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Official Review by Harrison Huntley, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
With the arrival of the Carolina Panthers in 1996, hosting a major bowl game in Charlotte became a topic of discussion. Charlotte made a lot of sense considering the proximity of ACC and SEC schools, and the popularity of football in the Carolinas. In 2002, the NCAA awarded a new bowl game to Charlotte, and they would follow to host the ACC and Big East. With the disbanding of the conference, the Belk Bowl made a big play and picked up the SEC as their second conference affiliate. Since then, the Belk Bowl has hosted some of the biggest matches in the bowl season and big-name players like Larry Fitzgerald, Teddy Bridgewater, and Todd Gurley. Bank of America Stadium is a great venue for the bowl, made even better when local teams are playing in the game.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
One benefit of playing in an active NFL stadium is that the food and drink offerings are on the highest level. This stadium offers a little bit of everything. Hamburgers, hot dogs, barbecue, pizza, nachos, and ice cream cover all the basics, but the stadium also offers many recognizable brand names. Subway, Salsarita's, Wendy's, Bojangles', and Krispy Kreme are all available at the stadium.
Along with NFL-quality food comes an NFL-level quality of options. Items like sandwiches, brownies, beef jerky, ice cream sandwiches, and even beer can all be purchased gluten-free for those who avoid gluten.
College fans can rejoice, as this is likely the only game of the year where the venue will see beer. There's a huge selection, including an entire section devoted to local Carolina beers. This is certainly a must for lovers of local brews.
There are 429 fixed concession points of sale in the stadium, which helps keep the halftime rush at bay.
There's a lot going on for the Belk Bowl, and the party starts before the game. The night before, the Belk Bowl Fan Central is held at Charlotte's EpiCentre. There's plenty of bars and shops around the area, but each team's band and cheerleaders are right in the middle of it all. On the day of the bowl game, the Belk Bowl FanFest includes music, games, and many other activities. Each year's concert features a high-profile artist, and the 2015 fans were treated to Carrie Underwood.
Inside the stadium, the atmosphere was great, considering the conditions. The weather was terrible, with rain and wind battering fans nearly the whole game. Regardless, fans packed the stands from both sides and made for a really exciting feel around the stadium.
First things first, there isn't a whole lot to do within walking distance. The immediate area around the stadium is on the rise, but just isn't worth the visit yet.
Instead, check out the area around the Fan Central, the EpiCentre. There're tons of great shops and dining there, along with some lodging for those staying the night. Also in the area is Time Warner Cable Arena, which hosts the Charlotte Hornets and many other concerts and events.
For those looking for something to do before the game, check out the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Even if you aren't a racing fan, there's so much to do. The building is full of interactive games and activities about the history and future of NASCAR. It's the kind of place anyone can enjoy.
The 2015 Belk Bowl was the self-proclaimed "Loudest Bowl Game Ever," and for good reason. Mississippi State's famous cowbells brought a challenge that was answered by NC State fans. The school brought promotional items called #STATEment sticks, and while they may not have made up for the cow bells, the crowd was extremely in tune with the game.
The Belk Bowl committee likely jumped at the opportunity to take NC State from the ACC. The Wolfpack boast a strong fan base that travels well, and even has a strong following in Charlotte. Mississippi State may not have been their first choice, but they have a solid fan base, nonetheless.
Bulldog fans were vastly outnumbered, but made themselves heard with their cowbells. Being in the majority, NC State fans made themselves heard, too. The weather probably made the crowd a little lighter than expected, but the fans that did show up greatly assisted in creating a good college football atmosphere.
Some fans may complain about the traffic around Charlotte, but what city is without traffic problems? The nice thing is that it's designed to get fans in and out of the stadium. If you get lost, don't worry. The parking staff is extremely polite and can help you get to where you want to go.
You can park a few blocks from the stadium for about $20, and each block seems to increase the price $5-$10. Alternatively, consider the LYNX light rail. Parking is free, and round-trip tickets are just $4.40. There isn't a dedicated stadium station, but the Stonewall Street station is probably the closest to the stadium.
Once you've gotten to the stadium, getting in can be a bit of a hassle if you aren't prepared. The bag check is mostly painless, as long as you conform to the stadium's bag policy. Once inside, getting to your seat is quick and easy. If you have a seat in the 400 or 500 level, locate the escalators on the concourse for the fastest way to your seat.
Ticket prices fluctuate year-to-year, depending on the date and the teams in the game. You can purchase advance tickets on the bowl's site, or through the school at their respective site. Lower-level tickets are expensive, running over $100. For most fans, the upper level provides a view that's more than good enough. Tickets start around $50, but drop to as low as $25 on the resale sites leading up to the game.
There was no shortage of events leading up to the Belk Bowl. In addition to the Fan Central and FanFest, there was the 5K and a seven-on-seven football tournament. The 5K was a few days before the game, and ran all over Uptown Charlotte. The seven-on-seven tournament pitted local middle and high school players in games at the Panthers' practice facility.
The staff at Bank of America Stadium has to be some of the best in the country. Unlike the disgruntled staff at some stadiums, the staff here are very helpful and polite. Hopefully this trend inspires staffers at other stadiums.
Even though one team was obviously closer in proximity, all of the fans were very hospitable to the opposing fans. I'll always applaud two fan bases that remember that it's just a game and keep a good head on their shoulders.
I can't say enough about the Belk Bowl Twitter account. The account is both engaging and informative, with just enough humor to make it a model corporate account. In recent years, it has fostered rivalries with the Peach and Russel Athletic bowls. It operates year-round and is a must follow for any college football fan.
All things considered, I'm convinced the Belk Bowl is one of the premier bowl games of the season. It may not carry the history of the Rose Bowl, or have the top-tier teams like the Peach Bowl, but they have a unique experience. Charlotte is a great place for football and the staff working behind the scenes, and in front (like game day staff and twitter) know what they're doing. Here's hoping for many more great matchups and continued success for the Belk Bowl.
Member Review by dberger on Jan 27, 2014
The Belk Bowl in 2013 saw a matchup between Atlantic Coast Conference and American Athletic Conference (formerly Big East) teams; The University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, and University of Cincinnati, respectively. This was Cincinnati’s second consecutive appearance in the Belk Bowl, having faced Duke in the 2012 version.
Even though Chapel Hill is approximately three hours from Charlotte, UNC is very much the “home team” in Charlotte, but this isn’t basketball. It appeared that the Cincinnati crowd was not overly enthused as well, as overall attendance was down again, and the stadium was only about half full.
For the 2014 game, the Belk Bowl has signed new six year agreements with the ACC and SEC, which should provide for a steady stream of popular rivalries, and hopefully a resurgence in attendance.
400 E Martin Luther King Jr Blvd
Charlotte, NC 28202
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