Photos by Aaron Terry, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.43
Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium 180 E Brooks St Norman, OK 73019
Year Opened: 1923
The Palace on the Prairie
The almost century-old Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, also known as “The Palace on the Prairie”, opened in 1923, and following renovations in 2015, currently has a capacity of 86,112, making it the second-largest stadium in the Big 12. Home to the Sooners football team of the University of Oklahoma, the venerable facility is laid out in a bowl design, with both the north and south end zones enclosed; one of the most prominent features at the stadium is the clock tower built into the wall behind the north end zone, on the exterior of the venue.
Come gameday in Norman, the Oklahoma Sooners put on quite a show, making Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium one of the better atmospheres in college football today. Tens of thousands of red-clad fans show up for tailgating hours before kickoff, the atmosphere inside the stadium is loud and raucous, and the staff pulls out all the stops to keep fans engaged, including twin mascots, appearances by the Sooner Schooner, jugglers, OU flags trotted out throughout the game, and even flame and fireworks to welcome the team onto the field.
Food & Beverage 5
Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium’s concessions offer a wide range of the typical fare you would expect from a sports venue, in addition to some more unique items like smoked turkey legs and fried okra, from stands with football-themed names such as the Goal Line Grill and Midfield Favorites. Prices are in-line with costs at similarly-sized venues, but there are plenty of options for those on a budget, including free water from a variety of sources.
Food options include nachos, hot dogs and brats, corn dogs, smoked sausage, several types of tacos, pizza, pulled pork, chicken tenders, chicken on a stick, smoked turkey legs, soft pretzels, peanuts, popcorn, fries, and fried okra, as well as packaged candy, several types of cookies (both generic and artisan), brownies, funnel cake, and Cracker Jack, plus Dippin’ Dots and Mini Melts ice cream; prices for these items start at $4 for certain individual selections, and go up to about $17 for combo meals.
The drink selection at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium is a lot more limited than the food selection, with only bottled water, Coke products, fresh-squeezed lemonade, and icees available. However, a unique offering that is beginning to make an appearance at sports venues across the country, most notably in Texas, is something called the “Grub Tub”, which is a cup of soda (or bottle of water) with a container built into the lid to hold food items – here at Oklahoma, this includes chicken tenders and fries, giving fans a beverage and snack in a single container, so they can hold it in one hand (see a photo of the Grub Tub in the picture gallery for this review).
For those looking to stay hydrated, the staff at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium provide free water from a variety of sources. First, fans can bring empty containers for water into the stadium, and there are filling stations dotted all over the concourse for these. Second, there are plenty of water fountains around, including long troughs on the lower level which have over a dozen spouts each. Third, there is also a “Cool Zone” on the upper concourse, complete with box fans and giant containers of water (with cups), where game attendees can go and cool off during the game; this area was surprisingly less crowded than I would have expected, given the heat of the day, but perhaps this speaks to the plethora of other water/cooling options available.
The atmosphere at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium starts to become electric even several hours before kickoff, with tailgaters and red tents as far as the eye can see on your way into the stadium. In fact, there is a company called the Tailgate Guys, whom you can hire to set up your tailgate for you, so all you have to do is show up with your food and drinks and start partying; the Tailgate Guys will set up grills, tents, even TVs for you before your group arrives – they will even light the grill for you, so you can start cooking the minute you get there.
After you finish tailgating, make your way into the stadium, and you will be treated to all manner of entertainment provided by the OU staff – they even hire jugglers to walk around the concourse to entertain fans before and during the game. You will also find plenty of Oklahoma-themed décor dotted around the facility, including giant pictures of past players, as well as a wall of honoree plaques at National Honors Plaza.
Furthermore, as you make your way out to your seat, you will be treated to an appearance by the Sooner Schooner, get to watch the antics of the two OU mascots, Sooner and Boomer, and see flames fly and fireworks go off as the team comes onto the field, framed by over a dozen banners highlighting Oklahoma football’s past championships – you may even get to see a jet flyover.
In addition, before the game or during halftime, watch as the 350-member OU band, the “Pride of Oklahoma” performs intricate maneuvers at midfield. And every time the Oklahoma Sooners score, flag bearers will tear across the field with flags spelling O-K-L-A-H-O-M-A and S-O-O-N-E-R-S, and the Sooner Schooner will make another of its dramatic appearances – pay particular attention to the antics of the guy in the back of the wagon. Lastly, participate in the famed OU cheer, as one side of Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium yells “Boomer!”, and the other side answers with “Sooner!”
Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium is located on the University of Oklahoma’s campus, so in the immediate vicinity you will find campus buildings, other athletics fields, apartments, dorms, and sorority and frat houses. There are plenty of restaurants, however, about 5-6 blocks directly north of the stadium, along Boyd Street. In this area you will find cuisine of all types, including Thai, Vietnamese, Mexican, Greek, Italian, American, Chinese, you name it – two of the most popular destinations are Louie’s Grill & Bar and The Mont, both of which offer a great selection of food and alcohol. Louie’s offers up classic American, while The Mont features both Mexican and American dishes; either of these would be a great place to hang out before or after the game to take in other football action on TV.
If you plan to be in town for the day or for the weekend, the town of Norman, while small, offers several interesting attractions to take in while in the area. Your first stop should be at the National Weather Center, where you can tour the facility and learn how meteorologists get their information – a fun and educational activity for weather geeks and non-geeks alike (note that you will need to make reservations in advance). And, if weather it not your thing, check out the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, which includes a zoo, dinosaur and insect exhibits, and displays of many other artifacts, which should delight both children as well as adults.
Even for games against minor opponents, Oklahoma Sooners fans flock to Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in droves, with almost everyone garnered in red to cheer on their team. The crowd provides great energy from the start, and the stadium gets very loud when the team is being introduced, and of course every time the Sooners score. The atmosphere here is exactly what big-time college football is all about, with 80,000-plus screaming, rabid fans cheering on their team; the only downside in terms of fan support here is that the stadium empties out during the third quarter if the Sooners are up big, which is great if you want to move to a lower seat, or deal with less traffic on your way out, but not so great if you were enjoying the energy.
As I mentioned earlier, the party gets started many hours before kickoff with tailgating outside the stadium as far as the eye can see. Check out the video below to get a feel for the scene:
Getting to Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium is fairly easy as long as you get there early; there are plenty of places to park along Classen Boulevard for $20 (grass lots run by the local FFA, or run by student groups at OU). Note that these parking spaces are only 5-6 blocks from the stadium, but if you want to park closer you will need a parking pass, as all of the closer lots are reserved for season ticket holders and donors. If you are looking to tailgate, as I mentioned earlier you might want to hire the Tailgate Guys to set up everything for you before you arrive.
Once you get inside Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, moving around is not bad, especially in the concourses on the upper level or behind the end zones, as those areas tend to be less crowded. That said, if you find yourself facing a long line at the concessions wherever you are sitting, try taking a walk toward one of the less crowded sections, where things should be moving a little faster. But no matter where you are sitting, there are plenty of restrooms, and plenty of water fountains and bottle filling stations.
Return on Investment 4
Tickets to games at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium cost $65 for non-Big 12 opponents, and run between $85 and $115 for Big 12 matchups, depending on the opponent, and this is for tickets in the upper deck. On the plus side, the stadium doesn’t quite sell out anymore, thanks to the recent renovations which added a little capacity, so you should not have to overpay for seats, and you might be able to find them cheaper on secondary sites like Ticket Monster. Regardless, while $100 or so per ticket is certainly reasonable for college football of this caliber, you may want to choose one of the lesser opponents, so you can get all the same Sooner atmosphere, but at a slightly lower cost.
The staff deserves a lot of credit for creating a stellar experience at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium; special mentions go to the numerous water bottle filling stations, the plethora of water fountains, the Cool Zone, and the jugglers moving around the concourse. The décor inside the stadium is also great, and few fans can help but enjoy the antics of the twin mascots, or fail to enjoy the Sonner Schooner rumbling around the field.
Watching an OU football game at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon or evening; this is college football at its finest. Come join 80,000 of your closest friends for a game here, and if you can, make time to also check out the town of Norman and all it has to offer; I guarantee you it will be good time.