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  • Writer's pictureDavid Welch

Protective Stadium - Birmingham Stallions



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


Giddy Up Birmingham

Tuscaloosa is not the only city celebrating recent championship victories in Alabama – Birmingham has also enjoyed success with the Birmingham Stallions, who won the United States Football League (USFL) titles in 2022 and 2023, the first two seasons after the league's revival.


The 2024 season would see a merger of competing spring football leagues, the USFL and the XFL, to create the United Football League (UFL). Both leagues had vied for spring football supremacy, but rather than compete for viewership, it made more sense for the two leagues to join forces as one.


While the UFL game at its core remains consistent with NFL and college football, the league has introduced rules that look to boost opportunities for explosive plays and for teams to score points. Notably, the extra points after touchdowns here do not involve a point-after-kick; instead teams can choose to go for 1 point from the 2-yard line, 2 points from the 5-yard line, or 3 points from the 10-yard line.


In addition, instead of onside kick opportunities, the team attempting to retain possession following a score can attempt a 4th-and-12 play from their own 28-yard line. Another unique rule allows the offense to throw two forward passes on a single play, provided the first pass does not cross the line of scrimmage.


Though the USFL and XFL disappeared as independent leagues when the merger happened, both leagues live on as conferences within the UFL – each conference is comprised of four surviving teams from their old league, and the teams still play for their old league’s championship trophy, but with the 2 winners facing off in the UFL Championship Game.

 

Food & Beverage   3

Stadium concessions often feel repetitive from one stadium to another – burgers, dogs, chicken fingers, and nachos. At Protective Stadium for Birmingham Stallions games, however, fans can find these standard options but with a bit more variety. Hot dogs are available in several variations, and nachos come with a range of different toppings. But while there's a decent variety of options, nothing really stands out as a must-have concession item that you can't find elsewhere.


Soft drinks are from the Coca-Cola family of beverages and alcohol choices are plentiful. Beers from Yuengling, Miller Light, Coors Light, Michelob Ultra, and Modelo are available, along with 2 local craft brews, Cahaba Brewing Company Blonde and Trim Trab Pale Ale. White Claw seltzers, Simply Spiked Lemonade, and several pre-mixed, canned, and hand-mixed cocktails can also be found.

 

Atmosphere   3

Protective Stadium was built above ground level, with the south end open to prominently display the Birmingham skyline. Even though the main scoreboard fills the openness of this end of the stadium, it does not impact the view of downtown. The multi-story press box, featuring two levels of suites and a lower level with premium food and drink access, rises high above the western side of the stadium.


Breaks in the action are filled with typical stadium promotions like ad reads, t-shirt tosses, on-field competitions, and various scoreboard features such as dance cams and air guitar contests. Fans seem to be engaged with these interactive promotions and features.


An unfortunate part of the game atmosphere is that, during UFL games here, fans are confined to one side of the stadium. While this helps concentrate the energy into one area, it creates a massive void throughout the rest of the stadium, and makes for some uncertainty about where fans can sit and which sections are off limits.


Although fans are passionate and can get loud, much of the excitement is lost in the stadium's emptiness – even with an announced attendance of 10,000, for example, it is not enough to compensate for the closed-off east side. In contrast, the D.C. Defenders benefit from using Audi Stadium, home of MLS's D.C. United, which has a capacity of 20,000 and is nearly 70% full each game. Each market must work with the venues available, but smaller venues closer to capacity can significantly enhance the overall game atmosphere.


 

Neighborhood   4

Protective Stadium is part of the larger "eat-stay-play" development called 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 looking for pre or postgame activities, a visit to Top Golf (directly across the street from the northeast gates of the stadium) may be of interest. Or for early kickoffs, an evening visit across town to Regions Field, home of the Birmingham Barons of the AA - Southern League, could be an option.


Fans who have a passion for sports history, especially that of Negro League baseball, will want to make two locations a high priority on any visit to Birmingham: Rickwood Field, the oldest professional baseball park and one-time home of the Birmingham Black Barons, and the Negro Southern League Museum, which is housed in one of the buildings beyond the left field confines of Regions Field. Admission to both is free.

 

Fans   3

Since the return of the Stallions, originally members of the USFL in the 1980s, attendance in Birmingham has generally been in the top half of the league, though that is still somewhat relative. Nevertheless, the fan support in Birmingham led to Protective Stadium being used as one of the two hub cities for the USFL 2023 season.


The most supportive of the fans come from the fan group, “The Horsemen”. This group of fans are stationed behind Birmingham’s bench, leading chants of “DEFENSE” and imploring others to make noise to help encourage the Stallions throughout the game. As the game progresses, fans begin to populate the lower section of the northern end zone, often taking off their shirts and twirling them overhead as rallying rags. What starts as a modest gathering often becomes a sizable crowd by the final minute of the game.



During the 2024 season, attendance was somewhat inconsistent. The Stallions ranked fourth in the league for attendance, with over 12,000 fans attending the opening game, and more than 14,000 showing up for the matchup versus the St. Louis Battlehawks, featuring the return of the University of Alabama’s national championship quarterback, A.J. McCarron. For other home games though, attendance fluctuated between 7,000 and just over 10,000 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 Interstate 20-59.


Parking is available around the stadium with garages to the west and south, and lots to the east and north. Limited free street parking is available since games are played on weekends, but securing one of those spots requires arriving very early.


Primary access points to Protective Stadium are located at the northeast and south ends of the stadium, with two lesser used entries on the west side of the stadium, in addition to the club entry. Since most parking is concentrated on the southern and western sides, the southern entry point near the Uptown district is most popular.


Those coming through the southern entrance across from the Uptown district are funneled onto the multi-tiered switchback ramp to access the main level concourse, which runs above the seating. Seating is limited to the press box side of the stadium only, so this does limit fans’ ability to traverse the entire stadium.

 

Return on Investment   4

Tickets start at $10, with an additional $1 fee, even when purchased directly from the box office. Considering the cost of attending NFL games, the low cost of tickets makes heading to a Stallions game appealing. Where things can get a bit pricy, though, are with parking fees and concessions. These costs are avoidable if you are willing to make a couple of sacrifices: arrive well before the gates open to find the free parking spots, and choose not to purchase food or drinks inside the stadium.

 

Extras   3

A large banner covers one of the upper-level seating areas marking Birmingham’s 2022 and 2023 USFL titles. Also commemorating the Stallions’ championship seasons is a piece of metal work that resembles the USFL trophy, located outside Protective Stadium’s southern entrance.



Following pre-game warmups, children ages 5-13 are invited onto the field to high-five the players as they head to the locker room.


The transparency of the replay system is a great way to give fans insight into the process of upholding or reversing calls – when a play is challenged, the replay official is shown on the stadium scoreboard, talking though the call in real time, until he renders a decision.

 

Final Thoughts

The UFL points to the late merger of the XFL and USFL as a significant challenge for attendance. The uncertainty of which markets would have teams affected their ability to fully promote their product.


For those needing their football fix before NFL training camps, the UFL is a decent alternative. The league has potential from a production standpoint to build upon, and for the NFL to take note of, especially with the replay system the UFL has in place.


The UFL is also entertaining from a competition standpoint; more than half of the 40 regular-season games in 2024 were decided by one score or less, ensuring competitive and compelling matchups.


In all, there is potential for the UFL to continue to grow in Birmingham, as long as the league continues to be a viable product where multiple markets can be successful.

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