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Raymond James Stadium

Tampa, FL

Home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

3.4

3.9

Raymond James Stadium (map it)
4201 N Dale Mabry Highway
Tampa, FL 33607


Tampa Bay Buccaneers website

Raymond James Stadium website

Year Opened: 1998

Capacity: 65,647

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A Swashbuckling Good Time

Tampa Bay has had a long, diverse pro football past, from the winless inaugural season and 0-23 start under John McKay to the Super Bowl-winning team under John Gruden. Currently, the team is struggling to find an identity in the marketplace, but that won't prevent you from having a fantastic time at a Buccaneers game.

Raymond James Stadium offers a little bit of everything in a venue such as large open areas for gathering, character touches that offer variety, and an overwhelming sensation that will provide a swashbuckling good time. In being the final stop in my lengthy pursuit to see a pro football game in each NFL venue, Raymond James Stadium lies among my top ten of places to attend a pro football game.

3.4

What is FANFARE?

The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:

  • Food & Beverage
  • Atmosphere
  • Neighborhood
  • Fans
  • Access
  • Return on Investment
  • Extras

Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".

Food & Beverage    4

Raymond James Stadium offers a nice variety of food and beverages with a few twists which provide good value. Stations are both stand alone and permanent and have various names which either make reference to a pirate-theme or call out the type of food and beverages offered.

Boneyard Barbeque, Captain's Grill, The Galley, First Down Deli and Dogs, Pass the Pizza, Sideline Salsa, First & Fried and Goal Line Stand round out the nice variety.

Pulled pork, beef brisket and barbeque chicken are all $8.00 (and served with a pickle spear as is duly noted on the menu). So glad they made that clear because without the gerkin, there would be no sale. Turkey legs are $8.25, a barbequed baked potato is $8.00 and a loaded tater tot is $7.00. Italian sausage is $7.00 and peanuts are $4.50.

If you are looking for something to wash it down, large draft beer is $7.50 while the small draft is $5.50. Bottled soda is $4.75 and bottled water is $4.50.

There are a few specials worth considering and they come from the bottomless variety. Drink as much soda as you want and get it in a large 32 oz. souvenir cup for just $7. If you want to eat as much popcorn as you can, it will cost you $7 as well. Be warned, however, as there was no sign of antacids anywhere in the stadium.

In terms of unique, try the Cuban sandwich for just $8.25. A Cuban sandwich is a variation of a ham and cheese originally created in cafes catering to Cuban workers in Cuba and in the early Cuban immigrant communities of Florida such as Key West, Ybor City and Tampa. The sandwich is typically made with ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard, and sometimes salami on Cuban bread.

Atmosphere    4

For a stadium that opened in the fall of 1998, Raymond James Stadium is in fantastic shape. It is used for Buccaneers games, those played by University of South Florida Bulls and hosts the Outback Bowl each year. But on days where the Jolly Roger flies, it is uniquely NFL football and exclusively the Buccaneers. The way the stadium is dressed for NFL games you would never know USF shares the venue.

On the day I attended, it was "throwback" day, an annual event in which the team wears their "dreamsicle" uniforms, the field reflects the old swashbuckler logo and the entire venue is transformed into orange from field paint to team banners on the balcony. The team honored a player from that era and on this day it was former tight end Jimmy Giles.

Throughout the game at breaks, the loudspeakers played the CBS NFL Today song that most of us remember from the days when Irv Cross, Phyllis George and Brent Musburger graced our television screens. The team created an event within the game and it was very well done with all the little touches needed to make it worthwhile.

Because it is important to be prepared before buying tickets, you should know the positioning of this open-air stadium relative to where the sun rises and falls during the day. You want to be sure you select your tickets based upon having the sun at your back or at least up high and not in your line of sight.

The gridiron runs North to South with the bulk of the seats on the East and West sides of the stadium. The visitors occupy the East sideline while the home team lines the West sideline. On day games, the sun is pretty much above and a little behind the South scoreboard and then falls behind the Southwest corner of the stadium behind sections 316 to 319. What this means is avoid buying tickets on the East side of the stadium. Otherwise you will be staring into the sun most of the game.

I like to sit up high close to the fifty yard line, but cost typically determines where I will sit too. If the prices are too high near the fifty yard line, then I go to the thirty yard line to save some dollars. My seats at the fifty yard line in section 311 up high were $57 each.

Sections 309 through 312 are perfect. If you get lucky enough though, choose the very first row in the 300 level. You have a railing seat and no one behind you, just a walkway taking fans to the rows above you.

The stadium corners are sharp and not rounded well to face the field. This might be due to how the ends are wide open. Still, even if cheaper, avoid them as there are better seats for the same price along the sidelines in the center so you can watch the ball advance and know if it is a first down or not when it happens, not when someone tells you. Of course sitting up high you can see the plays develop better.

Most fans enter at the ends of the stadium which is pretty much open to air flow. Large scoreboards, which are a bit antiquated with small replay boards, are at these ends. The South end seems to be the most traveled for incoming fans.

What I found exciting about the many things that made this visit so enjoyable was the use of clever layouts for fan walkways and common areas along with some creative ways to promote the pirate theme and Buccaneers brand. It just goes to show you don't need to throw many at an investment, but well-placed elements that promote the image of the team fans can call their own.

As you enter the stadium, entertainment, and it is good entertainment, in the form of dancers and live music, welcomes the Tampa faithful. Pick up a beer or soda as you make your ascent to the 200-level main concourse by escalator or zig-zag ramp to the main. This is where you get what the team calls their "game program". More on this later.

If you enter through the South end as I did, you are welcomed by a large common area filled with palm trees, picnic areas and a fantastic sightline to watch pre-game preparations. You are low to the field with a full view of the Jolly Roger moored at the North end just to the right of your view.

After you have taken in the sights of being low to the field, head to the opposite end zone where you will find Buccaneer Cove and the impressive pirate ship which dominates the North end zone. Unlike the South end zone, Buccaneer cove is lined with a themed façade made to look like a seaside village with the impressive dry-docked vessel in the Northeast corner.

The ship is impressive with two vaulting masts that carry a sail featuring the skull and crossbones logo of the home team with the stadium name on a sail above it. Smaller accenting flags fly from the tips of the masts.

Although access to the ship is restricted to those renting it for parties, such as one might do a luxury box, just being around it is fulfilling enough. In fact, there are often waits to gain access to the area just to the side of the ship near the end zone.

One of the more popular parts of the ship is the parrot mounted up high and at the rear. It is operated by radio control by someone who can clearly see everything that is going on around the rear of the ship. As I pointed upward to get a photo of the colorful bird, the bird looked right at me, extended his left wing and asked, "Would you like to take a picture of my armpit?"

In addition to the impressive visual presence the Jolly Roger plays in the landscape of the North end zone, it also plays a very functional role during the game. Cannons fire from the vessel after the Buccaneers score. Two blasts for a safety, three blasts for a field goal, six blasts for a touchdown and one blast for the extra point.

The pirate ship is not the only character in the stadium. Another element of the scoring show can be seen around the entire top rim of the stadium. Buccaneers flags (on this day featuring the throwback logo) are hoisted quickly in unison by dozens of individuals manning their flagpole upon a Tampa Bay score. After a minute or so, all of the flags are brought down before the next play.

Although I had trouble finding a shirt to wear to reflect the team's inaugural brand, it was pretty cool to see the venue rewind to thirty five years ago.

Neighborhood    1

The neighborhood consists of large plots of grass for tailgating and some carefully placed trees that if you are lucky enough to get there early, you can drop below one to provide shade for you and your pre-game party.

Fans    3

On a day in which the team was pretty much out of the playoffs in early December, there were quite a few no-shows. The team has had trouble keeping fans as their downward trajectory continues during multiple poor to subpar seasons.

The good news is you can tell those that did attend the game are quite knowledgeable and eager to cheer their team to a respectable result. Unfortunately, the lackluster performance on this day did not lend itself to seeing just how many of these fans are knowledgeable. The team played poorly and until mid-way through the last quarter, only had three points on the scoreboard.

Access    4

There is no mass transit or light rail to bring you to the game so for those who like to attend on the cheap, sorry. You will have to pay for parking. Lots open three and half hours before game time. But there is some good news here.

While all spaces are $25 each, lot #13 which is a few blocks south and just west of Raymond James Stadium, is just $15 a space. It is very close and the walk is short. The lot is located at the corner of Columbus and North Dale Mabry Drive with the entrance along the south edge of the grassy lot on Columbus (just west of North Dale Mabry Drive).

There are plenty of bathrooms at the stadium and I never saw a wait at any of them during halftime. Might have been because the less than sold out crowd providing for better accessibility.

Return on Investment    5

Attending a game at Raymond James Stadium strikes just about the right balance of value in terms of parking fees, ticket price and food prices. I would have paid more, but left with a sense of satisfaction despite the team's performance.

Back in college I worked at the St. Louis Cardinals public relations office and the late Marty Hendin who headed up the marketing department once told me that you cannot influence what goes on in the field of play, but you can control the experience someone can have at the game when they buy a ticket and enter the stadium. It is clear the Buccaneers are conscious of this dedication to fan satisfaction.

Extras    3

The Buccaneers offer no traditional game program. Instead, for $1, you get a Sunday edition Tampa Tribune with special roster card insert that you can purchase once inside the gates and heading up to your seat level. It was very disappointing.

The pocket schedule or single cards had a sales message on the front and listed game details on the back. It was pretty weak, but along the lines of a thrifty ownership group who has historically operated in an ultra-conservative fashion.

Follow the game by radio on 103.7 FM or 620 AM. Gene Deckerhoff, who has been their play-by-play announcer since 1989, and former Buccaneers tight end Dave Moore provides color commentary. T.J. Rives works the sideline. All are very entertaining. I put my headphones on, but leave the ear most open to the crowd to get the blend of play-by-play, color and fan noise.

I mentioned the difficulty in finding a "throwback" shirt to wear at the game. There was one and I did not like the style. Even if I had not wanted the orange shirt, merchandise variety and display are slim pickings. Probably due to the fact the team shares the venue with USF, there is a collection of makeshift merchandise areas with, for whatever reason, cyclone fencing providing containment.

A mish mash of self-standing display racks on the concrete concourse and pegboard on the lone wall display with a limited selection was all that was available. There was not much to choose from and no main store that I saw that was worth writing home about either. Very disappointing.

Captain Fear is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers mascot. The pirate runs around the field often standing near the end zone where the home team looks to score. He is a pretty rowdy fellow often involved in generating the cheers and stopping to pose with children for photos.

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Crowd Reviews

Fire the Cannons

Total Score: 4.43

  • Food & Beverage: 3
  • Atmosphere 5
  • Neighborhood: 5
  • Fans: 3
  • Access: 5
  • RoI: 5
  • Extras: 5

Since its construction in 1998, Tampa's Raymond James Stadium has been regarded as one of the greatest fan experiences you can have in the NFL.

From the music, to the videos on the two jumbotrons, to the uniqueness of the Pirate ship, the experience at "Ray Jay" definitely lives up to the reputation.

Getting your Bucs worth

Total Score: 3.43

  • Food & Beverage: 4
  • Atmosphere 3
  • Neighborhood: 2
  • Fans: 4
  • Access: 4
  • RoI: 4
  • Extras: 3

The iconic pirate ship is the highlight here, but I like the overall stadium design, with ramps at each corner to take you up to the top. The souvenir ice cream helmet was the first I had seen, but at $10 was a bit too much for me. Getting in and out seemed quite easy, helped by many fans leaving a blowout loss early. Fans are passionate and suffering as of 2013, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't visit. Tickets have never easier to acquire here.

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Lee Roy Selmon's  (map it!)

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