The guys building Birmingham’s new hillside stadium are so proud of their work that they invited me into the job-site recently to take a look around.
Was this supposed to happen? Not sure, and don’t care. Was it worth it? Friends, I can confirm: this place is going to be revolutionary for the city.
Seeing it all come together from the new bridge is one thing. It looks great from there, but that vantage point just doesn’t fully capture what Protective Stadium is about. When you walk through the pavilion area on the north side of the stadium, and look down into the field level dug into the mountain, the importance of it all comes into focus.
Birmingham is about to have one of the more unique stadiums in the country for live sports. Put simply, this is a place where you’re going to want to be. It is inspiring and different and retro cool with a modern vibe. At 47,100 seats around a sunken field that’s surrounded by the city’s skyline, the view from anywhere in the stadium will be captivating.
UAB football went from death to this in five years. It still doesn’t make sense.
And the videoboard above the south side of the stadium, as UAB athletics director Mark Ingram noted last week, “is almost as wide as the field itself.” The stadium’s footprint is already flanked by Uptown, Top Golf and Legacy Arena, but there is room for the city to grow on the north side above it all. It will.
Take a bow, stadium and city planners. This rock in the hill is a gem, and my hope is that it brings Birmingham together in a way it has never known.
“We want this to be a social event where everyone wants to be,” Ingram said.
Everyone being the key word there.
Protective Stadium is smart and easy and its aesthetic matches the city’s energy. Like a beautiful city park, it is open and inviting and yet right on top of the action. It’s almost more perfect than it deserves to be, and, let me just say for the people who know the history of the struggle over that land, a dome would have been so stupid.
Due to the pandemic and the bridge construction, I don’t think people fully realize what they’re about to have right in the middle of the city. Enormous stadiums are on the way out. Birmingham is building college football’s future, and you’d be lying if you knew exactly where that was going from here.
In the immediate future, we know that game days are about to be really fun for UAB fans. The Blazers are the first tenant of the house that Bill Clark promised and helped deliver, and their season-ticket holders can begin selecting their seats in April. They’re priced so affordably that it almost feels like stealing.
Protective Stadium can’t just be for the Blazers, though, and that’s important to understand. This stadium is for everyone. The Magic City Classic is still tied to Legion Field, but it would obviously be one of the most incredible neutral-site games in the country if it moved downtown.
Protective Stadium is also perfect for pro and international soccer. MLS teams around the country would be envious of Birmingham Legion FC if it grew into a soccer club that could pack this new palace. For now, imagine Three Sparks hosting Atlanta United or Nashville SC in the U.S. Open Cup at Protective Stadium. Or what about an exhibition match against new friends Birmingham City FC? Make it happen.
Don’t dream small dreams. Birmingham needs a major pro team for this stadium because it’s that nice and this city is ready to believe.
As for UAB football, Protective Stadium is something more than a game-changer. The Blazers can now grow into a perennial Top 25 team, and there’s no doubt about it. This stadium is nicer than anything in the American Athletic Conference. Start there. Take it here: schools like Miami and Pitt would kill for a home like this.
After visiting Protective Stadium, I now understand why 12 seniors on last season’s UAB conference championship team, including all of the starting offensive linemen and quarterback Tyler Johnston III, are returning for another year of college ball. They walked into the new home of the Blazers and they knew in their hearts they simply had to be a part of it.
The AAC would be lucky to have UAB at this point.
That was my first reaction after the construction workers waved me through temporary fencing, and I walked into a piece of Birmingham’s future for the first time. A different set of stadium builders then eyed me down, and for a second I thought maybe they didn’t want me on the job-site. It wasn’t that, though. They were just waiting for my reaction.
My eyes were the size of half dollars, and my heart was in my chest.
First thought: every seat feels closer to the field than the best seats of any stadium I’ve ever visited.
Second thought: This is a cliffside lair for dragons, and the fire within smolders.