Photos by Lloyd Brown, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71
Protective Stadium 2100 Richard Arrington Jr. Boulevard North Birmingham, AL 35203
Year Opened: 2021
UAB Blazes A Path To Its New Home
The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) has seen a meteoric rise in enrollment and programs since it opened as an autonomous university in the University of Alabama System in 1969. The school now has an enrollment of more than 22,000 students and is probably best known for its medical school and allied health programs. It is centrally located in downtown Birmingham and is one of the main economic engines for Birmingham/Jefferson County.
The school’s athletic programs got an even later start than the academic side of the school as it did not field a football team until 1991. The Blazers have played at the storied Legion Field since their inaugural season, but the stadium had deteriorated greatly over the last few seasons due to a lack of funding for its upkeep.
Oddly enough it took a shutdown of the football program from 2014-2017 to reenergize the school and the community behind bringing the sport back and committing the resources necessary to make the program competitive and the general income for the athletic department to support other Blazer sports. Building a suitable home for the football program near the downtown campus of UAB was seen as a central need for both the school and the community at large.
In the past few seasons, the UAB Blazers have won several championships in Conference USA and done well in bowl games. This has all provided a strong lead into the first season in their brand-new home at Protective Stadium in downtown Birmingham. The $174 million stadium’s naming rights, went to Protective Life Corporation, a large insurance company based in Birmingham. It occupies a very visible piece of land next to the interstates that connect in downtown Birmingham, and the stadium scoreboard/video board is visible to drivers as they pass by. The stadium has a capacity of 47,100 and is built in a way that will allow for enlargement in future years.
Food & Beverage 4
The new stadium provides a variety of food concessions that reflect the Southern palate. The first of these, The Crossroads Chicken, provides a menu of Trash Wings ($15), a chicken tenders basket ($12), and Buffalo Cauliflower ($10). The Sloss Smokehouse BBQ offers up a menu of a pulled pork sandwich w/chips ($11) and their famous Sloss dog ($7). Corncob sausages ($11) and bacon burgers ($15) can be found at the Bridges Café. All the above stands carry hot dogs ($5), pretzels ($5), nachos ($5), popcorn ($4), and candy ($4).
Protective Stadium sells Coca-Cola brand sodas in both bottles ($6) or a souvenir cup ($7). Bottled water and teas are available at $5.
Protective Stadium does sell alcoholic beverages. The best selection can be found at the Lady Electra’s concessions area. They sell Miller brand domestic beers ($9), as well as such craft beers as Back 40, Truck Stop Honey, Avondale AOK, Good People, and Cahaba, which each cost $10. A house cocktail is $9, while a premium cocktail runs $13. Wine is available by the glass for $9.
Protective Stadium has provided ample space both inside and outside the stadium for students and fans to gather. The outside plaza is designed to handle the tailgating portion of the fan base, while the South Terrace atop the field level seats and beneath the scoreboard at the southern end of the stadium is designed as an in-game place for fans to meet up and socialize. This is a very popular amenity, especially for the student body at the inaugural game.
The school opens Blazer Village four hours before kickoff. This pregame area acts as a gathering point for interactive games, performances by both the UAB cheerleaders and the UAB band, and a team store to buy Blazer merchandise before the game. It is located at the eastern end of the Uptown Entertainment District.
One new tradition that has been introduced as a prelude to each home game is the Blazerwalk. This involves the members of the football team, the cheerleading squad, the dance team, and the UAB marching band. The walk begins on the far side of the Uptown district, with the cheer squads, dance team members, and the band forming a cordon for the players to walk through as they head across the plaza into their new stadium quarters. This procession has the effect of firing up the fans as well as the players just before game time.
One interesting element of the design of the stadium is the amount of room dedicated on the home side of the field to a multi-level building housing the suites and stadium club facilities. There are only 33 rows of seats on the home side of the field. In the meantime, the visitor’s side of the stadium has 66 rows of seating, with both a lower and upper deck. The UAB student section and UAB band are both relegated to the corners of the south end zone in the corners. It just seems counterintuitive to have a majority of your fan base sitting on the visitors’ side of the field.
However, Conference USA is so geographically spread out that the designers anticipate the turnout will be small from the opposing school, so they are directed to the side of the field with the least amount of seating. Beyond that, Protective Stadium offers excellent sightlines for fans in any area of the stadium.
Protective Stadium is located in the Uptown Entertainment District of Birmingham. The district features the following restaurants: Cantina Laredo, Texas de Brazil, Mugshots Grill and Bar, Southern Kitchen and Bar, and Todd English P.U.B.
The Birmingham/Jefferson County Convention Center next door holds concerts in its Legacy Arena and plays are produced in the venue’s theatre. The Alabama Sports Hall of Fame is located across the street from the venue and is well worth a visit on game days. It is amazing how many storied athletes from all types of sports have ties to the state.
The Blazer fan base is thrilled to finally have a stadium of their own. The days of searching side streets and places to tailgate around Legion Field are now in the past. The seating, whether it is simply bench seating or bench back seating, is still more comfortable than the rusty seating of the past.
One of the main reasons football returned to UAB after the program was discontinued was the outcry from its fan base. They raised the money privately to get the program restarted and they were also a leading force in pressuring the university and the city of Birmingham to work together on a downtown stadium that will provide longtime benefit to both the school and the city as it can host major concerts and the World Games in 2022.
It is not hard to identify a Blazers fan on game days. They are all wearing the green and gold colors of the school. They have been very happy with the recent performance of the team and are loud when the home team scores or makes a good play. They do show true Southern hospitality towards fans from the opposition, who often come from very disparate regions of the country.
Protective Stadium is easily accessible due to its central location at the confluence of I-20/59 and I-65. The stadium is visible from the interstates. UAB’s main campus is close by, and students can either walk to the stadium or take shuttle busses from the campus to the games
UAB has worked with several businesses in the downtown area to allow the use of their parking decks for game parking on Saturdays when the businesses are closed. This is a win/win situation as UAB does not have to build parking structures and the businesses are financially compensated for the use of their lots.
Once at the stadium, accessibility is excellent. There is a large plaza at one end of the stadium where the pregame Blazer Village is set up. The gates to the stadium open 60 minutes before the kickoff leaving a wide window of time for people to enter the stadium at their convenience. The three main gates are located at the south, northeast, and northwest sections of the stadium. The stadium design is unique in that it is built into the side of a hill. At the southern end of the stadium, you will take a set of rampways to get you to any level of seating. If you enter at the north end of the stadium, you basically will come in at the main concourse level, with little or no elevation change.
Getting to your seat is not a problem as the press box side of the stadium only has 33 rows of seating and, the opposite side has 66 rows but is broken up by entrance portals midway up in the stands. One very pleasant design element we noticed in the bleacher seating is that the space allocated for your feet; a person entering or leaving your row can easily pass without your having to stand up or pull your feet tightly under your seat. What you lose in the number of total seats, you add to the comfort level of the individual fan.
Return on Investment 4
A game at Protective Stadium is not going to cost you an arm and a leg. Ticket prices start as low as $20 a game. Parking prices vary depending on how far the lot is from the stadium. Parking lots charge between $10-$15 a game. Conference USA member teams come from diverse areas of the country and usually will require overnight accommodations. They will find that lodging in Birmingham is significantly cheaper than in most large cities. Lodging rates are often below $100 a night even in the nicest hotels in town. UAB fans from out of town can usually just come for the day, as the major interstates in the state of Alabama intersect only blocks from the stadium.
Protective Stadium was built on several commercial parking lots, no housing was destroyed to build the facility. It is intended to be a major piece in the redevelopment of downtown Birmingham. Other elements of this plan include Regions Field, the Railroad Park, the Uptown Entertainment District, a major renovation of Legacy Arena, and a linear park that is presently under construction that will tie all these attractions together. Protective Stadium will host the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2022 World Games.
The enthusiastic support of the UAB student body, UAB alumni, and the Birmingham civic and business communities have brought the Blazers football program from the abyss. Their reward for their loyalty is a program that has won several Conference USA titles and now has a shiny new stadium to play in. Protective Stadium will be a great asset to both the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the city of Birmingham as a whole.