Bridgeforth Stadium – James Madison Dukes
Photos by Gregory Koch , Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.57
Bridgeforth Stadium 250 Champions Dr Harrisonburg, VA 22801
Year Opened: 1975
Wear Purple for Me
The James Madison Dukes football program has consistently been among the top in FCS, winning two national championships and making the FCS Championship Game another two times. They have won eight Colonial Athletic Association titles. The Dukes call Bridgeforth Stadium home, as they have since 1975. Nestled in the scenic Shenandoah Valley in Harrisonburg, Virginia, Bridgeforth Stadium seats about 25,000 fans and is one of the top venues in the Football Championship Subdivision.
The Dukes recently announced that they will be moving up to the FBS level and competing in the Sun Belt Conference beginning in 2022. This review was written in 2021 when the Dukes were still an FCS member, but the stadium seems more than capable of handling FBS football.
Food & Beverage 4
There are several concession stands scattered throughout the many concourses at Bridgeforth Stadium. Options include all the classics like cheeseburgers, fries, pretzels, and hot dogs, as well as soft drinks served in a souvenir cup and bottles of water, which come in aluminum rather than plastic cans to reduce waste. Beer is also available for sale to those of age through the end of the third quarter. There is a table on the lower level which sells kettle corn and cupcakes, the latter being a unique option for a football game more common at bake sales. Prices are reasonable, with nothing except beer costing more than $5 or so.
The fun gets started early at a JMU football game, as the band takes the field for a pregame performance. They will play songs familiar to any Dukes fan such as the school fight song and “Start Wearing Purple”, a song encouraging fans to wear the team color. They also play “America the Beautiful” and the national anthem while unfurling red, white, and blue streamers on the field in the design of the American flag. The band returns at halftime for another spectacular performance.
During the game, there are contests on the field at almost every media timeout, ranging from punt, pass, and kick to a spouse-carrying competition. Dukes fans have a tradition of throwing streamers in JMU colors into the air after every Dukes touchdown, and sometimes you will see them fly after a big non-scoring play as well.
As for the stadium itself, each side of the stadium is in a different layout. The lower bowl makes a sort of L-shape along the north and west sides, with the north side home to the band and student section and the west side home to some reserved seats and some premium ones closer to midfield. There is an upper deck above the lower deck on the west side. The east side is all bleachers without backs and only one level of them. There are no seats in the south end zone, as that is where the team’s training facilities are.
There is a large videoboard behind the south end zone. The Dukes have a mascot, a dog named Duke Dog, as well as cheerleaders and a dance team who make appearances throughout the game.
Harrisonburg is a quaint town in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Although this doesn’t have the excitement of the big city, there is plenty to do here, including the Virginia Quilt Museum. For meals, there are plenty of options depending on your budget. The famous southern chain Cook Out has a location five minutes from campus, which serves up burgers, chicken sandwiches, and other options. Try one of their trays for a great value, as it comes with two sides and a drink for around $8.
If you’re looking for something more upscale, or at least something with table service, the Magpie Diner on West Gay Street is open for breakfast and lunch and is a local favorite. There are a number of hotels to stay at in Harrisonburg ranging from budget hotels to a Doubletree.
Note that at the time of writing, many dining options in Harrisonburg are limited to takeout or unavailable entirely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but this article is written to reflect the “normal” state of things.
The Dukes routinely draw near-sellout crowds, with the fans in attendance being some of the most passionate in the country. Whether it’s tossing the streamers after touchdowns, banging the bleachers on third downs, or booing the refs after a perceived bad call goes against JMU, these fans are loud, they are proud of their Dukes, and they are not afraid to show it. When visiting Bridgeforth Stadium expect the crowd noise to be consistently loud and intimidating to opposing teams. Be warned that the fans, particularly the student section, are not always clean in their language.
Bridgeforth Stadium and the James Madison campus are located right off Interstate 81 via Exit 245. The lots closest to the stadium are reserved for season ticket holders and big donors, but ample free parking is available virtually anywhere else on campus. There are shuttles available to the stadium from some of the more distant lots, but other lots such as the Warsaw Avenue Parking Deck are within a ten-minute walk and do not offer shuttles. There are large digital signs outside most lots and garages showing the number of available spaces, which is a nice touch. It will generally designate the spaces as faculty/staff, commuter, or whatever they are normally used for during the week, but you can ignore this.
Once inside the stadium, the concourse can get crowded at times. Concession and restroom lines can get long but move quickly. Still, it is best to get your food before the game if possible to avoid the wait. Just be sure to be back in your seat in time for the band.
Return on Investment 5
Tickets start at $20 for general admission seating on the east side. Upper-level seats on the west side will go for $25, while 200-level level seats will go for $35 unless you are getting the premium seats near midfield which will cost significantly more. 100-level seats at field level go for a big premium as well. Ultimately, we recommend the 200-level seats as they are the best value. Concessions are also affordable and parking is free. Considering this is one of the top venues in FCS, this is a very good deal.
One star for the unique tradition of the streamers that JMU fans throw after touchdowns.
Look for murals on the concourse displaying information on the history of the Dukes’ football program.
A third star for the tremendous energy and passion brought by the fans, who are among the best in the country.
A fourth star for the band and the other ways the team contributes to the atmosphere here.
Finally, look for the banners in the south-end zone honoring JMU postseason appearances.
James Madison has one of the top venues in all of FCS, and it is definitely ready to make the move up to the next level next year. This has always been an FBS-quality stadium, and next year it will get the chance to show why. For now, this is an elite stadium for its level. The Dukes have one of the best atmospheres in the country and some of the best fans. It will likely get even better next year with the move up.