The “U” is a football team steeped in history. As the fans say, the University of Miami “invented swagger” during their heyday, but as of late, their home games show more of an opposite effect.
Essentially, the “U” has some seats to fill….a lot of them. During big-time match-ups against Florida or Florida State, Miami fans pack the stadium, but still are outnumbered 60-40 by rival fans. Sun Life Stadium is a little big for the crowds at regular contests, however, similar to Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, or North Carolina.
Despite this, it is Miami, and the fans know how to party. You don’t get to be the #1 party school in America by hosting a boring tailgate.
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".
Miami has amazing food. Because of this, there is an expectation of that being reflected in a sports stadium's offerings. Sun Life Stadium does a good job at offering Latin American favorites mixed with traditional stadium fare.
Yes, you can still get a cheeseburger or a loaded hot dog with a cold beer like any other stadium in America. And of course there is soda to be had too. But there are also arepas and Cuban sandwiches on the menu, something you won't see at any SEC or Pac-12 school.
Additionally, there is an expanded alcohol offering, with several bars open with large quantities of adult beverages and cocktails to make your thirst float away.
If you manage a seat in the suite level, a large food court area will greet you with a multitude of eating and drinking choices. Prices at Sun Life Stadium are manageable.
"OOOOHHHHHHH.....C-A-N-E-S CANES!" is one of the coolest college fan chants around, but it only really has an effect if EVERYONE around you is doing it. Additionally, "everyone" needs to be in a full stadium. Otherwise, its effect starts to become muddled. Sadly, this happens often at UM games.
The atmosphere for UM tailgates can be top notch. There is lots of school spirit to see. Unfortunately, the small crowds kill that buzz inside. Fans stretched out throughout the stadium makes it look bare, and an "intimate" setting is not one that is usually desired for a multi-time national championship football program's games. However, that does change when the big boys come to town.
When the Hurricanes play the in-state rival Gators or Seminoles, Sun Life Stadium comes alive. The 2014 game against FSU had such emotion and energy, it was hard to imagine a more exciting game in college football that weekend. The student section was rocking. The Band of the Hour was on point with every song. The team was responding to the roar of the fans. Sun Life Stadium seemed to have its swagger back!
If only this was the case for other games...
Miami Gardens isn't exactly a prime location in which to showcase the city of Miami and all it has to offer. Sure, across the street from Sun Life Stadium is a very nice shopping center. Inside is a giant Wal-Mart. There is a bank as well, with a beautiful brand new Sonic Beach that has a ton of fans before and after the games. The outside patio setting is mixed with the bar inside that opens up to the outdoors and has several TVs, making it an ideal setting in which to relax before or after the game with the family and other fans.
But the immediate neighborhood BEYOND that first block is not the same. There isn't anything "wrong" per se with the neighborhood, but it isn't exactly a crown jewel of Miami-Dade County. The homes are average. The people are just....there. Think something akin to the first Fast and the Furious movie, everyone in the middle of lower-middle-class suburbia cooking out on an old grill. That's the same setting. Not a bad place, but I could think of nicer locations to be walking through in the evening.
Traffic is also a rough go considering Sun Life Stadium is next to a highway. As far as where to stay, Sun Life Stadium only has one hotel next to it, and it's out of date. Better to experience what Miami has to offer and stay in the city or South Beach if you're staying overnight. Additionally, the stadium isn't anywhere near the University of Miami campus.
The fans get a little slack in this category. Sure, they don't exactly show up, and not having a true championship-contending team doesn't help in fairweather fan Miami. However, everywhere you go from the Keys to Palm Beach, you see people wearing UM gear.
Without question, the support from the fans is there. It is just a matter of translating that support into getting butts into seats.
This is a quandary that faces the team every game. How to get fan support into ticket sales.? Unfortunately, the solution to that has not become evident as there are lots of empty seats at non-ESPN games. However, Miami knows how to party, and so do Hurricane fans.
A UM tailgate can be a blast to someone looking for fun times. There are even those who show up to the game to tailgate before, and then leave without even going into the game. It is all about the fun times for them, and to each their own. If you want a cold beer, some good friends, and a friendly game of football toss or dominoes in the parking lot, UM football is where you should be.
Sun Life Stadium is right off the Florida Turnpike. But a well placed exit ramp does not an easy drive make. This is Miami, and traffic here is awful on a perfect day at midnight. Add to that the game-day traffic and terribly spaced lights all around the stadium and you're liable to be stuck there for hours unless you arrive really early.
The stadium is far from the UM campus. Essentially, it's pretty far from everything. This has been a complaint of fans in many places for all teams at Sun Life Stadium. For a fan in a population center like Homestead or Cutler Bay to the south, a trip to a UM game can be an hour drive each direction depending on traffic.
This is actually another main factor that drove the Marlins to push for a new home.
The Hurricane fans will travel for bigger games, but one cannot help but imagine there would be a much fuller stadium if it were in a closer location (like a potential downtown MLS stadium...hint, hint Mr. Beckham).
UM games are a quagmire of unrealized potential. If you're going to a big-time matchup, you will get big bang for your buck. But with ticket prices rising in sports as a whole, plus the expense of gas to get to the middle of nowhere in Miami, the return on your investment isn't exactly top notch.
One has to gauge what they consider to be a good return. If you want to watch some college football on a sunny Saturday afternoon with your son/daughter/parents/etc. and have a nice intimate setting, this is a great chance to do so. You get enough fans to go that it isn't empty, but you have some room to breathe. Think of it as college-lite.
Are you going to see UM win in dominant fashion like their golden years? Sorry to break your heart, but that's not exactly likely. Lately, UM has had decent talent scattered, but nobody solid enough to keep the team in serious contention for a national title. You get to see UM play and experience the "swagger," but it is certainly nowhere near where it used to be, or where it could be.
Sebastian the Ibis (the UM mascot) is a cool dude. The Miss University of Miami, Amber Butler, has an open marriage proposal to him. He is the life of every party. And lately, he has taken to partying it up in the student section with fire extinguishers like he was in Club Liv downtown. At the same time, he's kid friendly and a fun addition to any game day. Sebastian is one of the coolest and best college mascots there is.
Despite the downturn in recent seasons, this is still one of the most successful college football programs of the past 30 years.
The "U" needs "you" to become whole again. It will come with time and growing success, as any program experiences. But at the same time, one has to take measure of what UM has to offer. They are one of the most historically-steeped college football programs around, and have been around only half as long as some other stalwart programs. Many of the NFL's biggest stars have come from Miami. It's a school everyone wants to go to. Sun Life Stadium and the Hurricanes is still a football experience everyone should have at least once, especially if it's a marquee match-up.
In short, give the "U" a chance, and you may be able to say you saw the swagger yourself in full force, or you sat alone in the upper deck with nobody around for three sections on either side.
There are certain college football teams who unfortunately don't have the luck of calling a stadium their own home. For the Miami Hurricanes, that is the case with Sun Life Stadium. Although it is a relatively nice, modern stadium, it is a half hour drive from the University of Miami campus, and it is owned by the NFL's Miami Dolphins. With most crowds for the Hurricanes hovering between 40,000-50,000 fans, it's unfortunate that a 70,000 seat stadium doesn't feel packed like it does with most other big time programs. I was lucky enough to be there for the Ohio State game which drew nearly a full house.
Hurricanes fans are a passionate loyal group, although not as big in number simply because the university is a small private institution.
The sound system is ear splittingly loud I will not go there again. It is gross.
Times have officially changed over the last decade for the University of Miami. The Hurricanes have gone from playing in the close confines of the Orange Bowl, located in the historic Little Havana section of Miami, to playing at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens. Whereas the Orange Bowl had local flair and history on its side, Sun Life Stadium has a tendency to be plain and vanilla and designed more for its primary tenant, the Miami Dolphins, who are the owners of the facility.
On August 21, 2007, UM President Dr. Donna Shalala announced at a press conference that the UM would be leaving the Orange Bowl for greener pastures at the then-titled Dolphin Stadium. Less than a year later, the stadium in Little Havana was torn down and all that was left were the memories generated by the stadium that captured UM national titles, Super Bowl victories and the Miami Dolphins’ 1972 perfect season.
By contrast, the Orange Bowl was filled with history and nostalgia going back to when it was built in 1937. The Hurricanes were its primary tenant and pro football would not become a reality until 1966. The historic old venue saw Miami win several national titles there including the epic 1984 Orange Bowl game that gave The U its first ever national title when it defeated Nebraska 31-30 on the game’s final play.
Sun Life Stadium has no such history for the University of Miami. The Canes are still looking to build their own history in that venue.
Times were drastically different in the 1990’s when the University of Miami was winning national titles, held the nation’s largest home winning streak at 58 games, and the Orange Bowl was filled to capacity with people wearing Orange and Green.
When the Canes played Florida in September of 2013, there were more people doing the Gator Chomp than singing the UM alma mater. Something is wrong with that scenario. Hopefully an improving UM football team and a strong recruiting class will improve the dynamics for the 2014 season and beyond. The University of Miami did set attendance records in 2013 for most fans in a season and largest average attendance per game, but Miami did have seven home games to do it. Most college football teams have no more than six home games. The Canes also benefited from that game against Florida. Miami also opened the season at home against Florida Atlantic University from nearby Boca Raton which brought its own fan support as well.
Sun Life Stadium, opening in 1987, and the dream of former Miami Dolphins’ owner Joseph Robbie, holds in excess of 75,000 fans. Take out the obligatory in-state rival games against Florida and Florida State and you would be hard pressed finding more than 60,000 fans in this venue for a Canes game. When the Canes were playing in the Orange Bowl they were used to playing before sold out crowds.
Canes fans turn to Facebook and other social media to voice their displeasure over the loyalty to the team and to the poor attendance. The fact of the matter is that the stadium is far from campus and public transportation does not make it easy for the students to get to the stadium. While they have consistently filled up the student section, the section is not that large to begin with.
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