Imagine if you will: the general anxiety that often accompanies attending a big-time major college football game. You often -- and this is especially the case if you are a fan of the visiting team -- have to worry about fighting traffic to and from, searching for parking that is often reserved or a distant walk from the stadium and at the very least costly, and waiting in long lines to get through the NFL-style checkpoints to merely have the right to scan your ticket and pass through the gates. And all of that must occur before even glancing at the playing field.
Once inside, the anxiety often continues, in the form of concessions hassles, long waits for restroom facilities, overpriced merchandise and memorabilia, extremely tight seating confines, and the inevitable presence of that beyond-drunk and obnoxious fan. The multitude of impending anxieties that accompanies a major college football game often leave a sports fan tired before the ball is even in the air. Often -- and again, this is especially the case for the visiting fan -- the only way that the headache and hassles are eased is by ending the day with a victory and a hearty “See Ya’!” salute to the home team.
Such is not the case when attending a Wake Forest Demon Deacons football game at BB&T Field. I dare say that not a single facility in major college BCS-level football can rival the ease and lack of hassle of attending a game at the former Groves Stadium. If you are a fan of the Deacons, then you know that you will be spending six Saturdays a year in some of the most comfortable confines imaginable.
If you are a fan of the visiting team you know that by venturing to Winston-Salem to see your team play, you will not have to worry about all of the logistics the way you would if traveling to Tallahassee’s Doak-Campbell Stadium or Clemson’s Memorial Stadium. You know that you will be able to dedicate all of your attention to supporting your boys on the gridiron.
And if you are simply a fan of football and looking for an enjoyable stadium experience while watching a battle between well-known entities…well, then, BB&T Field is the place for you. With a listed permanent seating capacity of 31,500, the 45-year old facility is the smallest of all home stadiums for teams residing in the BCS power conferences. The presence of a large, gently-sloping bank in one end zone can allow attendance to exceed that number by a noticeable margin. The current record crowd for a game at BB&T Field is just shy of 38,000 for a game against Tobacco Road rival North Carolina in 2004.
But do not let that word “smallest” or the ease of a visit fool you. Nothing about BB&T Field will make you think of the aluminum bleachers with the raggedy chain link fence around them found down at the neighborhood D-II school. Everything at Wake Forest is done with class.
Long-time Wake AD Ron Wellman made sure of as much during his years at the helm. When Wellman first came to Winston-Salem, he had a vision for Demon Deacon athletics, and one important aspect of that vision was to improve the facilities, and more specifically those of then Groves Stadium. He wanted to create a gameday atmosphere that would make the small school’s loyal alumni base excited to get back to campus on fall Saturdays, and at the same time make it easier to recruit qualifying players to wear the black and gold.
Wellman wanted the Deacons' home turf to eventually be known as the “Wrigley Field of College Football”: small but major-league, intimate but possessing a big-time feel, classic but modern, with modern amenities expected in today’s facilities arms race. Even without Wellman at Wake Forest, that goal remains, with improvements being made to BB&T Field each year, as the mission continues to establish Wake Forest as THE team in this part of North Carolina and the Deacons' home turf as a showpiece of Atlantic Coast Conference football.
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".
BB&T Field does everything right when it comes to the concession offerings available to the Deacon fan. Although some room does exist for originality in the lineup, most stadium-goers would agree that more important than breaking outside the box is making sure to get the basics covered, do it at a fair price, and make every effort to keep the lines short. BB&T Field succeeds on all of these accounts.
Concession prices are very reasonable, especially by BCS-level standards. A regular soda will cost $3.50, while a 32-ounce hard plastic souvenir cup will set you back $5. A jumbo (and I do mean jumbo) hot dog will cost $4. From the account of a few fans, the lines are more than manageable, even for the biggest games, and the food is always on par and warm. On this day I noticed the popcorn, jumbo pretzels, and frozen lemonade to be especially popular.
In addition to the items found at the permanent stands, one can find a number of kiosks located around the stadium concourse, serving up everything from Dippin' Dots to funnel cake. Domino's is the pizza of choice at BB&T Field, and the always popular chicken sandwich courtesy of Chick-fil-A is present, as well.
One thing I would be remiss if I did not mention is the presence of a full-service sit-down restaurant, located on the 4th floor of Deacon Tower. Known as the "Deacon Tower Grille," the restaurant is operated by nationally-recognized catering operation Ovations Food Services. On game days, the grille is open only to those with access to Deacon Tower, i.e., club seat and suite ticket holders. On non-game days, the grille is open to the general public for dinner most nights, providing a unique dining option for Winston-Salem locals.
All in all, the food and beverage selection at BB&T Field is slightly above average, receiving extra notice for the fair prices, the quality of the basics, the speed of service, and the presence of a sit-down restaurant inside the facility.
If you are a first-time visitor to BB&T Field, I dare say you will feel very at home when you enter through the gates. The atmosphere here is very laid-back and casual. I do not say that in a derogatory way; rather that Deacon fans are known to be extremely hospitable and genteel in nature. The crowds at BB&T Field can run the gamut, from very impressive during a strong winning season or when an in-state rival or national name pays a visit, to subpar when none of those conditions apply. The latter was the case on the day of my visit.
The weather was less-than-stellar, the opponent an ACC foe from way out of town with a less than impressive record, and the Deacons in the midst of an average season from a win/loss perspective. Nonetheless, the hospitality was certainly there. BB&T Field is perfectly designed for a fan of the game at all levels of obsession. I can imagine this place can get intensely loud when the situation calls for it, and I would feel very comfortable bumping this category up a notch if a bigger crowd had been present.
One thing I feel really contributes to the atmosphere here is the extraordinary in-game entertainment. In some ways I felt like I was at a minor-league baseball game, and again, I do not mean that in a derogatory manner. The in-game promotions feature a few of the "usual suspects," such as the always popular "Kiss Cam." I found myself more intrigued with some of the more unusual in-game entertainment displays, from the dizzy paddle race (in which contestants race around a boat paddle rather than a bat, en route to a distant raft, pausing along the way to secure a life vest to their person) to the massive game of corn hole. And when I say massive, I mean massive! The board must be 10 to 12 feet in length, a good five feet wide, and five feet tall...it is quite impressive.
In addition, I witnessed my first game of racing "orbs," large clear plastic spheres in which contestants are zippered inside and push along, like hamsters running on a wheel. The college-aged coeds chosen to participate on this day raced to midfield, around the sponsor's signage, and then back to the end zone for the win.
BB&T Field also takes the in-game promotions up a notch with a massive t-shirt launcher -- or maybe t-shirt howitzer would be more like it. Constructed on a push-cart type frame, the howitzer is wheeled onto the field and literally sprays the crowd with t-shirts from 10 or so revolving chambers. It is a mechanically intriguing feature and can reach the far extent of the single-tier seating bowl with ease. I highly doubt this thing would even be feasible to use in an arena environment, as it would be simply too powerful.
Of course, the very short distance between the sidelines and stands contributes to the reach of this device. The closeness of the fans in the stands to the players on the field helps to make the stadium feel even more intimate than it already is. One special group that I must take note of that does a great job to help contribute to the atmosphere inside the stadium is the Demon Deacon Band. Small in size, but not in sound is a phrase that definitely applies to these students. They play beautifully, playing the school fight song with true gusto and not missing a note, which is more than I can say for many bands that belong to much larger schools.
The neighborhood around BB&T Field continues to make progress. Located approximately one mile from the heart of the Wake Forest campus, BB&T Field is the centerpiece of the many adjoining acres that comprise Winston-Salem's primary sports centers. Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the home of Demon Deacon basketball, is just across the street. Directly beside BB&T Field is the former Ernie Shore Field, the long-time home of minor league baseball in Winston-Salem. Now known as Gene Hooks Field, this venerable venue serves as the home field of Demon Deacon baseball.
Also in the area is the Wake Forest Tennis Center, which is home of the young but successful Winston-Salem Open of the ATP, as well as a coliseum annex building which has been home to a number of minor league hockey operations through the years, as well as a frequent home to big high school hoops games. A number of office buildings call the area home, ranging from corporate clients such as Pepsi, to the massive RJ Reynolds plant.
These types of facilities make it somewhat difficult to create a walkable and vibrant gameday atmosphere, but in-roads are being made. These in-roads come primarily via the "Tailgate Alley" being created just up from the main gates to BB&T Field. Tree-lined and featuring vendors, live music and more, this area is very popular for those attending games. Tailgate Alley also includes a few local restaurants at the far end of the alley, most notable of which is "Red, Hot, & Blue". This is a great neighborhood sports bar-type establishment, serving great barbecue and offering multiple TV's, including a 120" model in full view of most diners.
If you are searching for upscale offerings or a late-night party atmosphere, you are going to want to head downtown, where the dining and evening entertainment scene is much more vibrant. This drive will take you no more than five to ten minutes to put you in the heart of the action. This might not be ideal, but it places you close to many of the nicest and largest hotels and restaurants. I imagine that in the coming years you'll see a gain in this category, as the university and the city of Winston-Salem continue to work towards connecting the campus and sports centers found here, to build on the synergy that is beginning to emerge in the area.
The Demon Deacon fan is a good fan, a knowledgeable fan for the most part, but they just simply need more of them. The rub with that is this. Wake Forest is by far the smallest school in the ACC, one of the smallest BCS conference schools in terms of student enrollment. This makes generating large sports crowds tough. The student body turns out in full force for Demon Deacon basketball, but even if the same number of students turn out for football, it is hard to make a dent in a 31,500-seat facility.
I almost feel as if a number of fans take the tailgating more seriously than the game itself, and this is a shame, something I hope will change in the coming years. I noticed that an area near the tennis facility, just outside the east gates, serves as a gathering point for fraternities and sororities, and the student body was packed into this space. Unfortunately it appeared that a good many of these students never made it inside the nearby gates to actually watch the action on the field. It appeared the students gathered here were in the midst of a jolly good time, so it is simply quite possible the day just got away from some of them.
Another issue Wake Forest faces is making the university "Winston-Salem's University". Wake Forest is a national institution, and although it draws a good many students from North Carolina, it also draws a large percentage of students from outside The Old North State's boundaries, and even other countries. This means that many locals have a hard time connecting with the university, unless the team is having a great season or a big-name opponent visits.
As the school's reputation continues to grow, gains stand to be made. Kudos must be issued for the classy nature of the fans. When an opposing team's player went down with what appeared to be a very serious injury, an injury which led to a cart removing him from the field and taking him directly to an awaiting ambulance, Wake fans not only applauded upon his removal from the field but stood and paid full respect to the competitor throughout the nearly 10-minute ordeal.
A nod to the increased effort to engage the school and community must also be noted. From the current "Wake Will" and "Wake the Demon" marketing campaigns to the school's usage of social media to engage fans while in the stadium, the Demon Deacons are not sitting back waiting on success to come to them, they are seeking to meet success head-on. At the end of the third quarter, the scoreboard scrolls many pictures that fans tweet to the hashtag #GoDeacs during the day.
This social media connectivity to the fan base is not only low-cost for the school, it is a phenomenon that is now a part of our day-to-day lives and will only increasingly become a part of the stadium experience, so it behooves Wake Forest to be at the forefront of this game day movement.
Winston-Salem is a very easy town to traverse, with most major roads approaching the campus and the sports complex bearing signage denoting the presence of these facilities. Upon approach on gameday, you will normally find traffic congestion rather non-existent. Surface lots are located all around BB&T Field. General parking can be had just across the street at the LJVM Coliseum, and even from the furthest distances, you are no more than a 10-to-15 minute walk from the stadium.
Parking prices appear to range from $5 to $15, and as is normally the case, you will pay more the closer you wish to be. If you have no problem being on the outer edge of the walking distance, free parking can even be found -- just be sure to pay attention to signs marking tow-away zones. The lots directly around the stadium are absolutely perfect for pre-game tailgating. Many are lined with canopied medians full of excellent shade, perfect for those hottest of gameday afternoons.
Moving through the gates consists of the now-commonplace security screening and ticket scanning, both of which move very smoothly and quickly. Upon entry, signage marking the stadium's seating sections and facilities is large and readily visible. Gameday programs can be purchased at this point, as can rental chairs for $5, which is a great deal for a backrest for the day. Restrooms are large and numerous, though a bit of freshening up may be in order. Demon Deacon merchandise is offered from several locations, including souvenir windows on each side of the field, as well as in a large tent set up in a gravel area near Deacon Hill.
Upon entering the seating bowl, you will notice a simple two-sided seating, with tunnels approximately halfway up the grandstand, angled towards the field as you move away from midfield towards each end zone. The lowest rows also increase in elevation as you move away from midfield, so that those seated near the end zone and in the front row are approximately 15 feet above the field below. A semi-permanent seating structure in front of the field house affords access to a "club-type" level of the field house, complete with chairback seating. This area appears quite nice, but I am a bit surprised that a more permanent structure has not been constructed, as this seating area does have a golf tournament-type feel to it.
Above this area is a ribbon board on the field house façade, designed for the display of score and various other statistics, and especially essential for those sitting opposite, on Deacon Hill. Speaking of which, Deacon Hill is perfectly suited for families who desire a picnic-like experience, complete with lush green grass with just the right sloping for optimal game viewing. It is also perfect for young ones who want to slide to their hearts content.
I must also note the amazing press box found high atop Deacon Tower. The facility is very open in layout, complete with a very nice buffet-style cafeteria, a few lounges, and spotless facilities atop three elevated rows of workspace, with televisions above tuned to the game in progress, as well as other games simultaneously occurring around the nation. Simply put, the press box at BB&T Field is one of the nicest in the nation, regardless of class or conference affiliation.
When considering attending a major college football game, the overall cost will factor into the equation for many of us. To attend a game at an Alabama or Texas or Florida State could easily set a family of four back $300 or $400 dollars. This is most certainly not the case at Wake Forest. A family of four can often attend a game at Wake Forest -- against teams the caliber of those just mentioned, no less -- for not even half of the cost of venturing to Tuscaloosa or Tallahassee.
That fact alone means a good value for high quality football. If you're a fan of the Demon Deacons, then that return is multiplied, and multiplied exponentially, with a Wake win. Combine the relative ease of securing tickets at great prices, the ease of arrival and parking, the cost of concessions, the great views of the action from every vantage point, and it is easy to see why checking out a game at BB&T Field is a no-brainer from a financial standpoint. Thus, the return on investment is right there at the top of the FBS heap.
BB&T Field follows up the return on investment with a lot of finishing touches, if you will, that serve to cap off a great college football experience. Tops on this list is the massive video board, situated high atop Deacon Hill and stretching almost entirely from sideline-to-sideline, practically the entire width of the end zone. This board may no longer be the largest in college football but it is ridiculously clear and when combined with the proximity to the seating bowl feels even closer. I cannot tell you how many times I found myself watching the action on the video board rather than on the actual field.
The board is probably the single greatest fan amenity at BB&T Field, and Demon Deacon fans should be incredible thankful to those donors who made its installation possible. I also love how fireworks are shot off from atop the board after each Deacons score. From my vantage point, I could see the employees atop the board responsible for lighting the fuse on the fireworks, and they looked like ants, if that serves to give you some perspective on the size of this screen.
A sometimes underappreciated aspect of a stadium is the playing surface itself, and the field turf at BB&T Field is among the best I have seen. Using alternating shades of green, the surface is deeper in color hue than many turf fields I have seen, and when painted with the beautiful black and old gold colors of the Demon Deacons, the field really pops. The players stand out against the deep green background, actually assisting in seeing the more minute details of play.
On each sideline are elevated platforms built into the first few rows which bring the cheerleaders and dance teams face to face with the bottom rows of seating. This is a really great feature, and one I have not seen before. What this allows for is those in the stands to get a great up-close view of the Demon Deacon pep squads, rather than them being down on the field and hidden amongst all of the movement and action of the sidelines. They feel much more a part of the atmosphere being closer to the fans, allowing for much easier interaction, especially when leading the cross-stadium "Wake" - "Forest" chant.
Wake Forest lays claim to an impressive array of alumni, and chief among them might just be a living legend, and professional golf Hall of Famer, Arnold Palmer. I was lucky enough to visit BB&T Field on a day that would find Mr. Palmer in attendance. Even with his prime years behind him, Mr. Palmer was in on the action, serving to "open the gates" (Wake Forest's way of welcoming the players to the field after pre-game introductions) and then riding along with the Deacon mascot, on the back of a black and gold motorcycle no less, to lead the players to midfield just prior to kickoff. It was a sight to see, and for a sports fan, any day that you can see one of sports greats in attendance is a good day. A bonus point alone for counting Arnold Palmer among your biggest fans.
Wake Forest, as an athletic department and more specifically as a football program, has lots of potential. The Demon Deacons hired a new coach for the 2014 season, a coach who promises to bring a lot of excitement to Winston-Salem. This presents a golden opportunity for the Deacons to ratchet up the overall gameday experience at BB&T Field yet another notch. They are not far off.
If the football program could manage to produce consistently winning seasons, splattered with a few uber-successful nine-or-ten win seasons every few years, then I feel that the Wake Forest staff have the extra push in them to truly make BB&T Field a very special place -- maybe even the "Wrigley Field of College Football".
I see great comparisons between the Vanderbilt Commodores and Wake Forest. The schools are similar in many regards, right down to the similar color palette. A few years ago, Vanderbilt was where Wake Forest is today. Then came a coaching change and a few good years, and Vanderbilt football was on the map.
The exact same thing could very easily happen in Winston-Salem. In fact, from a facilities standpoint, I feel that Wake Forest is a ways ahead of where Vanderbilt was a few years ago, and even today, after the success of the Commodores, BB&T Field is still regarded by most as being superior to Vanderbilt's home playing surface.
What does this all mean? It means the groundwork is in place. It means the building blocks have been laid out, but it will be up to the new Athletic Director and head coach to spearhead the final drive to greatness. I look forward to seeing if the Deacons can put it all together. If they are successful attending a game at BB&T Field five years from now will be a very different, and even better, experience.
Things have come a long way since my first Wake Forest football experience. What
started as a relaxed, underwhelming game day has turned into one of the best small
stadium atmospheres in college football. Groves Stadium underwent a name change (to
BB&T Field), the team itself earned an ACC Championship, and Athletic Director Ron
Wellman went a long way toward his goal of making BB&T Field the "Wrigley Field of
Obviously, the improvement on the field had a lot to do with the additions, but so did
the vision of Wellman. Fans have a more pleasant venue, recruits have something to get
excited about, and the players can be proud of their stadium now. The school has also
done a lot to enhance tailgating as well.
So although BB&T Field continues to be a work in progress, it is a beautiful stadium with
some truly first class features. The bathrooms are clean and updated, Deacon Tower is
gorgeous, the new video board is breathtaking, and the stadium itself looks modern, yet
classic. As far as college venues go, it is pretty darn nice.
BB&T Field is the right size for people who are intimidated by the massive college coliseums but brings with it great D-1 action. A top-rate scoreboard and cheap tickets are pluses.
I almost scored it 5 across the board. Only two things are needed to improve the experience. More students attending (but Wake is small so that is hard to do), and more seat back chairs. Since Wake's population is small they need to think of ways to fill the stadium (i.e., give free seats to area high school honors students, give to local nonprofits to honor community service, give to local church groups, discount tickets to those who live in the same zip code, free tickets to those who partner with Wake for community service, etc.).
3005 Bonhurst Dr
Winston-Salem, NC 27106
2806 University Pkwy
Winston-Salem, NC 27105
475 Deacon Blvd
Winston-Salem, NC 27105
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