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Official Review by Aaron S. Terry, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Since 2008, Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida has hosted the St. Petersburg Bowl, an annual post-season match-up of teams from the American Athletic Conference and Conference USA. Tropicana Field is actually home of the Tampa Bay Rays (an MLB team), and is one of a handful of baseball parks that host NCAA bowl games.
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Since the bowl game is not very well attended, some of the fare you would typically find at a Rays game is not available, but there is still plenty to choose from, and lines are not long.
Food choices include burgers, barbecue, chicken tenders, chicken sandwiches, hot dogs, pizza, and Cuban sandwiches, as well as glazed or boiled nuts, popcorn, nachos, pretzels, french fries, sunflower seeds, Cracker Jack, cotton candy, and ice cream. Prices are higher than what you would pay at a typical college football stadium, but are in line with pro stadium prices ($4 for the smallest items, all the way up to $13 for the largest).
Drink options include a wide variety of alcohol, including beer, wine, and mixed drinks, as well as soda, Gatorade, bottled water, lemonade, and Tropicana juice (the stadium's sponsor). Beer and other spirits start at $5, while the soft stuff starts at $4. Note that for contractual reasons, they won't sell the souvenir cups (or helmets) on bowl game day, so if you want a Rays souvenir you'll have to come back in the spring.
The staff does a few fun things to make for an exciting experience, but some of the amenities Tropicana Field is known for are not available during the bowl game. For example, one of the things that makes Tropicana Field unique is the tank of live rays that fans can touch and feed during the game - this area is closed during the bowl game, as are the museum, hall of fame, and other displays.
Since this is a pro stadium (albeit for baseball), all of the seats are plastic bucket-style, so they are much more comfortable than the metal bleachers you might be used to. Also, this is an indoor venue, so you don't have to worry about the weather. And even though this is actually a baseball stadium, the football field seems to fit pretty well - you can see a faint outline of the infield on half of it, but most of the seats are pretty close. The worst part is probably on the first base side, which has the biggest gap between the field and the seats, but the outfield side and end zones are fairly flush.
The best thing about the game (besides the football, of course) are the pre-game and halftime activities. As with most bowl games, you can watch both bands perform at halftime, complete with banners, flags, and dance teams. But the pre-game is even better, because you get to watch real Army Rangers rappel off the ceiling onto the field to deliver the game ball to the refs, which is a pretty unique experience. This almost makes up for the fact that there are no giveaways in sight.
Tropicana Field is located about two miles west of downtown near I-275, so it is very easy to get to. There is not much right next to the stadium except parking lots and residential housing, but there are plenty of restaurants a few blocks to the north along Central Ave, and the beach is also close.
Popular hangouts for before or after the game include Taps and Tequila II, the Flying Pig Taphouse, and Ferg's Sports Bar & Grill. You can also find Latin fare, as well as several cigar bars, and there are plenty of hotels in this area, as well.
The beach is located just 10-12 blocks from Tropicana Field, and there are plenty of activities to be found here if you want to make a long weekend of it, such as boating, scuba diving, or snorkeling. There are also several concert venues, museums, and art exhibits in the area, including the Dali Museum and the Chihuly Collection. Visiting St Pete in the winter is nice because it is off-season, so it is less crowded - just be mindful that this is a holiday weekend, so some places may be closed or have limited hours.
Tropicana Field holds over 30,000, but doesn't generally get anywhere near full during Rays games, and is even less full during the St. Petersburg Bowl.
Partly because of the teams involved (both of which come from non-Power 5 conferences), you may only see five to eight thousand fans at the game, so there isn't a ton of energy or crowd noise, except during the most exciting plays. This makes sense, given that most of the schools in these two conferences are pretty far away. However, there are a couple of Florida schools in the mix, so if one of those were to be invited, you might see a much bigger crowd. Check out the video to see the attendance:
Getting to Tropicana Field is very easy, given its location, and moving around during the game will be no trouble.
You can find parking right outside the stadium for $10 to $15, and there are plenty of police officers directing and blocking traffic, making it easy for pedestrians to get where they need to go. You can also find free parking along the street if you are willing to walk a little further, or get there well in advance.
There are gates all around the stadium, so it is easy to get in and out. The only challenge you might run into is finding the right will call line if you don't bring your ticket with you. If you buy through Ticketmaster, you can pick up your tickets at the regular box office window (Gate 4), but if you buy through the school each one will have their own will call line (Gate 5).
Since Tropicana Field is pretty empty during the St. Petersburg Bowl, a lot of the seats are not sold, and thus the concourse will be pretty deserted. But there are plenty of bathrooms to accommodate everyone, and there are lots of ramps and elevators if you need them.
Tickets are pretty pricey for a game between two mid-major opponents, and this may help explain why so few people show up.
Tickets start at $40 for nosebleed seats, and go as high as $65 if you want to sit on the lower level. Most people who show up are there for one of the two teams - if tickets were cheaper, they might be able to draw more locals.
Tickets are the same price whether you buy from the school or via Ticketmaster, but you can save yourself a few dollars in fees if you wait until game day. If you really want to sit close, I would recommend buying the cheap seats and moving down, since it won't be full. You may also be able to save some money if you can find a scalper outside the venue.
Watching Army Rangers rappel off the ceiling is pretty sweet, and being able to sit inside on a hot Florida day is a nice bonus.
There are a lot of other bowl game options, so unless your team is coming to St. Pete, I am not sure this is the best one to choose. Even though the weather is great and the game is indoors, tickets are a lot more than they should be, and the atmosphere is a little lacking.
Member Review by StPeteRays on Dec 23, 2012
Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, is possibly one of the most controversial sporting facilities in North America, if not the world. Conceived as a stadium purpose-built for attracting Major League Baseball, it was erected out of the wreckage of both an old coal gasification plant and surrounding working-class neighborhood in need of some rehabilitation. In its 22+ years, the tilted dome has hosted tennis' Davis Cup finals, arena football, hockey, the NCAA Men's Final Four, and football of all three skill sets (high school, collegiate, and professional). However, despite that massive variety of sports, the longest-service tenant, the Tampa Bay Rays are the "raison d'ętre" for the world's second-largest cable-stayed dome. However, much chatter about those Rays not drawing enough attendance, be it because of the dome's location, amenities, or the fact it's a dome at all. Attempts have been made by all interested parties to come up with a solution, but as of this writing (late 2012), there is no new stadium deal in sight.
That much-maligned stadium holds a special place in my memories. From 2007–2010, it was my "home away from home" during the summer weekdays. That said, even as a season-ticket holder, I never made it to the event that eventually became known the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl, which started as the "St. Petersburg Bowl" in 2008, though I did attend a football game there prior when the UFL's Florida Tuskers played one game in the dome in October 2009, before being eventually shipped north to Virginia. That experience was quirky and fun, and so I finally decided that I wanted to see what it was like for college football to host one of its postseason matchups inside the stadium I knew so well. With tie-ins to both the Big East and Conference USA — and alternates of Mid-American Conference and Sun Belt Conference — and only five years to find its place in the increasingly-crowded Division I FBS postseason, I wasn't expecting something like the Rose Bowl in my backyard, but I definitely expected for it to feel like a bowl game. Heck, with ESPN's financial backing, what could possibly go wrong...?
1584 Central Ave
St. Petersburg, FL 33705
400 Beach Blvd SE
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
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