A new stadium in Birmingham is coming and is fast approaching completion. Protective Stadium, expected to be completed later in 2021, will be Birmingham’s new home for UAB Football, Birmingham Legion FC, and more events. Located on a spot right next to Alabama’s largest hotel, The Sheraton, and the BJCC, the new stadium will be able to accommodate up to 45,000 spectators with the seating, grass lounge, club areas, and deck areas. Protective Stadium will effectively replace Birmingham’s original home of Birmingham sports, Legion Field.
Legion Field has certainly served Birmingham well since its opening in 1927, hosting a variety of sports including college football games (including most of the Iron Bowl games and UAB Football), professional football matchups, various soccer fixtures, and even concerts. It’s a storied ground, named in honor of veterans who have served in the United States armed forces. However, it was ultimately time to move on from Legion Field. For starters, the stadium has fairly recently started physically degrading, which has resulted in several sections of the stadium being completely roped off and unused for spectators. Second, parking is a nightmare. Parking decks were not on the table in 1927, so the game day parking around the stadium is very limited. Many fans, including my family and I at the 2015 Birmingham Bowl between Auburn and Memphis, are forced to park in the surrounding neighborhood of Ensley. Ensley also doesn’t have much to offer in terms of restaurants and entertainment, so the new location downtown will attract far more local revenue before, during, and after the game. Protective Stadium, located on Richard Arrington Jr Blvd, will be in an entertainment district with restaurants such as Mugshots and Texas de Brazil. Fans will be able to stroll to a nearby restaurant to celebrate their team’s big win rather than rush to beat the post-game traffic.
The $174 million stadium was funded by major partners such as UAB, the Jefferson County Commission, and the City of Birmingham. Protective Stadium was cunningly designed to obstruct as few views as possible, so fans can still see the action while they pick up food or sit at a lounge area. Interestingly, there isn’t official word yet on the choice of playing surface.
As with any major project such as designing and building a stadium, there are concerns. Some Birmingham residents are concerned about the lack of seating. Legion Field could seat over 70,000 people; Protective Stadium will seat at best 45,000. Others are more concerned about the fact that there are more seats on the away side than the home side, thanks to the significant presence of the press box and luxury boxes. They are afraid that this arrangement might discourage UAB Football ticket holders and UAB football fans in general from making their new home in Protective Stadium.
Even with the critique, there is much excitement in the air around this new stadium. Protective’s location, amenities, and accessibility will be hard to beat. Its services will be utilized plenty from UAB Football to Birmingham Legion FC to world-class concerts. 2020 may have been a particularly difficult year for all of us, but still, Birmingham will have one more thing to look forward to in 2021.