Fans coming to The Swamp for Florida’s home opener Saturday afternoon will notice changes in and around the stadium.
The additions, ranging from new electronic LED Ribbon Boards to food trucks parked outside, are designed to enhance the fan experience in an evolving college football marketplace.
“It’s a different generation and just a different time, a different era,” Florida associate athletic director for internal affairs Laird Veatch said. “You are competing with the living room and the high-definition, large-screen TVs and a bathroom right around the corner, a refrigerator right next to you.”
Veatch was hired from Kansas State University in May to replace longtime former associate athletic director Chip Howard to help oversee the development of UF’s facilities. The move to add the Daktronics 15-millimeter high-definition LED Ribbon Boards above the north and south end zones was in the works before his hire date. The boards will display game clock information, down and distance, statistics and scores from other games. Florida paid for the boards and other stadium improvements with the $6 million it received for appearing in the AdvoCare Classic in Arlington, Texas, against Michigan.
In addition, the wing walls inside the stadium have been updated to display UF’s conference and national titles. The southeast corner will display the national championships, while the northwest corner will show the SEC titles. The northeast corner will display the phrase “This is … Gator Country” and the southwest corner will show “This is … The Swamp.” Each wing wall will feature back-lit lettering.
The stadium upgrades would have been more pronounced had Florida opened the season at night, as scheduled. But due to the threat of Hurricane Irma, UF canceled its game against Northern Colorado. The stadium suffered only minor damage from the storm.
“It’s more activity, it’s more information and I think our eyes and our day-to-day lives are used to that nowadays,” Veatch said. “So I think really from an energy standpoint, particularly in the night games, combined with the wing walls, there’s more light.”
Another stadium upgrade is a nursing suite for nursing mothers or women bottle-feeding children. The female-only space is located between Gates 15 and 16. Men who are bottle-feeding children are permitted in the suite’s lobby, with chairs available. The suite will be staffed with an attendant from the UF Pharmacy School or a Gator Guest Services game day ambassador at all times.
A major new fan initiative is the Gator Walk Village, a premium tailgate set up along the Gator Walk route on the North Lawn between University Avenue and Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The 14 shaded tents set up along the route will provide a turnkey tailgating experience that includes bellhop service, catering and beverage, televisions and parking. Fans also will be able to enjoy food truck dining options before each game around the area.
The Bubba Burger Gator Fan Fest will continue outside Gate 2 at the O’Connell Center, in which corporate partners will provide games and giveaways for fans. Both tailgate areas are designed to get fans closer to the stadium before kickoff.
“For people who don’t necessarily have a parking spot, they can tailgate close to the stadium with a turnkey operation,” said Mike Hill, Florida associate athletic director of external affairs.
Attracting younger fans who want to stay digitally connected during sporting events remains a priority as well. Florida has recalibrated the Wi-Fi system within the bowl area of the stadium to make it more efficient and replaced most of the existing antennas on the stadium with upgraded ones. There are 14 charging stations throughout the stadium for fans to power up digital devices.
“Connectivity is really important, not just for the fan experience, but just operationally, as well as we all rely on our cellphones,” Hill said. “Every year, for the past few years, we have worked with the university to enhance and improve our distributed antenna system. It’s gotten better and better every year.”
Here’s some other information for fans, of note, heading into Saturday’s opener:
• West University Avenue will be closed to vehicular traffic between 17th and 22nd streets, three hours before game time until two hours after it ends.
• For fan safety purposes, UF will continue to have a clear bag policy for the 2017 football season. Bags allowed inside the stadium include clear plastic, vinyl or PVC bags that do not exceed 12-by-6-by-12 inches (A logo no larger than 4.5 inches-by-3.4 inches can be displayed on one side of a permissible clear bag), 1-gallon clear, resealable plastic storage bags, small clutch bags no larger than 4.5 inches-by-6.5 inches, approximately the size of a hand, with or without a handle or strap and medically necessary items (after proper inspection).
• Heat initiatives will be in place, including misting stations located throughout Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, free cups of ice and cooling buses outside Gates 2 and 13. The Comfort Temp Chill Zone at Alligator Alley at the west concourse between Gates 1 and 4 will provide an air-conditioned area to cool down. There also will be 5,000 cooling towels distributed at Fan Fest prior to the game. Florida Lottery will have 20,000 hand fans to pass out at select gates. In addition, fans are permitted to bring one commercially branded empty plastic water bottle, no larger than 20 ounces, into the stadium. There are 12 water bottle refill stations throughout Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Complimentary sunscreen will be available at guest service kiosks at Gates 2,7 and 16.
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Brockway’s blog at Gatorsports.com.