Fans across the Eastern Seaboard and the country are familiar with the storied history of the Atlantic Coast Conference. The conference boasts national titles from four of its member institutions, and a number of All-Americans, NFL Pro Bowlers and Hall of Famers. The school began crowning a champion via a championship game for the 2005 season, when the addition of Boston College brought the conference to 12 football-playing members.
That first championship game was played – along with the following two games – in Jacksonville, Florida's Alltel Stadium (now Everbank Field), the home of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars. Florida State won that inaugural game, defeating Virginia Tech 27-22. The game moved from Jacksonville to Tampa's Raymond James Stadium for the 2008 contest, a rematch between Boston College and the victorious Virginia Tech Hokies. After two seasons in Tampa, Charlotte became the game's host, and they will continue in that role through at least the 2013 season.
With four ACC schools in the Tar Heel State, Charlotte has been a reasonably hospitable host during its time of hosting championships, with announced crowds greater than 64,000 in all three contests in the Queen City. The city offers plentiful entertainment options and an NFL facility, making Charlotte an attractive option for years to come.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
It is important to note that some of the items normally available for Panthers games at Bank of America Stadium cannot be purchased when the stadium is used for the ACC Championship. Beer, wine and some of the standalone carts are not offered in the college setting. Worry not, however, as there are signs that alert you to the ability (or lack thereof) to purchase alcohol, and there are plenty of other food options for any palate.
The normal fixed stands are all available, offering everything from barbecue to Mexican. Whether you prefer barbecue nachos from JJR's BBQ Shack ($9), cheesesteaks from one of the carts on the 100-level concourse ($7.50, including the option of a chicken cheesesteak), or a bratwurst ($7), hearty options abound. The normal classics are also featured, including nachos ($6), popcorn ($4 for a regular order, $10 for a souvenir bottomless order), pretzels ($4) and hot dogs ($4.50 for a regular, $6.50 for a chili cheese dog).
If you prefer chain fare, there are several choices in that realm, as well. Wendy's, Domino's, Bojangles' Chicken, Qdoba and Krispy Kreme are all among the chains with points-of-sale inside Bank of America Stadium. Though the prices inside the stadium are expectedly higher than one would find offsite, items such as a two-pack of Krispy Kreme doughnuts ($3), Domino's pepperoni or cheese personal pizzas ($8) and Qdoba burritos ($8.75 for a chicken or beef queso burrito) will surely satisfy your cravings. Combos are also available for many of these options, including Bojangles' Chicken Supremes and fries ($11.50), Wendy's cheeseburgers and fries ($9.50 for a single with cheese, $10.50 for a double with cheese) and Qdoba burritos with chips and salsa ($12.50). For Food Network enthusiasts, there is a network-branded cart along the concourse, featuring the "signature" or Carolina hot dog ($7.50) and buffalo chicken macaroni and cheese ($5).
Pepsi is the bottler for the facility, and their ties to the Carolinas are on display at every stand. A regular soda is $4.50, with a souvenir soda for $6 and a jumbo soda for $7. Bottled sodas are available at the standalone carts for $4.50. Bottled water is $4, while Gatorade ($5), coffee ($4) and hot chocolate ($4) are also available for purchase. It should be noted that, while Dr. Pepper sponsors the game, it cannot be purchased at any of the fixed stands.
When tourists visit Charlotte, one of the first things on which they remark is the beautiful uptown skyline. Like many cities its size, the Queen City features a striking center-city area, and Bank of America Stadium provides a wonderful view from almost every seat. The true standout of the skyline is the Duke Energy Center. This building is visible beyond the stadium's exterior, and the building lights up in different colors in accordance with Charlotte events. There is a Twitter account to explain the meaning of each light show.
Keeping up with the score is a relatively easy affair from any seat in the house. Each end zone features a fixed scoreboard with in-game video and real-time game information. The video is a great option if you have a seat on the opposite end from the current line of scrimmage. Ribbon scoreboards line the seating bowl across either sideline, also providing game information, advertisements and other pertinent updates.
A reasonably typical - but still fitting - musical soundtrack fills the stadium throughout much of the first hour after the gates open. The game I attended featured several rap songs which, while a hit with the concession workers, who were dancing around throughout each song, might have been somewhat inappropriate for the younger fans in the crowd. Once the time arrives for the respective bands to fire up, however, they can be heard throughout the stadium. This brings a collegiate feel to a decidedly professional facility.
The game also features halftime shows by each school's band. Though the bands' "stands music" is featured throughout the game, the two groups put on special shows for the fans who remain in their seats during the break. These shows are performed shortly after the Dr. Pepper scholarship challenge, in which two students throw footballs into oversized soda cans in an attempt to earn $100,000 toward their education. This contest is also shown on the national television coverage of the game.
As we previously mentioned, Bank of America Stadium is a part of Charlotte's uptown area. This puts just about every option imaginable for dining, nightlife and culture at your disposal. While most of these items are not directly around the stadium, they are within a short drive, walk or ride.
The EpiCentre is an area featuring over 30 restaurants, nightclubs and shops. This area, located just across the street from Time Warner Cable Arena near 5th Street, also includes a movie theater, a bowling alley and an Aloft Hotel location. Almost any dining preference you may have can be satisfied here, including Italian (Libretto's Pizza), Mexican (Vida), sushi (Enso), American (BlackFinn) or a nice steak (Fleming's). An Irish pub (Ri Ra), sports bars and numerous other choices are also within a short distance.
If you crave culture, concerts or child-friendly fun, there are also options for you. The Blumenthal Performing Arts Center offers Broadway shows, symphony performances and concerts. Time Warner Cable Arena is the home of the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats, the Charlotte Checkers minor league hockey team and big-name acts who bring their tours to the city. Discovery Place also calls the center-city area home, and it serves as a science learning center for children, along with hosting an IMAX theater and other attractions.
Charlotte's first two years of hosting the ACC Championship game featured an average attendance of just over 73,000 fans. This number fell just a few fans short of reaching capacity, starting off the city's relationship with the ACC on a great note. Attendance fell quite a bit in the game's third year, however, witnessing a drop in the number of announced fans of just under 9,000. This caused speculation from local media about fan apathy regarding the matchup, troubles with the local economy and other factors.
Whatever the reason for the drop in attendance, those fans who attend each year's game often travel long distances - sometimes on as little as a week's notice. They remain in full throat throughout, whether performing their school's famous chants, banging on the padding surrounding the seating bowl to inspire their defense or expressing their frustration with a call that does not go the way of their team. They participate in tailgates and the other festivities made available to fans making the trip. The only thing lacking is more fans to fill the seats and be a part of this experience.
Bank of America Stadium is located just minutes from Charlotte International Airport. Though there is only one (quite convoluted) route from the airport via Charlotte's bus system, CATS. A cab ride into the city is reasonably inexpensive, though, and every large car rental chain has an outpost at the airport.
North Carolina Interstates 77 and 277 serve the stadium. Several exits from both roads will lead you to the stadium, and there is plentiful signage to direct you. A number of additional surface streets also travel within blocks of the stadium. The facility is located at the corner of Mint (US Highway 29) and Morehead (NC Highway 27) Streets.
A large number of parking lots surround the stadium, with most charging $20 to park. These options range from garages attached to local businesses to service lots with just a few available spaces. Some places may charge more or less, depending on the event. If you simply must drive your car, it may pay to leave a few minutes early and drive around to survey your options.
The best - and, quite frankly, the easiest - mode of transportation to the game is to take the LYNX Blue Line. The light rail service offers a number of free parking options along the line, with a round-trip pass priced at just $4. If you wish to have more time and freedom to explore Charlotte, a day pass is only $2 more. The Stonewall Street rail station is just a ten-minute walk from Bank of America Stadium, making the trip a breeze. The walk also allows you to take in some of Charlotte's atmosphere.
Once inside the stadium, the concourses on each level are quite wide, allowing for free and easy movement on even the most heavilly-attended occasions. Bathrooms are plentiful and easily accessed, with lines never causing much of an issue. The lone concern with access involves the upper levels of the stadium. While many stadiums have escalators to the upper levels, Bank of America Stadium employs a series of seemingly never-ending switchback ramps. This can make for a long walk up to your seats, with an even longer walk back down. It should also be mentioned that the steps leading to the seats in the 500 level of the stadium are extremely steep, with 100 steps or more required to reach some of the higher seats.
Depending on the seating section you choose, ACC Championship tickets can create quite the hit to the budget. Tickets start at $25 for the upper half of the upper deck (500 section), then increase to $40 for the lower portion of the upper deck, $70 for end zone seating in the next two levels below, $90 for field-level between the goal posts, $150 for the club level toward the end zones and $175 for the club level at midfield. Tickets can also be purchased through the participating clubs or any number of ticket services. These options may afford you a better deal, so do your homework before buying tickets.
If you go with the cheapest ticket option - and, despite the hike to get to your seats, this may be your best option - you can attend the game for a reasonable fee. If you choose the upper level seat ($25), ride the light rail ($4), purchase a program ($10 book price), hot dog ($4.50) and regular soda ($4.50), your total tab will finish just shy of $50. You will also get to see the two division champions battle it out for a BCS bowl berth, so there is always that draw for this game. Numerous options exist for any budget, so be sure to do your homework.
ACC Championship gear is available through the conference, but the normal Carolina Panthers merchandise store on the 100 level also affords fans the chance to purchase t-shirts, hats and other souvenir items. This allows those fans who have not already made their purchases to take home a memento of their trip to Charlotte. Prices are a bit expensive, but in accordance with most items one would normally buy at a game.
If this is your first visit to Charlotte and you would like to know more about the ins and outs of Bank of America Stadium, the Panthers offer tours of the facility. The tours run on Wednesdays and Fridays, with two tours offered on Fridays. The tour departs from the ticket office and is reasonably priced ($3 for kids, $4 for seniors and $5 for adults). Group tours are also available for a set price.
The Panthers' stadium staff serves in the same capacity for the game, and this is a good thing for the fans in attendance. The staff is helpful and kind, whether you need help with finding your seat, getting through the gates or just grabbing a bite to eat. The ushers are quick to strike up conversation and provide service with a smile.
I saw several fans with special plastic ticket holders attached to lanyards with their school's logo and design at the game I attended. This is another nice keepsake from the game, and the lanyard is sure to come in handy for later use. The decorative ticket design and lanyard provide more evidence that this is a special event, and let's be honest - if you are paying a little extra to attend the game, the ticket should at least be something worth revisiting.
The conference also puts on a series of events through the weekend for those fans in attendance. There is a fan festival on the Friday night before the game, held at Charlotte's EpiCentre. There are also events on the day of the game, including a 5K run and the ACC FanFest. 2012's FanFest featured concerts from headlining country acts Lee Brice and Little Big Town, among others.
The ACC Championship will call Charlotte home at least through the 2013 season, and with new teams joining the conference, this will potentially create an opportunity for new groups of fans to pay a visit to the city. Though the game is not played on a member institution's campus, fans are still afforded the college atmosphere to which they are accustomed, while still enjoying the professional experience. With great football, a world-class city and events going on all around the game, the ACC Championship is a solid draw for fans of all schools.
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