Back in the day, and in this case we’re not talking about all that long ago, the gameday experience in The Swamp consisted of, well, the game.
The game and what came with it — tailgating, cheerleaders, the band, Mr. Two Bits and “We Are the Boys.”
Now, the gameday experience at Florida is so much more than just the game.
Things started changing when Urban Meyer came along and created the popular Gator Walk in 2005. Since then, the gameday experience in and around The Swamp has grown to the point that it is a day-long (or night-long) event.
The game is still the centerpiece, of course, but there’s a lot more stuff going on to engage and entertain the fans before and during games.
“We talk a lot about creating and having fun,” UF Athletic Director Scott Stricklin said. “That’s really important. We want to have fun and we want to create a lot of fun for our fans, make it more than just coming to see the Gators play. Watching the team is kind of the tent pole of gameday. We want all the other stuff around it to make it more than a game and to make it be a really fun event that gives people the desire to come to campus as often as they can.
“You try to make it where there is something for everyone. We have a diverse fan base, people from a lot of different places, a lot of different backgrounds. We want to create something that everybody can enjoy and understand they’re all kind of connected through the love of the Gators.”
Here’s a look at what The Swamp experience is offering this season:
Gator Walk Village and Swamp Head Tailgate
The lawn outside the north end of the stadium used to be for reserved parking. Now, the only things parking there on gamedays are food trucks, a music stage, stands to buy drinks (adult and otherwise) and 18 shaded tents put up by Tailgate Guys.
The Gator Walk runs right through this area, so it’s a chance for the fans to welcome the team, then stay right there and tailgate. The Official Swamp Head Tailgate, where fans over 21 can buy beer and other drinks, opens three to four hours before kickoff and closes 45 minutes before the game starts.
The food truck options include Soup To Nuts, Mayflower Cellars, Cilantro Tacos, Kona Ice, Monsta Lobsta, B’z Gelati, Rollincq Smoke BBQ, Churros & Cream, Fat Tiki Island Flair, Huck’s Grill Shack, Big Lee’s Barbecue, Eim Thai Food, Cora’s Kitchen and Papa Pineapple.
Participating vendors vary each week and open roughly 2½ hours before kickoff. The opening day vendors are Kona Ice, Monsta Lobster, Churros & Cream, Rollin Smoke BBQ, B’z Gelati, Soup to Nuts, Fat Tiki Island Flair and Cora’s Kitchen.
A stage will be set up adjacent to the Swamp Head Tailgate, where a local band will play live music each game. The bands include Kasson (Saturday), Driveaway (Sept. 21, Tennessee), Savants of Soul (Sept 28, Towson) and Austin Hunter (Oct. 5, Auburn). Bands for the Vanderbilt and FSU games will be announced later.
As part of the Gator Walk this season, UF will honor some of its past championship teams (football and other sports) with a “Championship Parade” just before the Gators arrive for their entrance into the stadium. Details are still being worked out.
Official Gator app
This is something that’s brand new to The Swamp. UAA and VenueNext have partnered to create an app that allows fans to connect to their Ticketmaster account and store their tickets on their phone. They also can make concession purchases on the app and then pick up their items in an express line.
UF students also will have the ability to access their tickets on the mobile app, which means they no longer have to stand in line to pick up their tickets earlier in the week.
The Florida Gators App also features a digital scrapbook for recording games attended. It has schedules, records and game information dating back to 1990.
The five-page app will include Gator news and team information, gameday information, tickets, personal account details and Swamp Stats.
UF plans to expand the capability of the app to Exactech Arena in 2020 and the new Florida Ballpark in 2021.
Bull Gator Zone availability
For the first time, UF is offering fans who are not major donors a chance to buy tickets on the Bull Gator Zone, which has added 32 new loge box seats and 12 new club seats.
Single game tickets for the sports bar-themed deck range from $450 (UT Martin, Tennessee, Towson and Vanderbilt) to $500 (Auburn and FSU). Fans can get a group rate for 10 or more people of $375 and $400. Season tickets are also available for $380 per game with a $3,000 per seat contribution.
The renovated area includes new flooring, lighting, televisions, drink rails where customers can stand and enjoy a beverage, shuffleboard tables and Xbox stations.
Gators Food Patio
Once again, the patio will be set up by Gate 1, just outside the main concourse.
The food options include Gator BTW, Jersey Mike’s, Sonny’s BBQ and Moe’s Southwest Grill. The stands will remain open until midway through the third quarter.
Before the game, fans again will be able to participate in activities between Gates 1 and 4, including face painting and photo opportunities with Albert and Alberta and UF’s championship trophies.
UF officials are considering having current and former Gator athletes available in the area for signing autographs.
Inside The Swamp
Once inside the stadium, fans will notice other changes.
There are new concessions options and the Wi-Fi capability has been expanded and strengthened. Additionally, The Swamp should be louder than ever now that UF has tuned the sound system and expanded its coverage.
In Saturday’s opener against UT Martin, George Edmondson, the legendary Mr. Two Bits who died in July, will be honored and his family members will do the traditional cheer before kickoff.
Getting to the game
With limited available parking in and around campus, fans can park and ride to the game via RTS buses.
There are now six locations where fans can park and ride — Oaks Mall, Hilton University of Florida Conference Center, the Village Center in Haile Plantation, Tioga Town Center, Celebration Pointe and the Downtown Parking Garage.
The cost is $10 per game or $50 for the season. Service is offered from three hours before kickoff, with return shuttles beginning in the fourth quarter.