Kroger Field – Kentucky Wildcats
Photos by Lloyd Brown, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.43
Kroger Field 1540 University Dr Lexington, KY 40506
Year Opened: 1973 Capacity: 61,000
My New Kentucky Home
Kroger Field (formerly Commonwealth Stadium) has served as the home of Kentucky Wildcat football since 1973. The 61,000-seat facility is the newest stadium in the SEC, as judged by date of original construction. However, the University has been very proactive in keeping the stadium state-of-the-art, and recently completed a multi-year renovation costing nearly $120 million. This has dramatically improved the fan experience at a Wildcats game and has caused many locals to refer to the facility as the “New Commonwealth Stadium”. The changes are both cosmetic and functional. The exterior of the stadium has been recovered with a limestone surface native to Kentucky. Once inside, fans will notice much wider concourses and renovated concession and restroom facilities. Seating comfort has been greatly enhanced with the addition of bench back seating on the lower levels and 2,000 new club-level seats.
One major aspect of the renovation will have an impact on Kentucky football for years to come. Typically, Kentucky’s recruiting classes have been ranked in the 20s and 30s by Scout.com. The Kentucky program hopes to greatly improve this rating with the brand-new, multipurpose recruiting area in Kroger Field. This facility is a club-like facility above the end zone to entertain high school prospects and their families. It includes state-of-the-art technical facilities and will have graphics celebrating Kentucky’s football history. The facility also includes a patio to watch the game outside, and it will be located adjacent to the student section so recruits can get a feel for the college experience.
Food & Beverage 3
In addition to the brick-and-mortar changes made to the stadium and the concession areas, the vendors at Kroger Field have added a number of Kentucky-centric items to the menu. These items include bourbon ice cream, Hot Brown nachos, chicken and waffle cones, beef and cheddar croissants and Twisted Tators. A sampling of food prices at the concession stands includes: barbecue pork sandwich ($9), Cat Tail (bratwurst on a maple glazed long john $5), chicken sandwich ($9.50), nachos ($4), popcorn ($8), and eight-inch Papa John’s pizza ($7.50).
Drinks include large sodas ($5), Powerade ($4.50), and sweet or unsweet tea ($5). There is never a charge for water at Kentucky games.
While longtime season ticket holders and those who have attended Wildcat games frequently have seen these renovations occur gradually, someone who has been away from the program for a few years will feel like they are in a brand-new facility. In addition to the seating improvements, the field has been redone, a new press box has been erected and 20 more luxury suites have been added to the existing 40. The appearance of the stadium has also been enhanced to feature the UK brand more prominently. Instead of a bland functional silver bowl, there is now a blending of Kentucky’s dark blue color scheme into the stadium design, which fires up the Wildcat faithful even more. The previous video boards and message ribbons are still in place, but have been reconfigured to make them much more fan friendly to read.
The University of Kentucky is unique in the SEC (the other exception being Vanderbilt), in that it is not located in a strictly “college town.” Lexington has a population of more than 300,000 residents, and is the second-largest town in the state of Kentucky. It still maintains a small-town feel, but has the restaurants, attractions and nightlife found in bigger cities. The UK campus is located just south of the downtown area. Lexington and the Bluegrass Region surrounding it are known as the Horse Capital of the World for good reason. The city is surrounded by horse farms, and is home to two area horse racing tracks. Both Keeneland (thoroughbred racing) and the Red Mile (harness racing) offer racing schedules during October, so you can add a visit to the track to your sports agenda while in town for a game. One other equine-related attraction that is a “must-see” is the Kentucky Horse Park, located just east of the downtown area.
Another claim to fame for Lexington is its leadership as the Birthplace of Bourbon. There are numerous distilleries offering tours (and samples) in the Distillery District. Numerous craft distilleries have also opened their doors recently, including the Barrel House and the Town Branch Distilleries. For those preferring a different adult beverage, take the Brewgrass Trail to craft beer locations, such as Blue Stallion, Country Boy and Ethereal Brewing.
There are numerous restaurants of note within a short distance of Kroger Field. These include Crank and Boom, Sawyers and Joe Bologna’s Deli. The closest and most reasonably lodging near UK includes the Holiday Inn Express Downtown, the Hilton Lexington Downtown and the University Inn.
Wildcat fans tend to gravitate to two main areas before a game. These are the Wildcat Walk and the Coca-Cola Fan Zone. The Wildcat Walk occurs approximately two hours before kickoff, and takes place between Nutter Field House and the brand-new Kentucky football training facility. The Fan Zone opens three hours before kickoff, and includes musical entertainment, a pep rally, visits with the cheerleaders and the Wildcat mascot, and autograph sessions with greats from Kentucky’s past. One new addition to the fan experience inside Kroger Field are several graphics walls featuring scenes associated with the university and its athletic teams. These will provide an excellent backdrop for fans wanting to get a photo of their family or for selfies. In this way, the stadium will play an active role in promoting the UK brand through social media.
One of the goals of the renovation was to make the Wildcat football fans as fervent as their basketball brethren. This is a difficult challenge, as Kentucky has been a basketball school from the days of Adolph Rupp up to the current John Calipari era. Kentucky football averages around 56,000 fans at a game, but often times the crowd tends to thin out early if the game is out of reach on one side or the other. It is hoped that by providing a greatly enhanced fan experience, Kentucky fans will be tempted to give the “other” major sport on campus a closer look.
On football weekends the population of Lexington swells by more than 60,000 people. The main routes into town are via the Bluegrass Parkway, Broadway St and I-75. While the traffic is heavy once you are on city streets, the university has a well-conceived traffic control plan. Up-to-the-minute information is available at 1700 AM. As is true at most major college stadiums, the parking areas nearest the stadium are reserved for season ticket holders and major donors. For persons with single-game tickets, there are a number of parking options to choose from. Free, on-campus parking is available at lots #2 (near the WT Young Library), #3 (the Kentucky Clinic) or #6 (at the corner of Virginia and Press Avenues).
There are also shuttles available from downtown Lexington from the Shops@ Civic Center (430 West Vine) and the Lextran Transit Center (150 East Vine) The shuttles cost $5 roundtrip from downtown or $2 from the on-campus locations. The on-campus locations are within walking distance of Kroger Field and allow you to see much of the beautiful UK campus.
Once you reach the stadium, you will find it very easy to navigate. The recent renovations have greatly improved the gate entry process and the traffic flow on the concourses.
Return on Investment 3
The Wildcats use a tiered system for single-game ticket prices The prices range from $45 for a non-conference opponent to $60 for games involving an SEC opponent. Parking is free in on-campus lots 2, 3 and 6. The concessions are very reasonably priced, and Lexington-area restaurants and hotels offer a wide range of price points to meet any budget. There are a number of excellent attractions located nearby for pre or post-game entertainment. A trip to Bluegrass Country and a Kentucky Wildcat game adds up to a wonderful fall weekend at reasonable prices.
In this age, it is rare for anything to be provided free of charge. The University of Kentucky is to be commended for providing free game programs, free parking (in lots #2, 3 and 6) and free water at any concession stand in Kroger Field. These little touches make a big difference in providing an enjoyable fan experience. The Bluegrass Region offers a wide variety of horse-related activities, including race tracks, museums and tours of horse farms.
While in Lexington, a visit to Rupp Arena is required for any basketball fan. It ranks right up with Duke and Kansas in the hierarchy of NCAA college basketball shrines.