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  • Writer's pictureDavid Welch

Protective Stadium - Birmingham Legion FC

Photos by David Welch, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.43

Protective Stadium 1020 24th St N Birmingham, AL 35203

Year Opened: 2021

Capacity: 47,100

Protective Stadium - Birmingham Legion FC

Birmingham has long been known for their deep history of American football. With the University of Alabama an hour to the west and Auburn University two hours to the south, there is no denying Alabama’s love of the sport. What flies under the radar though is the city of Birmingham’s passion for the international version of football, better known in the States as soccer.

Food & Beverage 4

Stadium concessions can often be a constant rehash of the same thing from stadium to stadium – burgers, dogs, chicken fingers, and nachos. The food available at Protective Stadium for Birmingham Legion matches provides fans with all the stadium constants but provides a much wider variety.

By bringing in several food trucks, the typical stadium choices have been expanded to include Italian-Mexican fusion creations of Ruscelli’s, who serve pizza-inspired tacos and quesadillas. In addition, Wasabi Juan's takes their spin on Japanese-Mexican fusion with sushi-styled nachos and raw and cooked burritos. Those with a sweet tooth have freshly made donuts from Chicks N Donuts, or the ever-popular shaved ice.

Choices of alcohol are also plentiful; beers from Yuengling, Miller Light, Coors Light, Michelob Ultra, and Modelo are available, along with local craft brews Cahaba Brewing Company Blonde and Trim Trab Pale Ale. White Claw seltzers and several pre-mixed, canned, and hand-mixed cocktails are also available.

Atmosphere 3

As with most soccer clubs, the game on the pitch is the focus of the match – there is not a lot by way of in-game entertainment while the match is going on, but pregame entertainment does make use of a game host to introduce pregame recognitions and give the fan a look at food and apparel stands around the concourse.

At a capacity of 47,100 Protective Stadium is by far the largest stadium in the league, more than twice the size of the 20,000-seat Riccardo Silva Stadium. There is no denying the beauty of Protective Stadium, and the 18,000 to 20,000 fans for US Open Cup matches or during rivalry games with the MLS’ Atlanta United makes sense, but the atmosphere of the match seems to be swallowed up for league matches of 5,000 to 6,000 fans in such a large venue.

Before moving to Protective Stadium, the Legion played on the campus of the University of Alabama-Birmingham's PNC Field. At a capacity of 5,000 seats, the size is more appropriate, but the college stadium lacks the professional feel that this level deserves. Short of a soccer-specific stadium being built, Protective Stadium is the best option for professional soccer in Birmingham.

In all, Protective Stadium beautifully pairs with the adjoining development to provide all fans who might need to make a full day of attending a Legion match.

Neighborhood 4

Protective Stadium is part of the larger "eat-stay-play" development in uptown Birmingham. The development provides all a fan might need without having to leave the area. Uptown consists of 6 to 8 restaurants, the Westin Hotel, a dog park, and pickleball courts. Much of this is located under the interstate bridges that pass just feet from the surrounding parking decks.

For fans wanting to make a full day of activities before a match; Top Golf is directly across the street from the northeast end of the stadium, while the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame is just to the west. If looking for other sporting events around the same time, the Birmingham Squadron plays at Legacy Arena, located less than a half-mile from Protective Stadium; the Squadron will be finishing up its season in March as the Legion is just getting theirs underway. Birmingham is also well known for its long history of minor league baseball, and the AA Birmingham Barons of the Southern League play from April through September.

Fans who love sports history, especially that of Negro League baseball, will want to make two locations a high priority on any visit to Birmingham, one being Rickwood Field, the oldest professional baseball park and one-time home of the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro Leagues. The Black Barons fielded a young Satchel Paige from 1927-1930 and a teenage Willie Mays in the 1940s.

Fans 3

Soccer is a sport in which the atmosphere is often dictated by the involvement and fervor of the club's supporters. Like any successful soccer club, supporters set the tone of the match. The Legion's crew, the Magic City Brigade, start their preparations for match day well before the stadium opens for fans to enter. On weekends, close to five hours before match time, members of the Brigade begin setting up a small collection of tents in the southernmost corner of the parking lot adjacent to Protective Stadium for a tailgate.

Inside Protective Stadium the Magic City Brigade occupies sections 135-138, behind the north end goal. Supporters beat drums and wave flags throughout the match as other members lead chants, and even dress as Legion-themed luchadores in support of their club. A strong group of supporters can go a long way in creating a fun atmosphere for soccer.

The unfortunate thing is despite the efforts of the Magic City Brigade, though their passion runs high, their numbers only run 50-100 per game. There is much potential to build on the Brigade's passion, but they just do not have the numbers at this time to help their enthusiasm spread around the stadium to other fans.

Access 4

Given Protective Stadium’s location in Birmingham, getting there is rather easy. Those driving to town will see Protective Stadium directly off the Interstate 20-59 ramp, and fans flying in will find themselves less than 5 miles away. Many of the hotels in the area provide a shuttle from the airport, so those flying into Birmingham for a match have an easy time getting in and out of the area.

Parking can be found all around the stadium. There are also a handful of parking garages on the southern side of the stadium, but getting out of parking garages following the game can be challenging. No matter the parking lot, prices range from $20 to $25. Limited street parking is available, however, free of charge for weekend matches.

Half of the stadium is closed off during Legion matches, so most fans are directed to the southern entrance across from the Uptown district to enter the stadium – fans are funneled to the multi-tiered switchback ramp to access the main level concourse that runs above the seating.

Return on Investment 3

At face value, tickets are well priced at $10 for general admission tickets at the north end of the stadium, and $17 for reserved seats along the western sideline. Where the issue comes in is that with tickets being sold through Ticketmaster, there is nearly a 70% markup on the face value of general admission tickets after fees, so the $10 ticket ends up costing closer to $17. The same 70% service fee markup applies to reserved seats also.

The price for tickets does not make attending a match cost-prohibitive, but it is a bit disappointing there is such a markup from a third party.

Extras 3

The Legion makes a concerted effort to positively impact the community which they represent. Throughout the season the team puts on youth clinics, recognizes the communities that are their biggest supporters, and honors those who make a difference in the lives of those in Birmingham through the Legion’s “99 Community Heroes” program.

Legion players go out of their way to make sure to interact with young fans at field level as they exit the pitch following pregame warmups. While seemingly a minor gesture, these interactions go miles in the eyes of young fans.

In one of the most fan-friendly parts of the evening, at the end of the match fans are allowed to come down onto the pitch to meet their heroes. Fans line up for photos, autographs, or just to pay their favorite player a compliment on the match.

Final Thoughts

Despite the love affair the state of Alabama has with football, there is a strong niche soccer following as well. While an initial glimpse of the stadium might give the impression there is a lack of fans in the stands, much of this perception is a byproduct of the size of Protective Stadium itself; 5,000 fans can easily get lost in a stadium so large.

However, even with just a handful of aspects that might be considered drawbacks that might impact the overall atmosphere of a Legion match at Protective Stadium, the organization, the players, and their supporters create so many positives that it makes the drawbacks seem trivial.

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