Camp Randall Stadium – Wisconsin Badgers
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During the Civil War, Camp Randall was a training camp for Union soldiers named after Governor Alexander Randall. Nearly 150 years later, Camp Randall plays host to much different battles in the form of Wisconsin Badgers football. The team has been playing at Camp Randall since 1895, so the field has been home of the Badgers since before it was a stadium. In 1917 concrete stands were built (after 3 sections of wooden ones collapsed in 1915) as the first of multiple upgrades, eventually making Camp Randall the 80,000+ seat stadium it is today.
A Badgers game is a unique experience for any college football fan. Wisconsin is a football-crazed state full of beer and brats, so it almost goes without saying that a fall Saturday in Madison is special. Camp Randall is packed between buildings and frat houses in the southern part of the city, giving it a very urban feel as you walk the streets past crowded parking lots and overflowing bars blasting music. Why not grab a brat and a frosty beverage and enjoy the scene?
Food & Beverage 3
If it wasn’t for the Johnsonville Brats stands, I’d rate Camp Randall lower on food and beverage. The standard concessions largely consist of nachos, hot dogs, pretzels, and peanuts, so don’t expect a heavy volume of unique menu options. If you’re travelling to Wisconsin for a game from far away, the Johnsonville Brats are the clear choice for a halftime snack. A standard hot dog will cost you about $3.50 while a “Game Day Dog” will run $6. Brats cost $5 and pretty much everything else on the menu ranges in the $3.50 to $6 range. Coke products are available in a souvenir cup for $4.50. Overall pricing is about average across the board, but the disappointment comes in the lack of signature Wisconsin foods onhand. The only real cheese option you’ll find here is on a burger or nachos.
When rocking, Camp Randall is clearly top notch for atmosphere, but there are a few things that led me to rate it down slightly. First off, the game experience feels backwards. Fans take a long time getting into the stadium (specifically the student section). I’ll address this a bit below under access, but Badgers fans will tell you the student section doesn’t fill up until after the first quarter. In my experience, it was much closer to halftime before the last seats were full. This has a little bit to do with the students showing up late, but also a lot to do with access to the stadium. Second, the rows are long and the seats are small (to say the least). This means you can expect a lot of in and out traffic in front of you during the game and you are going to definitely be wedged between your neighbor and yourself. Capacity at Camp Randall is higher than at bigger stadiums, and when you get into your seat on a sold out night you’ll quickly see why.
My final reason for marking the atmosphere down (shockingly to me) is the tailgate scene. Don’t get me wrong, tailgating here is outstanding. But the open container laws (do NOT walk the streets with a beer), and lack of large open lots means there are tailgates packed into small business parking lots and bars for miles around the stadium. When compared to the top tailgate settings in the country, this is to be a notch below.
So on to the good, and there is a lot of good. First off, the fans are great and the stadium can be flat out loud. When you pack 80,000 passionate fans into a relatively compact venue, what else would you expect? The student section is massive (once it arrives) and very engaged. The ES-FU chant (the university has been trying to ban this for years) is a sight to behold and “Jump Around” between the 3rd and 4th quarter belongs on any short list of college football traditions to behold.
The students are well-coordinated and cheer loudly. The speaker system was much too loud on my visit (often overshadowing the singing and cheering), but based on the fans reacting around me I’ll confidently say that isn’t normally the case.
The stadium itself has a historical feel to it that’s both charming and comfortable. Famous statues, old buildings, and frat houses are just yards away from the gates, adding a nostalgic feel around Camp Randall that just rings of community and pride.
Finally, the marching band is elite and does a great job of adding value to the gameday experience. The 5th quarter sees the marching band stick around after the game for 20 minutes and with a highly interactive array of additional music. Expect to see the tubas and trumpets up close if you’re near the student section.
Aside from the hefty ticket I got for carrying a beer outside a bar or parking lot, everything else around the stadium is classic football town. Bars open and rope off parking lots to host throngs of students and visitors. A giant scoreboard stands over a bar on Regent Street letting everyone see what’s going on just blocks away. Frat houses line the west side of the stadium and you’ll see yards and porches full of partiers in rare form. Madison truly comes to life on gameday. No matter where you go for pre- or post-game, you can expect a crowd. That being said, the Big 10 Pub on Regent Street offers a huge lot for tailgaters and a massive Badgers scoreboard over the lot.
Lucky’s Bar is another Regent Street venue that turns its parking lot into a makeshift beer garden for tailgaters. But the best food will be at the tailgates in every parking lot in the area. Cozy up with some Badgers fans and enjoy brats and some local (even home-made) beer.
A bit further down the road, near the Wisconsin State Capitol Square, you’ll find a couple of great spots, especially if you like excellent drinks and food. One outstanding location is the Coopers Tavern. They have 28 beers on tap, and some really good and elevated food. Try the Sconnie egg (essentially a scotch egg, but covered in Wisconsin bratwurst), it’s outstanding.
Another place that is highly recommend is The Old Fashioned. Named for the classic cocktail, which has variations throughout Wisconsin, this is another foodie and drink snob paradise. Inexpensive snacks can be purchased at the bar like homemade beef jerky, pickled turkey gizzards, and pickled eggs.
The fans at Wisconsin are great. That’s pretty simply put. They are loud, passionate and friendly. They sing at the top of their lungs and absolutely love their Badgers. The student section is huge and when it gets rolling in the second half it is among the best in the country. Outside of the student section, the stadium is packed before kick-off. Expect friendliness, camaraderie, and passion as you take in the sites at Camp Randall. Again, my only concern would be the students time of arrival, but they more than make up for that when they arrive in force. No deductions here. And being the owners of the “Jump Around” tradition, one of the elites of gameday experience, means any minor issues can easily be overlooked.
The major concern around Camp Randall is in the access area. Not surprisingly, traffic getting to an urban stadium can be difficult to navigate and is even worse after the game. Expect creative shortcuts through neighborhoods and aggressive merging to get where you need to go. There are police to help navigate, but there are so many intersections and parking lots emptying out that you’ll be bound to hit gridlock. The best solution? Stay a little longer and partake in the revelry around the game until traffic dies down a bit. The more annoying and unexpected problem is access to the stadium. There doesn’t seem to be enough gates and lines to get in can run down the block. It moves fairly quickly, but there aren’t too many stadiums that still have this problem. The student section is particularly strange. Entrance to the student section appears to be done row by row and is very controlled. This only contributes to the growing crowd at the north end of the stadium and adds to the extraordinary amount of time it takes for the students to get in and get settled.
Moving around the stadium itself is pretty easy. Stairways can get a bit clogged, but overall the concourses are wide and easy to navigate. Restrooms are hit and miss, as they’ve added the portable kind to the stadium to supplement the existing restrooms. So quality may not be great, but there’s always an open one nearby.
Return on Investment 5
Buy your tickets early, because Camp Randall tends to sell out. Getting tickets on gameday around the stadium is a risky proposition as prices could go up significantly. However, tickets have a very reasonable face value, often available in the $40-$60 range. All told, for the upper level gameday experience you’re in for that’s a great value and much cheaper than other places in the country known for their gameday experience.
Madison alone warrants extra points. As a college football traditionalist, I love the feel of nostalgic football settings mixed with modern passion, and Wisconsin has more than its share of both. For a student experience, it doesn’t get better than living next to the stadium in older student housing and going to the game as a part of the massive and organized student section. Points also get awarded for the outstanding traditions on the field and in the stands. The marching band, Jump Around, and the 5th Quarter are all worthy of special recognition.
Overall, Madison on gameday definitely makes the list of great college football experiences and I would strongly recommend paying a visit.
Holiday Inn Express Madison (map it!)
722 John Nolen Dr
Madison, WI 53713
Sheraton Madison Hotel
706 John Nolen Dr
Madison, WI 53713
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