Photos by Chris Green, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.43
Raymond James Stadium 4201 N Dale Mabry Highway Tampa, FL 33607
Year Opened: 1998
College Football on the Bay
The college football experience in Florida provides fans many options. One of the more overlooked stops may very well be USF. Playing in a massive NFL stadium may have its disadvantages, but the fanbase more than makes up for what may be a detriment to the game day experience. The team has experienced highs and lows over the last few decades, but nonetheless offer a solid fan experience regardless of their record. The team’s annual War on I-4 rivalry matchup with UCF is arguably one of the best in college sports, and provides an excellent atmosphere for fans on both sides.
Food & Beverage 4
Being in an NFL Stadium has its perks, chief among them being the sheer quality and variety in the concessions available on game day. However, not all stands are open for USF games, which inherently will limit your options. With that said, whether you want your standard stadium fare like burgers, hot dogs, and nachos, or if you have a feeling for something a little different, like a fresh-pressed hot Cuban sandwich, you can find what you need at Raymond James Stadium. Prices are comparable to those at other sports venues, so expect to spend between $10-$15 per person for a main dish and drink.
The other added bonus at Raymond James Stadium is that the pirate ship end zone features an open-air plaza that gives you a great view of the playing field during the game, meaning you don’t have to worry about missing the next play while you are sitting down to eat.
Raymond James Stadium is your quintessential 1990s football stadium in general layout and construction. It features a lot of exposed concrete and generally lacks any real architectural features beyond the Bucs’ pirate ship. Nevertheless, the team has made the best of this without a need for extensive renovations.
The Tampa Bay Bucs branding is everywhere, from paint colors to logos and photos being displayed, which can take away from the USF college atmosphere. Even with some green accents added with temporary signs, it definitely feels like a stadium you’re renting more than a home field. The facilities are clean and easy to find thanks to the signage all over, however. Fans can also expect a generally comfortable experience here thanks to the palm trees in the end zone and the Florida feel of the small torches around the exterior of the stadium.
Raymond James Stadium itself is a bit removed from the downtown Tampa area. Thankfully, there are restaurants on the main drag nearby, but there is also an assortment of strip clubs and adult stores, making the drive into the stadium a bit of an interesting one to say the least.
For hotels, look to the Tampa Stadium Hotel or the Hilton Tampa Airport Westshore. For food, there is a popular Chili’s down the street, as well as a new Panera Bread. Also, a short drive from Raymond James Stadium is the Cigar City Brewing Company, where you can take tours of the brewery and sample locally made cigars. The Tampa International Plaza Mall is not far either.
The fans at USF games are loyal to their team. Much like the rest of Florida’s college football schools, students fill in the student section every game, regardless of the opponent. Locals have embraced USF as the local college team, but due to the sheer size of the stadium itself, rarely are able to take over their home field. When bigger teams visit, the split among home and away fans can easily be 50/50. Before the game starts, tailgating is always solid thanks to the good weather year-round. USF games are also full of families and younger fans thanks to the lower ticket prices.
To get to Raymond James Stadium you can take I-275 through the Tampa area. The main roads in and out of the stadium area are all multiple lanes wide, meaning traffic doesn’t get as congested as at other sports stadiums that only have one-lane roads. Parking on site is plentiful, as is the less expensive parking in various lots and properties around the area. Also, the gates are all open when the stadium opens, so fans are not forced into using just one or two of the gates to get in and out. Note that Raymond James Stadium now uses the commonly accepted Clear Bag Policy guidelines for those coming into the game.
Return on Investment 4
Ticket prices for USF Football are massively less than those for the Bucs, so fans can get an NFL stadium visit without the NFL price. With that said, prices start low enough to bring a large group or family without breaking the bank. Even reseller tickets online can be found for as low as $15 a piece. Add to this the variety of teams that visit USF, and you generally have a solid college football experience without paying big market prices.
The large Tampa Bay Bucs pirate ship located in the end zone of the stadium is ever present during USF games. While not accessible during USF games, you can still get up close to it when walking around. Games for USF also feature a pre-game run across the end zone with kids selected from the stands that follow the USF mascot. The team also features giveaways each game such as t-shirts and on-field games for prize packages.
Going to college football games in Florida is usually dominated by the bigger schools in the state. Don’t let that fool you, however, into thinking the smaller conference schools aren’t just as enjoyable – USF is a program that has experienced the ebb and flow of success over the years, but always enjoys a solid fanbase that flocks to a massive NFL stadium to watch their team play.