spot in the Calhoun's parking lot. You'll be within easy walking distance of the stadium, while tailgating just inches from the Tennessee River. The only better option is if you happen to own a boat. You'll see a lot of Vol fans tailgating just outside the stadium on anything that floats, be it speedboat or a full-sized yacht. Hotels are all around, but for a true college football experience, the Marriott near Calhoun's will play the big college games of the day in the lobby on a huge projection screen. Fans returning from tailgate will set up shop with their coolers in the lobby to enjoy some late-night football.
Again, Vol fans have to score high here. I arrived as a fan of the visiting team, which in the SEC is a mixed bag, at best. Tennessee fans are nothing but hospitable. They are always willing to have a friendly conversation, and you can expect to feel very welcome anywhere you go in the general area around the stadium. The more surprising part is how hospitable the fans remain after the game. In my case, my team lost in a tight, hard-fought game. Although they were all obviously ecstatic after the win, not one fan felt the need to rub it in or even say anything to me or any of the opposing fans. I can't speak highly enough of fan bases that show this kind of class. Definitely expect the same friendly atmosphere.
As far as volume, there's no drop-off. Vol fans will support their team vocally all game. They may not always sell out their games (hard to consider that a negative when their low attendance of 90,000 is still more than the majority of schools get in a sellout), but by the noise level, you won't be able to tell. They know the cheers, whether it's the verses to "Rocky Top" or the timing when chanting "Vols", and aren't afraid to yell either at the top of their lungs.
Again, unless you have a boat, be willing to arrive early and walk a bit. There is free parking to be found and it's not going to be unreasonable, but as you can imagine with 102,000, the roads will become an issue if you wait. Besides, don't miss a minute of the extra-ordinary tailgate that awaits you. As far as getting into the stadium, prepare for tired legs if you don't have great seats. The concourses (especially in the upper deck) are narrow and clogged. The ramp to get the higher levels is long and vertical. The stairs in the stadium are universally known as steep, to say the least. The restrooms are also old and in need of a serious update. The stadium definitely shows its age, and isn't the most pedestrian-friendly stadium in the country by any means, but don't let that discourage you from enjoying the atmosphere.
As a large SEC school, tickets won't be cheap. I've heard you can get them for value for lesser games if you're willing to take your chances around the stadium, but tickets for a fairly big conference game were $80, in my case. To be fair, you're paying for quite an experience. In addition, you'll find that food, parking and hotels in the area aren't outlandishly priced across the board, so the trip is definitely well worth it.
I can't give enough points for the overall experience. Yes, the stadium is old and far from comfortable, but the tradition, spectacle and uniqueness more than make up for any of the "warts". Neyland Stadium is on the short list of college football "musts", whether you're a Vols fan or a college football traveler.
The University of Tennessee is one of the oldest schools of higher learning in the south dating all the way back to 1794 when it was known as Blount College. Tennessee's Neyland Stadium was built on the banks of the Tennessee river in 1921, but Tennessee has been playing football since 1891. Neyland Stadium is the third largest stadium in the nation and one of the first stadiums to break the 100,000 fan capacity mark. The stadium is located in the city of Knoxville in eastern Tennessee near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The Tennessee Volunteers have been one of the most successful college football programs over the last decade, but have fallen upon hard times over the past few years. Even though that is true, Tennessee fans are still filling the seats and supporting their team by the tens of thousands.
This was my first trip to Neyland Stadium in quite a while, and everything was just as I remembered it. Fanatical fans, beautiful scenery and a sea of orange. There were also many of the same problems, little or no parking at a high cost, no outside concessions, and congested traffic.
No college football stadium can compare to the 102,000-plus seat stadium that serves as home of the Tennessee Volunteers. During seasons when the Vols are competing with the nation’s best teams, no other stadium can get louder than Neyland Stadium. In fact, the largest recorded crowd to ever enjoy a game at Neyland Stadium was just above 109,000 in 2004. To put that into perspective, that’s several times larger than your average population for a U.S. town. The sound generated from the fans has virtually no escape with the way the stadium is constructed at such a vertical angle. Even during a tough time like the Vols are facing now in the 2012/2013 season, they still enjoy a home field that a vast majority of teams would love to have.
Neyland Stadium has been around for nearly 100 years and has seen some great teams play on its surface along the way. When the Vols finally return to success, you can bet that seeing a game at Neyland Stadium will be one of the hottest tickets in college football. Until that happens, there’s still plenty to be desired for this great stage for college football.
It's crowed, it sucks
I have attended many UT games over the years, and one of the things that I enjoy most about a game at Neyland is the nostalgic feel and history of the stadium. The stadium is currently in the middle of a 10 year renovation and at it's conclusion, all concourses, concessions and bathrooms will resemble those on the west side. I think the atmosphere is addictive and I enjoy the entire experience starting with the tailgating or bar hopping, the Vol Walk, the parade and then the game itself.
Neyland Stadium is a great place to have a college football game, sure, but the Big Orange capital isn't really all it's put up to be. Although the atmosphere can be good, when I attended a game earlier this year at the Vols' stadium the crowd was lackluster for most of the game and the away team's fans and band seemed to make more noise than the home. Overall, it was a good experience, but there's more to be desired. Admittedly, UT football has been on a downturn and you can't fault them for that.
That God-awful color makes you want to throw up when you see 100K people wearing it in this place. The stadium has no redeeming factors, other than it holds 100K people. For the size of the stadium, the sound was not necessarily deafening. The fans were friendly enough...even to opposing fans sitting in season ticket holder seats. Downtown Knoxville and the tail-gating were pretty good.
Growing up in Knoxville has its ups and downs. Neyland is the same way.
The food there is pricey. No other way to say it. They sale the basics but the tailgating is great.
The atmosphere for me really does not exist there. The stadium is big, the 3rd biggest city in the state on Saturday but it is boring. It is basically a big bowl full of people you really do not wanna be with. And the pride of the Southland band needs to learn a few tunes. Hearing that stupid song gets old fast. We counted 61 times they played that in one game.
The neighborhood is pretty good as long as you stay on campus. The Strip has plenty of places to eat and if you are feeling like a walk Chapman Hwy has a few fast food places not found on the strip. The neighborhoods surrounding the campus are pretty worn down and the worlds Fair site and Sunsphere are basically useless now. Also....If you go there early the river stinks. I had friends in the Andy Holt dorm and we all agreed the smell can ruin your appetite.
The fans are like all SEC fans. Loud and rude. But UT fans when the price as the worst. After 25 years on living in East Tennessee, UT fans are one of the few things I do not miss. And when UT is having a bad season they become bandwagon jumpers for other SEC teams. But the ones that are loyal are as loyal as fans come. I will give 2 points to the true fans. There just isn't many in my opinion. Not when UT fans give up on them halfway through the season and start bragging about what Bama or LSU is doing.
The campus is easy to get to but the parking is terrible. But the size of the stadium has a lot to do with it. I always parked at Tyson Park and walked. 20 minutes away. No big deal.
I have to give props for the tailgating and the Vol Navy. Also the walk to the stadium by the players is cool. Make a weekend trip out of it and go visit Cades Cove in the Smokies and Ye Olde Steakhouse on Chapman Hwy. Both are worth the drive.
Homecoming game against Memphis. First trip to the stadium. My wife is a huge Vol fan while me, I could care less. When we got there we found a parking garage that has free parking but was a pretty good walk away. The walk to and from the stadium was awful. There was hardly any place to eat outside the stadium because they were closed which was weird. Even for a homecoming game, crowd was only around 94,000. Was impressed how excited fans were about singing Rocky Top, but not cheering for the home team. We were seated a few seats behind the band which was one of the most amazing experiences ever. Food was awful. I was impressed at how friendly the fans were.They had several souvenirs which were super cheap. I purchased a few hats and fuzzy dice. Overall a good experience and I would go back.
I saw a game back in 09 so this has been a while. I enjoyed my trip there and it wasn't too bad. Stadium itself was fine in terms of the look and the structure (though I know they have upgraded) so really this might be an out-of-date review, but here goes.
Food & Beverage: Hot dogs were generic and the one I had was cold, but I had a Frito Pie with all the works. Tasted pretty well.
Atmosphere: This was the Lane Kiffin year and it seemed even then the Vols fans weren't receptive to the guy. But you knew it was GameDay in Tennessee where everybody wore orange and asked if you were going to the game, not to mention people out tailgating in monsoon-like weather.
Neighborhood: On the campus so nothing that I saw really that you could stop by and grab a bite save for a few on-campus places. Better bet is going downtown Knoxville and the areas around.
Fans: They were smart as they had no love for Kiffin nor thought he was the answer. They were right of course. But they were into the game and were as loud as can be. Very knowledgeable group (though UGA fans say otherwise)
Access: For a 100,000 seat stadium it is very darn tricky to get to. Get off the interstate and go on the campus. Most of the places are parked for students, staff, and season ticket holders. You can park at the Holiday Inn for $10 (at the time-betting it is $15-20 now), but you still have to walk about a mile or slightly longer.
ROI: Until the last few years, getting a Tennessee ticket on the cheap was a great deal. Probably not as much now, but you do end up getting a ticket to one of college football's largest venues and a great atmosphere nonetheless. Hopefully the Vols will turn their program around (and I'm not a Vols fan, but it is good when Tennessee is good).
Extras: Fans were friendly, staff was very friendly, a nice large scoreboard, and you are close to the action, even on the upper levels. I hope to get back since it has been renovated.
Knoxville, TN 37916
1901 Cumberland Ave
Knoxville, TN 37916
1840 Cumberland Ave
Knoxville, TN 37916
424 S Gay St
Knoxville, TN 37902
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1109 White Ave
Knoxville, TN 37916
501 E Hill Ave
Knosville, TN 37915