When making a list of lacrosse hotbeds across the United States, Charlotte is not a city likely to take up residence near the top of that list. Many fans in other locations would probably not think of North Carolina as a lacrosse destination, but with a good group of college programs and the relocation of a lot of residents from areas considered more “lacrosse-friendly”, that perception has changed. Major League Lacrosse has picked up on the trend, granting the expansion Hounds to the Queen City to begin the 2012 season. There is an interesting mix of the new (this Hounds club) and the old (American Legion Memorial Stadium) in Charlotte.
American Legion Memorial Stadium opened in 1937, and was one of the true marvels of its time. The facility is, as one might imagine, showing its age a bit, but don't let that fool you; the stadium has played host to Presidents, professional wrestling events and some of the most epic football games played in Charlotte's history. The stadium is owned by the City of Charlotte, and was actually constructed as one of the initiatives of the New Deal.
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There is somewhat of a carnival approach to the food options at American Legion Memorial Stadium, as there is a row of vendors just outside the main gate. There are a number of options available at these vendors, including pizza (courtesy of local Charlotte establishment Hawthorne's), funnel cakes, brats, Italian sausages, cheeseburgers and what is referred to as "the best lemonade in the world". There are also several fixed locations inside the gates, offering many of the same choices. There was a barbecue rib sandwich listed on the menu, which is an unusual choice for a lacrosse match.
The real problem with buying concessions - and let it be clear, this is not the fault of the Hounds franchise - is that there is an extra step required before doing so. There are various booths (thankfully, near the concession areas) that sell tokens, which are then used to buy concession items. The exchange rate seems to be a dollar a token, though there is no signage indicating whether or not this is the case. If your normal preference is to use a debit or credit card to make purchases, this cannot be done, as the tokens are cash-only. The prices are fine (most items are between two and six tokens), but the process, which mirrors an annual Charlotte food festival, is somewhat of a pain. The main take away is bring cash, and prepare for an extra step.
The stadium may look a little unusual to an unfamiliar observer, as all of the fans are seated in the south stands for each game. The stadium's full capacity is 21,000, which makes this policy a bit better for the concentration of fans and for television coverage. The Hounds drew a record crowd of 7,034 on the night of this review (more on this in the Fans section), making for a pretty lively evening.
The Hounds do a good job of keeping the crowd involved, featuring several different promotions ranging from the usual (t-shirt toss, pizza scream) to the unusual (seeing who could get a lacrosse ball the closest to the mascot at midfield). Another nice touch occurred at halftime, as there was a youth lacrosse game on the field. This is another good way to get potential future lacrosse stars invested in the game. The only real negative is the playing of "effeminate" songs ("Dancing Queen" and the like) after the opposing team scores a goal, and with only a few choices available, this gets very old, very fast.
This is one of the more interesting locations in Charlotte. The facility is just outside center-city Charlotte, in the Elizabeth neighborhood. Though there is not a lot available on the premises - a community college surrounds the stadium - there is essentially any type of bar, restaurant or club you may ever want just a few short minutes away in the city's vibrant uptown.
As most of the entertainment options are not really walkable, it is recommended to make plans for after the game that include transportation. The city's light rail is not really accessible from this location, which takes away another method of transit.
As previously mentioned, the Hounds drew a record crowd on the night I attended. I saw a lot of Hounds gear in the stands, and a number of fans that brought in lacrosse sticks (for some reason). The crowd had their favorite players and made a lot of noise for certain guys, which was somewhat unusual (though pretty nice to see) for an expansion team. The crowds for Hounds games continue to grow, so this is a good sign.
The enthusiasm of the crowd seemed to diminish as the game went on, though, as several calls from the public address announcer to make noise or start certain chants went mostly unanswered. The Hounds struggled a bit, and though it would have been understandable for more fans to leave, a lot of the fans stayed throughout the game. There were also a few fans in the front row who made noise all night and were beating a drum, and their enthusiasm seemed to catch on with those around them.
There is plenty of available parking within a few steps of the stadium. There are surface lots available, but the recommended option is the parking garage that serves the aforementioned community college. Parking is $5, which is a bit on the high side. This is to be expected this close to uptown Charlotte, however. There are plenty of spaces in the garage and surrounding lots, and egress and ingress are made easier by a number of streets that lead back to the John Belk Freeway and the help of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department to guide traffic.
There are multiple restrooms on the concourse near the fan seating area. The restrooms are a bit old, much like the rest of the facility, but they are clean and in good working order. There were also no visible lines to access the restrooms, even during the halftime break. There is a VIP section just behind one of the end zones, and the only facilities in that area are portable restrooms, so keep this in mind if you choose that option.
Ticket prices are rather reasonable if you want to bring the family out for an evening of lacrosse. General admission seats are only $10 per game, and though the ticket prices go up from there the closer you get to the field, there is really not a bad seat in the house. Merchandise and concessions prices are well in line with other sports teams in the area, and the product on the field is top of the line in the sport. This is an interesting opportunity to get in on the proverbial "ground floor" of Charlotte lacrosse, and it does not require an overwhelming financial investment to do so.
The Hounds have a mascot named Blue, who takes a lot of time to interact with fans and participate in the various promotions. Though a mascot was not one of the things I expected when walking through the gates, this is a nice added perk for the fans (particularly the kids) in attendance.
Though we have already talked a lot about Charlotte's fans, there is one other thing that deserves recognition. I saw several large groups of fans tailgating in the lots surrounding the stadium, and this is also something unexpected for a market that is relatively new to lacrosse. The fans seem to enjoy the opportunity to walk around and interact with fellow fans.
Finally, for those who enjoy a great view, Charlotte's skyline is visible from many parts of American Legion Memorial Stadium. The view of the city is always beautiful, but it gets even more beautiful once the sun goes down. Be sure to bring your camera.
Charlotte is a city that seems to be very skilled at defying stereotypes, and a number of them are defied by the Charlotte Hounds. Lacrosse really can work in a "non-traditional" market. An older stadium does not have to be run-down and inoperable. An expansion team does not have to have ten fans in the stands, all with no knowledge of the sport.
With local radio and television deals in place, it is reasonable to expect that lacrosse will continue to gain popularity in the city and surrounding areas. As more and more youth teams begin to surface, they will find more opportunities to get involved with the Hounds (much like the youth teams who played on the field during the half on the night I attended), and this should only continue to build the local fan base.
The accessibility of this stadium is amazing - there is plenty of parking and you don't have to walk more than 100 feet to enter the stadium. All of the fans are seated on one side of the stadium, which fills 2/3 of that side and enables the fan energy to remain high throughout the game.
It's a uniquely positioned stadium - it is just south of the popular uptown district, yet has an exceptional skyline view compared to the Bank of America Stadium where the NFL's Panthers play. It is also near I-277 and I-77.
EXTRA - I love it when the public address announcer yells "RELEASE!" and the fans respond with "THE HOUNDS! It's a terrific rallying cry.
210 E Trade St
Charlotte, NC 28202
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