I don’t care for some of the stuff I find in press boxes.
Others, I love. Krispy Kreme donuts, for instance. Some places have those! I also love people I meet, like Stacey Dales and Jackie Servais and Alicia Barnhart. Stacey is my favorite NFL Network reporter (and a Coach Daddy reader.)
Jackie, a former volleyball star and an intern with the Carolina Panthers when we met, now works for the University of Mississippi.
Alicia? She’s in the Guinness Book of World Records for visiting all 32 NFL stadiums in 86 weeks. We lost contact for about a year but got back in touch, recently. Her record-setting tour is just part of who she is, as you’ll see here.
Alicia’s feat is just part of the story. She’s living the life of a young woman who sees the pageantry of sports, recognizes so much of the beauty and awe of competition and place and people. She and I see sports in much a similar way.
Please give Alicia a warm CD welcome.
Alicia, doing the Lambeau Leap in Green Bay.
Eli: When you were little, what did you want to become when you grow up?
Alicia: I wanted to be everything growing up! A ballerina, a fashion designer, an optometrist, a sideline reporter – it depended on what phase I was going through. Believe it or not, fashion designer and optometrist were the two longest phases! I’ve always been career minded and very focused on my goals. Whatever I was going to be, I planned on being the best and having success.
Eli: Who influenced you most career-wise?
Alicia: I grew up going to games with my dad and watching SportsCenter in the morning with him before going to work. Stuart Scott was the anchor at the time and I used to like doing impressions of him. Then watching Pam Oliver every Sunday (made me want to be a sideline reporter – I still think she’s phenomenal!). While I was growing up and even when I applied to college, that was the job you saw the most women doing and it was glamorized. Today you see women announcing, reporting, hell they’re even officiating and coaching!
We aren’t as pigeonholed and now that I’ve worked in the industry, I know for myself, reporting isn’t for me. I want to stay in the sports field, but my focus is on sports travel. It’s what I’m actually passionate about and now it’s figuring out how to take that passion and make it a sustainable career.
Eli: What did you learn in your stadium project?
Alicia: Setting the Guinness World Record for NFL stadiums was quite the undertaking and it was at times very stressful, but I learned that I’m capable, I’m able to adapt, and I DON”T QUIT. There were times when things didn’t go as planned or I felt overwhelmed. People close to me told me it was ok for me to stop, that I didn’t have to finish this to prove anything. I believe you’re only as good as your word and once I verbalized this journey, I wouldn’t stop until I succeed. The challenge though is what makes any achievement fun and I was blessed to be watching football games, great games too! Along the way, I met amazing people at the stadiums, from the teams, and just out in the cities. Traveling alone as a female is incredibly empowering and something I hope every girl has the opportunity to experience. It’s not as scary or unsafe as we are led to believe.
The small negative I wish I could ignore is that sexism is still an issue in our country. I’m not shocked as I’ve been living here as a female for 31 years, but none the less it’s disappointing and equally frustrating. People asked me who I was sleeping with or trying to meet on my trips. This stigma that females only like sports for the athletes or male approval makes me want to scream! I love watching football for the excitement, the contained violence, the strategy, the rollercoaster of emotions you go through during a game, for the comradery of a fan base, and that euphoric feeling that comes when your team dominates your rival. All the normal fan things.
Guys in tight pants are an ok side perk, but without those other reasons, definitely not worth the NFL ticket prices. Sorry, Gronk.
Eli: Oh, the sexism is crazy alive in the sports department. Here, though, you’re a fan who completed an incredible mission, if you ask me. What was your strategy going in?
Alicia: When the NFL released its official schedule for the 2015 season, I printed out the weekly games and times, monthly calendars, and each team’s logo. Then I spent a couple days plotting out my route by placing the team’s logo on the day I would visit the stadium. Having a big tangible visual was very helpful! I made sure I hit the Bay area on a weekend when both the Raiders and 49ers were in town and later the same for the Giants and Jets in New York.
Living in Ohio, I’m within driving range to many of the stadiums. That helped me cut costs significantly. I signed up for a Southwest card before starting my trips and used it for all my purchases. Obviously, I racked up a lot of points going to 32 NFL games and was able to get some free flights to cities that weren’t in easy driving range. When I flew, I packed just the essentials to keep my bag as a carry on in case I was crunched for time. Once in cities, I walked or used public transportation in lieu of renting a car or taking a taxi. I hit up friends, friends of friends, or even someone I met along the way (Tessa in Green Bay became my host in Jacksonville) for places to stay. When I didn’t know anyone in a city, I used Airbnb or stayed in a hostel. It wasn’t always luxurious, but I tended to only use the places to sleep, opting to explore the places I was visiting when not attending a game.
As for tickets, I did contact all the teams and inquire about press passes. Some obliged most did not. Finding tickets was honestly the least of my worries as there are so many resale sites. In Denver, I had a bad experience with a smaller site, but they acknowledged their mistake and refunded me, which was awesome. I tended to stick with Ticketmaster and StubHub! as I’ve never had an issue with either, though I just recently discovered SeatGeek and highly recommend using them!
Attending a game in every stadium in the least amount of time was, of course, my main objective for these trips. Enjoying myself in the cities and keeping expenses at a minimum were a close second. Check and check.
Eli: Give us a list of three best moments in your journey?
Eli: You also did the MLB stadium tour a few years ago. How did that compare to your NFL excursion?
Alicia: Baseball has always been my favorite sport. For about three summers I’d been knocking off ballparks with my youngest sister Alex who is also a passionate Yankees fan. Alex was a college student at the time and I was working in radio, so not rolling in dough by any means. People asked us how we went on so many trips. I decided to start a blog which I called “Ballparks on a Budget” and visited all 30 MLB parks during the summer of 2012 “for content.” Alex joined me on a couple visits, but mainly I was on my own. This was my first time going to games alone and the most traveling I’d ever done solo. It was exhilarating. I learned quite a bit about myself on the road. The blog turned into a steady hobby for me that I kept up for three years. My love for sports travel and sharing my adventures led to me expanding to NFL stadiums and rebranding to Sports Wanderlust.
The big difference between my MLB and NFL stadium experiences was that my MLB one wasn’t timed and I didn’t feel very much pressure during my journey. It was a pure labor of love without having to worry about getting stadium witnesses or collecting data for Guinness World Records. The elaborate data collection and entire process I had to go through for my NFL record took away from my stadium visits. I found I was constantly stressed that I wouldn’t be able to prove to the people in England I was at the full games during the times I claimed. It was a unique experience for sure and I absolutely treasure my memories, but I don’t see any more GWRs in my future. I would like do all the NHL stadiums at one point, but I’m not in any hurry.
Eli: It has been awesome to talk with you. I love that our conversation picked right back up after a pause of about a whole year! So in parting, what advice would you give young girls with a love of sports and case of wanderlust, like you?
Alicia: My advice to young girls is to do whatever makes you happy. If you want to go to all the ballparks, stadiums, or arenas- go. Don’t wait for a friend, significant other, or spouse to go with, you’ll be waiting forever. Don’t listen to the people who tell you it isn’t safe to travel alone or it’s a waste of time/money. People close to you will put those thoughts into your mind, but if you have the dream in your heart, ignore them and get out there. Travel is empowering and in 20 years you’ll regret not going.
Of course, use common sense and be aware of your surroundings. If someone’s weirding you out, walk away. Stadiums are big and you have the freedom to roam, so take advantage of that if there’s a creep in your midst. Personally, I don’t drink when I travel alone to eliminate the invitation of unwanted advancements. I’m already fairly friendly and I like to have a completely clear head. That’s just a preference and certainly not necessary.
My final thoughts- it’s 2017, women love sports, even attractive women. We want to go to games and we can do so unsupervised.