Photos by Paul Baker, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.00
Gillette Stadium 1 Patriot Place Foxborough, MA 02035
Year Opened: 2002
Capacity: 65,756 (2016)
A Campaign Far From Home For The Minutemen
When the University of Massachusetts announced that they would be moving their program up to FBS, the top level of collegiate football, they had a problem. Their longtime on-campus home, McGuirk Alumni Stadium, did not meet minimum standards for an FBS facility. While McGuirk Stadium was renovated to bring it up to minimum standards, the team played at Gillette Stadium, better known as the home of the New England Patriots of the National Football League, for the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
Once work on McGuirk was completed, the Minutemen continued to play half of their home schedule at Gillette. The school and stadium had a contract that called for a portion of the school’s home games to be played in Foxboro through 2016. UMass will be playing all of their home games on campus in 2017, and have a single game scheduled at Gillette Stadium (against Brigham Young) in 2018.
While they were a member of Division 1-A (and subsequently FCS), the Minutemen were very successful, winning 22 conference titles, appearing in two bowl games, eight NCAA tournaments, and three title games. UMass won a Division 1-A National Championship in 1998.
The UMass program has struggled since their elevation to FBS. With the Gillette Stadium portion of their 2016 home schedule complete, they are 2-18 in Foxboro. Overall, their record is not much better, as they have complied a 5-31 record since 2012, a winning percentage of .139.
Food & Beverage 4
For Minutemen games, Gillette Stadium scales back their concessions due to the smaller capacity of the venue for college football. This does not mean that Minutemen fans have limited menu selections. Enough of the 38 permanent concession stands are open here to ensure that the entire concession menu is available and lines do not get too long.
Gillette Stadium’s food offerings hit all the expected notes. Stands are organized by the type of food offered at each one. Minutemen fans can choose from Fried Tenders & Wings (chicken products), Stadium Grille (burgers, cheesesteaks and grilled chicken), Market Fresh Deli (Wraps, sandwiches and salads), Backyard BBQ (pulled pork, pulled chicken and brisket), Italian Sausage (sausages, bratwurst and hot dogs) and Stadium Pizza (Papa Gino’s pizza). The Lighthouse Grill behind The Fort offers burgers, chicken tenders and pizza. Fans may have to search a little to find their desired items, but the quality is worth the effort.
Fans looking for healthier alternatives will find wraps, sandwiches and salads at the Market Fresh Deli stand. Items such as turkey burgers and Kosher hot dogs can be found throughout all stands as well.
Several portable stands are open to augment the menu. Food carts offer items such as nachos, Friendly’s Ice Cream, Kayem hot dogs and assorted snacks.
Pepsi products are featured at Gillette Stadium. Fans looking for adult beverages can choose from several national and international brands, including Bud Light, Coors, Shock Top, Heineken, Guinness and Bass Ale. Many fans will seek out the popular Beers of New England stand, which features local microbrewed favorites from Sam Adams, Harpoon, Long Trail and Allegash Breweries.
Be warned that you will be paying NFL prices for concessions here at Gillette Stadium.
One commonly heard complaint about the gameday atmosphere at Gillette Stadium is that even when there is a solid crowd of 20,000 here for a UMass game, any energy generated is swallowed up by the sheer enormity of the facility. For Minutemen games, the entire upper deck of Gillette Stadium is closed off, along with portions of the lower deck. The large empty spaces do indeed put a damper on things here.
With Gillette Stadium’s location 92 miles from UMass’ campus in Amherst, it’s amazing that so many students make the trek east. Still, the student section remains only half filled. Despite the best efforts of the marching band, cheerleaders, dance squad and stadium personnel, 50,000 empty seats tend to minimize any noise and energy generated here.
Any long time visitor to Gillette Stadium and its predecessor, Foxboro Stadium can tell you what a wasteland the area around the Stadium used to be. That began to change in 2007 with the development of Patriot Place, an open air shopping center and entertainment venue located on the former site of Foxboro Stadium.
Today Patriot Place consists of dozens of retail stores, over a dozen restaurants, entertainment venues including a bowling alley, theater, and concert venue, a nature trail, cranberry bog, four star hotel, outpatient health care center, and the Patriots Hall of Fame.
Fans coming to Gillette Stadium for a Minutemen game who do not wish to partake in the tailgating scene can choose from eateries ranging from the upscale (Davio’s Steakhouse, Twenty 8 Food and Spirits), to national chains (Red Robin, Five Guys Burgers). Choices run the gamut here, from American fare (CBS Scene, Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill), to fine seafood (Skipjacks, Blue Fin Lounge), to sports bars and night clubs (Bar Louie).
If you would like to enjoy some shopping before the game, the stores at Patriot Place do not focus solely on sporting goods as you might expect from a mall located at a football stadium. In addition to the dozens of stores here, the Showcase Cinema de Lux shows first run movies in their theaters, Showcase Live contains a 16,000 square foot concert hall, and Splitsville is a combination bowling alley/restaurant/night club. With Patriot Place remaining open after games, fans are not obligated to leave immediately after the conclusion of the game.
While Gillette Stadium’s “neighborhood” may not be an organic one, everything you need or want can be found there. You can’t ask for much more than that.
Despite initial projections, fans just have not flocked to Gillette Stadium as the administration had hoped. Over the five years that UMass played in Foxboro, the team averaged about 13,000 fans per game. The two hour drive from Amherst, the longest distance between any campus and home stadium in the country, has limited attendance in a major way, as has the team’s lack of success since moving up to FBS.
On the plus side, those students who travel the two hours to see the Minutemen play really want to be there, and are enthusiastic in their support of the home team.
Any local football fan can tell you about the nightmarish traffic at Gillette Stadium for Patriots games and concerts. Fortunately for UMass football fans, getting to and from Gillette for Minutemen games is much easier. Gillette Stadium is located on Route 1, a four lane highway near the intersection of interstates 95 and 495. The legendary traffic jams for Patriot games here are not an issue with the smaller Minutemen games. The 16,500 parking spaces surrounding the stadium are more than enough to handle a typical UMass crowd.
Once fans arrive at the stadium, they will enjoy plenty of room to tailgate, wide and well-marked pedestrian walkways leading to both the stadium and Patriot Place, and nicely manicured grounds. For fans who can recall the old dirt parking lots and cold metal bleachers of the old Foxboro Stadium, this is a different world, indeed.
Fans will enter Gillette Stadium through one of three entry plazas. The two entry plazas on the west side of the stadium deposit fans on the main concourse above the 100 level seats. The third entrance is located by the Patriots Hall of Fame, and fans entering here will find themselves at the base of the bridge and lighthouse. Ramps lead up from here to the 100 level concourse.
The 100-level concourse completely encircles the field and is more than wide enough to handle traffic for the typical Minutemen crowd. Lines at concession stands and restrooms are manageable, even during halftime.
Return on Investment 3
Tickets for UMass games at Gillette Stadium cost $25 for all seats. Fans wanting a more upscale experience can purchase seats in the Putnam Club for $50. Parking for Minutemen games is free. Fans used to the high NFL and concert prices at Gillette Stadium will be very pleasantly surprised.
Unfortunately, if purchasing concessions during a UMass game, you will be paying NFL prices for food and beverages.
An extra point is awarded for the opportunity to catch some big time college football in a state of the art facility, a rarity in this part of the country. UMass’ presence at Gillette gives fans who cannot afford to come to Patriots games a chance to experience this stadium.
A second extra point is awarded to the diehard fans who travel two hours each way to cheer on their favorite team.
Gillette Stadium is a fine facility, one that annually finishes in the top ten of Stadium Journey’s rankings of all NFL facilities. It’s simply too big and too far from the UMass campus in Amherst to be a viable home for the Minutemen. For the 2017 season UMass will play all of their home games at the on campus McGuirk Stadium, and going forward will only play marquee games at Gillette.