While the struggles of the University of Miami football program have been well documented over the last few years, one thing is constant. The game day experience is a small look into Miami’s sports and party scenes. It can be either one of the most incredibly electric college football experiences, or it can result in a sad vision of what was once a proud program in South Florida.
With the renovations to Sun Life Stadium, however, come a renewed life to the UM football fan experience, one that was much needed. What was once the state-of-the-art home of football in Miami had sunk into a dull period of time that saw it look less and less like a quality sports facility.
Thankfully, the renovations to the stadium have made “The U” at least a lot more comfortable to watch, even if they are losing from time to time.
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".
Food and beverage at Miami sporting events is already pretty good, due to the heavy Latin influence. Now, the new renovations have made the actual food booths at lot easier to navigate and the patio seating areas to eat at a lot nicer. What used to be just corridors of concession stands are now mini food courts. On the suite level, a massive indoor food court is located along the massive windows that give fans a grand vista of South Florida. The new lower level suite areas include full-scale restaurants that help fans smell glorious tastes throughout the halls from the media room to the ticket offices.
Alcohol is ever-present (it is college in Miami, after all) in large bars that also sport HD TVs for fans to catch some of the other sports action that may be going on that day.
Prices aren't completely out of range, but they aren't cheap either. A half-pound burger and fries runs $13, not including a drink, while a personal pizza from Papa John's will run $8.75, be it cheese or pepperoni. There is a refillable popcorn bucket available for $10 and a bottomless drink costs $11 (a regular soda is $4). Draft beer averages about $8.
The fans at UM games are pretty excitable. It is a Miami crowd, and therefore, they like to party. The tailgating at UM football is top notch. But it can easily get out of hand for anyone who is north of 30 years old, as the back-in parking lot full of boozed-up college kids partying like they're in the night clubs to pounding music can easily make one feel claustrophobic. The stench of college drunkenness and lunacy wafts through the air on a hot Miami afternoon. Make no mistake, it isn't a place I would bring my kids. There is a nice fan zone outside the main concourse adjacent to the team store, with games for kids in a more family friendly atmosphere.
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. It's 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. Anywhere else is at least a 10-15 minute drive away towards the metropolis of the city.
The fans at Miami games are notoriously harsh. Who can blame them? Years of extreme talent jaded them to the realities of being a mediocre program. Now that the Hurricanes are in the midst of being average, the Canes faithful feel like they're wronged in some way. That translates to game days when one bad referee call brings the full anger and fury of the crowd down upon the field.
However, the return of potential mixed with young talent over the last few years has brought with it a renewed sense of curiosity among the fans, coaxing them back to the stadium to witness their team potentially burst onto the national stage once again. Unfortunately, that also meant a packed crowd was on hand to witness the worst loss in UM history in 2015 when they fell to Clemson.
Bigger schools bring bigger crowds. FSU, UF, Clemson, etc. all draw large crowds. Teams like Virginia, Georgia Tech, and UNC...not so much.
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's drive each direction, depending on traffic.
This is actually another main factor that drove the Marlins to push for a new home.
Hurricane fans will travel for bigger games, but one cannot help but imagine there would be a much more full stadium if it were in a closer location. The only solution to fans as of 2015 is the addition of several free parking lots nearby due to the construction on site related to the stadium renovations.
Despite all the negatives, UM football does have some positives going for it. The UM game day experience has improved without a doubt, thanks to the renovations at the stadium. The seats are newer, wider, and much more comfortable than their predecessors. The angle of the seating itself is better, bringing fans much closer to the playing field than ever before at Sun Life Stadium.
If you can swallow the price of tickets and a meal for a family of four, by all means, go for it. If you want to just go with a few friends on a budget, I would suggest a bite to eat at Sonic across the street first, then heading to the game.
Overall, who can argue with college football in paradise? It is Miami. The sun may be hot, but so is the action on the field, and good football cures all issues with comfort.
Sebastian the Ibis, the school mascot, is always up to some sort of antics. You can find him partying in the student section, setting off fire extinguishers or harassing the opposing coaches. He is also always willing to stop for a high-five and a photo with the kids.
Looking for a real Miami experience? There is a club within the club level. Indeed, Club Liv has a satellite club on site for game days. It Is like South Beach brought to the football field.
There is also a statue of Miami Dolphins great Dan Marino outside of the team store outside the main gates. This is definitely a stop on the way for sports junkies.
Finally, who can argue with the majesty of college football bands. The UM Band, the Band of the Hour, marches on to the field before the game, plays the team fight song, and leads Sebastian in the "C-A-N-E-S CANES!" chant before kickoff. With a full crowd, it gives you chills.
UM football is growing again. So is Sun Life Stadium. Marked improvement to the stadium both inside and out in all aspects has made the game day experience much more enjoyable than years past. Hopefully, with a winning record in the future, the team can return to its halcyon days of greatness, and with it the return of the electricity from yesteryear.
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.
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.
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