In 2014, UAB football was on death row. The team finished with a 6-6 record becoming bowl eligible for the first time in ten years ( Hawaii Bowl, 2004). However, the program still garnered little support, and three days after the Blazers last game, the school’s president announced the program was ending. The program sold around 1,400 season tickets in 2014, and only a few thousand attended the games. UAB played at Legion Field, an extremely old stadium off campus, on the west side of the city. The rusted grey paint on the stadium has earned it the name, “the old grey lady.” There are no entertainment venues or restaurants around Legion Field. It sits alone in a struggling but enduring neighborhood.
Before ending the program, the school’s president quietly hired a firm to study the viability of UAB football. The school received the report, and without presenting the findings to many supporters, the administration decided to shut down the program. The players, students, and the community reacted emotionally to the announcement. Players captured the moment on a YouTube video which went viral.
The community rallied and raised funds to bring back the program. In addition, the community raised money to solve many of the facilities’ issues mentioned in the report. UAB now has an indoor facility attached to a brand new modern football building. Attendance has increased since the program’s return to the field. UAB led Conference USA in attendance in 2017, and the enthusiasm didn’t dissipate in 2018. UAB averaged almost 25,000 fans a game in 2018 according to the UAB communications department. In addition, the team won the Conference USA Championship and the Boca Raton Bowl. UAB is on pace to sell around 12,000 season tickets in 2019. The Blazers still play games at Legion Field; however, that is about to change.
The city of Birmingham will begin to move dirt on its brand new stadium next month. The new stadium will be in the heart of a new entertainment district. The stadium will be completed by the 2021 season. The new venue will be much closer to the UAB campus, and there is little doubt it will further boost UAB’s football program.
THE FUTURE OF UAB
Meanwhile, a young workforce is filling the vacuum left by the old steel mills in Birmingham. One steel mill is a modern museum which documents Birmingham’s industrial past. However, along with UAB, the workforce in Birmingham is drastically changing. There is a lot of synergy between the city and UAB. UAB welcomed a record enrollment of almost 22,000 students last year. Birmingham is growing as well. From 2010-2015, the number of young people moving to Birmingham grew by 56.2%. (source: U.S. Census Bureau) That is good enough for 7th in the country in “young people,” growth. The national average is 17.6% According to Indeed, Birmingham ranks 4th in the nation for job seekers. The city broke previous “new jobs” records last year, and the momentum is expected to continue. UAB, and the city of Birmingham, make a great team. Both have great opportunities in front of them.