The defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots’ regular 2019-2020 home opener is against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, September 8. Here’s all fans need to know about that opener’s venue, Gillette Stadium.
Key names to know in 2019-2020
For a complete rundown of the Patriots’ 53-player roster, check out the team’s official site. Here are the key people to watch this season, though, including in the front office.
Tom Brady. They call him the Greatest Of All Time (a.k.a. GOAT) and it’s kind of true. Freakishly agile at age 42, the Pats’ quarterback is gunning this season for what would be his seventh Super Bowl ring.
Josh Gordon. The National Football League had suspended the wide receiver for substance abuse, but it’s likely he'll play starting Week 1. He showed “tremendous chemistry” with Brady last season.
Julian Edelman. The wide receiver is going into his 10th season with the Patriots.
Demaryius Thomas. The wide receiver signed with the Patriots prior to this season after a long stint with the Broncos and a short one with the Texans. Injuries make his performance a question mark this season.
Chase Winovich. The Patriots drafted this defensive end out of Michigan in the third round of the NFL draft earlier this year.
Damien Harris. This running back out of Alabama is also a recent draftee.
Jamie Collins Sr. Collins started his career with the Patriots in 2013, and the linebacker is returning after a three-year stint with the Browns.
Michael Bennet. The defensive end is going into his 12th NFL season, but his first with the Patriots—a team he “used to hate.”
Bill Belichick. The oft-hooded Belichick has coached the Patriots since 2000, and that includes to six Super Bowl wins and nine American Football Conference titles. Belichick is also often described as the Pats’ de facto general manager; and, because of the lack of a defensive coordinator at the start of the season, he’s expected to run much of the team’s defense too.
Josh McDaniels. McDaniels is starting his 11th season as the Patriots’ offensive coordinator.
Robert Kraft. The Patriots’ owner since 1994, Kraft made his fortune in paper and packaging.
Jonathan Kraft. Robert Kraft’s son is team president.
Gillette Stadium is located at 1 Patriot Place in Foxborough, Massachusetts—a town of about 17,000 people 29 miles southwest of downtown Boston.
The best and least expensive way to get to and from Gillette is via mass transit. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) provides train service to Foxborough during game days—there’s even a handy MBTA Gillette Stadium website explaining train times and fares (it’s $20 roundtrip and tickets can be purchased at various stations in person or through the MBTA ticket app for Apples and Androids).
The trains run back and forth from South Station, Back Bay Station, and Dedham Corp. Center to Foxboro Station, which is in walking distance to Gillette.
The MBTA is also planning this October to launch a year-long pilot to operate commuter-rail service between Boston and Foxborough. It’s not just for Pats fans, but for those who might be coming in from other stations and connecting for Boston, according to the agency.
For drivers, the stadium ownership recommends using Google Maps for directions; but drivers will basically take I-93 South from the city to I-95 South, then to Route 1. After that, it’s three miles to the stadium on the left.
Parking is a mixed bag at Gillette, though there is a lot of it (the stadium brags that “there are more than twice as many parking spaces in [its] parking lots as there are parking meters in all of Boston”). There is the kind of parking that will cost drivers—but those spaces are generally closer to the stadium and more convenient for fast exists.
But, again, the cost: Stadium-side prepaid passes for the entire football season are $436, for instance. Then there is free parking for ticket-holders who register for it.
Parking lots open four hours before kickoff, and close two hours after the game ends. Tailgating is permitted, but, please, no open flames.
Where to sit
“Every single seat in Gillette Stadium is focused exactly toward midfield to provide optimum sight lines,” according to the stadium. That may be, but not every seat in the house is created equal.
Like with many football stadiums, the best seats in Gillette are at or near the 50-yard line. And the best seats among these seats are those in the 100s sections of the stadium, according to the app TickPick. But there’s an important caveat: The first 10 rows in these sections might be a little too low to follow all of the action on the field.
If fans can spring for it, the club seats and spaces offer unobstructed and wide views; and Gillette’s 88 luxury suites are some of the largest in the NFL, ranging from 800 to 2,700 square feet.
In the end, though, the stadium does promise unobstructed views from most seats and shared areas within the turnstiles, whatever the price of admission. In particular, each of the stadium’s concourses is supposed to ensure “a great view of the field from practically anywhere ...”
Gillette has wheelchair and companion seating available on all stadium levels, and that seating is accessible via both ramp and elevator. Here’s an accessibility map for Gillette.
One final caveat: The seating layout for Patriots games differs from that for the New England Revolution, a pro soccer franchise that also uses Gillette (and that Robert Kraft also owns). The layout for other events such as concerts might also differ from what Patriots fans encounter.
Where to eat and drink
Gillette doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to food and drink, with a particularly noticeable dearth of regional vendors and selections. But there are options. They’re generally expensive and they tend to all lead to sausage and/or pizza.
On game days, Pats fans will find more than 60 concession spots. But, again, the grub isn’t that diverse—nachos, hot dogs, that pizza, and those sausages (the stadium estimates that fans put away around one ton of Italian sausage during a typical game day, never mind 186 gallons of clam chowder).
If fans want more variety in their dining and drinking options, they might look to the surrounding Patriot Place. The 1.3 million-square-foot mall includes more than 20 eateries as well as entertainment and other attractions.
The New England Patriots began in 1960 as the Boston Patriots, a pre-NFL pro sports team that had its foibles and that played in numerous venues—including Fenway Park—before settling in 1971 in Foxboro Stadium in Foxborough. By then the franchise was known as the New England Patriots, and the NFL was a few years old.
But Foxboro Stadium—originally called Schaefer Stadium after the beer and then Sullivan Stadium after the family that owned the franchise—never seemed sufficient to host a team that was part of what was fast becoming the most lucrative professional sports league in the U.S.
It was also small for the NFL—around 60,000 seats—and then relatively remote in terms of proximity to Boston or Providence, Rhode Island (there was no MBTA running trains to the stadium, and the driving route from the Boston area wasn't as direct—fans trying to get to the inaugural 1971 game at Foxboro faced traffic jams of up to eight miles on U.S. 1, some ditching their cars and hoofing it instead). Worse than anything, perhaps, Foxboro did not generate much revenue compared with other NFL stadiums.
So speculation about supplanting it swirled for years. Enter the Jackson 5.
The Sullivan family underwrote the 1984 Victory Tour of Michael Jackson and his four brothers—their first in North America in a decade. Michael was just coming off the biggest-selling album of all time with Thriller. What could possibly go wrong?
A lot, apparently. The tour ran up debts—in part due to Michael’s increasingly erratic off-stage behavior at the time—and the Sullivans started taking a financial bath. To escape it, the family went into bankruptcy court, where Robert Kraft scooped up the stadium, its parking, and its concessions.
Why Kraft? He had wanted for years to own the team, and in 1985 had bought a 10-year option on the land around Foxboro Stadium, in the off-chance that this would give him leverage in a future battle for control of the Patriots. It did, as did the acquisition of the stadium and a clause that kept the Patriots in Foxboro until 2001. Anyone who wanted to own the team had to deal with Kraft now.
Which positioned the businessman to buy it in 1994. Plans for a new stadium accelerated, though for years it was unclear if it would be in Foxborough near Foxboro (confusing, right?) or someplace else in New England. Officials in Connecticut and Rhode Island lobbied hard to host the team, and Kraft considered building in South Boston too.
Eventually, though, plans fell through, usually due to local opposition or to financing, and Kraft decided to go it alone on a site next to Foxboro. Construction on what became Gillette Stadium—thanks to a naming-rights deal with the Boston-based razor giant—started in March 2000, and wrapped about two years later. Kraft underwrote the construction himself, a rarity for professional sports stadiums.