Every New Year’s Day, Tampa plays host to the NCAA Outback Bowl, one of the most popular college bowl games in the country, featuring teams from the SEC and Big Ten football conferences. This year marks the bowl’s 30th year and over the course of its history, the Outback Bowl has featured over 5,600 players, 84,000 half-time performers and hosted 1.7 million fans.
Attending the Outback Bowl has become a tradition for many area families, and offers a welcome escape from the winter chill for traveling fans. While the football game is the main feature, the Outback Bowl sponsors several free and fun events leading up to the game, making this the perfect excuse for a 3-day vacation.
December 30: Clearwater Beach day
Join in the fun activities at Clearwater Beach day — Photo courtesy of Outback Bowl
Begin your Outback Bowl vacation by meeting up with the teams on the glorious white sand of Clearwater Beach. Enjoy marching band and cheerleader performances, live music, skydivers and plenty of food and drink. You can also take part in beach games like volleyball and tug-of-war.
This free event takes place from 11:00 am – 4:00 pm behind the Hilton Clearwater Beach, but you might want to get there early to make sure you can get a good parking spot.
After the event, head over to Pier 60 for the daily sunset festival featuring artisans, music and a beautiful sunset over the Gulf of Mexico.
December 31: New Year’s Eve parade and pep rally
Get into the team spirit at a pep rally in Ybor City — Photo courtesy of Outback Bowl
Festivities on day two move from the beach to Tampa’s historic entertainment district, Ybor City, for a spirited parade and pep rally. Featuring decked out floats and over 20 high school and college marching bands, this colorful and loud parade attracts as many as 50,000 spectators.
The parade runs along Ybor City’s main street, 7th Avenue, making it an excellent event for families with an early start time of 5:30 pm, and no open alcohol allowed on the streets. Convenient and reasonably-priced parking is available in nearby city garages.
Following the parade, it’s time to drum up even more excitement for the next day’s game at the pep rally. Expect lots of noise and exuberant cheering as the bands and cheerleaders of the two rival teams face off.
After the pep rally, grab a TECO line trolley to Channelside and take in “Light Up Tampa Bay” featuring a fireworks show and ball drop visible from the downtown waterfront.
January 1: Game day
Cheer on your favorite team at Raymond James Stadium — Photo courtesy of Outback Bowl
Game day dawns bright and early with pre-game festivities at Raymond James Stadium beginning at 9:00 am, featuring live music and, in case you’re still not in the spirit, another pep rally. Fans can also purchase food and beverages and browse various corporate displays.
The main event kicks off at 12:00 pm when the two teams selected from the SEC and Big Ten will duke it out for this year’s Outback Bowl honors. At half-time, fans are treated to a show highlighting over 3,500 performers from the two participating universities, as well as high schools from around the country.
Tickets for the game are $80 and are on sale now via Ticketmaster, by phone at 1-800-745-3000 with a Visa or Mastercard, or directly from the Outback Bowl office if you purchase a membership plan. Further information and a complete schedule of events are available on the Outback Bowl website.