The Greenville Road Warriors of the ECHL have a pretty intriguing story. The team relocated to South Carolina's Upstate region from Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in 2010. For those unfamiliar with Johnstown, it was the filming location for parts of the 1977 hockey classic “Slap Shot”. The Johnstown Chiefs were inspired by the film when they formed in 1988.
One of two ECHL entries in the Palmetto State (the South Carolina Stingrays being the other), the Road Warriors are the second team to call Greenville home. The Greenville Grrrowl existed from 1998 to 2006, also playing in the same league as the current team. While the current team is a New York Rangers affiliate, the Grrrowl were affiliated with the Chicago Blackhawks and Edmonton Oilers. The Grrrowl won the league's Kelly Cup in the 2001-02 season.
Most people would immediately dismiss South Carolina – particularly Greenville – as any sort of hockey market. Anyone who would do so, however, should do so at their own peril. Hockey can exist and thrive in “non-traditional” markets, and the Greenville Road Warriors are a great example of this.
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For a minor league hockey arena, there are a lot of food choices available at a Road Warriors game. Several chains have offerings in the BI-LO Center to go along with the "normal" options one might expect. Mexican chain Moe's Southwest Grill has a point-of-sale, offering burritos ($8), nachos ($7), and quesadillas (cheese for $4, chicken and cheese for $8). Southern chicken favorite Bojangles also has a stand, featuring a Chicken Supremes or Homestyle Tenders platter ($8), a cajun chicken filet sandwich ($5), and a large order of seasoned fries ($4). Either platter is served with these fries. Bojangles is also known for its sweet tea, which can be purchased for $4 (22 ounce) or $5.75 (32 ounce).
If you travel a bit further along the concourse, there is also a Pizza Hut stand. The choices are limited and the prices high ($6 for a pepperoni personal pan pizza or $4 for an order of three breadsticks with marinara sauce), but the option of a pizza is nice. Krispy Kreme doughnuts ($3) and coffee ($3.50) are also available at several stands.
Most of the other food options at the multiple points-of-sale are what one would expect, including hot dogs (regular for $4, foot-longs for $5), popcorn, soft pretzels, and supreme nachos. For those with kids, a cost-effective option of a kids meal exists. That meal is a hot dog, a pretzel or a bag of chips, and a kid-sized fountain soda for $5. There is a popcorn stand, a funnel cake stand (including cinnamon sugar, powdered sugar, or chocolate-topped cakes for $6), and several other standalone options among the mid-concourse carts.
One final food option is Pour Station 108, a somewhat "upscale" dining option, including beer cheese soup, ancho chile wings, a cherrywood-smoked bacon cheeseburger with pepper jack cheese, a western-style pork barbecue sandwich, a black forest ham and Swiss sandwich, and a Boar's Head turkey BLT sandwich. Most of the options are between $7 and $11, so they are not particularly cost-effective, but they are certainly unique offerings. A small draft beer is five or six dollars, depending on location, and a large is eight or nine dollars. Wine (white zinfandel, chardonnay, and merlot) is available at multiple locations for $5, with Mike's Hard Lemonade and wine coolers also available for purchase.
One note to those looking to buy concessions at the BI-LO Center: Bring cash. A large number of the stands do not take credit cards, so cash is a must. ATMs are available, but service fees are also a consideration with this option.
You will be confronted with something that is both good and bad when entering the seating bowl at the BI-LO Center for a Road Warriors game. A lot of the upper deck in the arena is tarped off. This creates a bit of a visual letdown, but it also makes for a more intimate atmosphere. The lack of upper deck seating means that just about every seat has a great view of the action on the ice. One word of caution, however: if you do sit in the upper deck, choose wisely. Some of the upper deck seats are obscured by the railings for the steps that lead you to the seating area.
There is a large four-sided scoreboard in the center of the ice, which prominently features the score, time remaining and shots on goal. The one problem with the board is the video portion. It is so dim that it is not view-able. I tried at several different intervals to follow the action on the board, and could not do so.
It should be noted that the arena is quite loud throughout the game. The crowd sounds like one five times its size, and the music also awakens the experience quite a bit. There is also a mascot named Rowdy who participates in a number of the on-ice promotions, as well as greeting the kids in the stands. One of those on-ice activities is Chuck-A-Puck, an awesome (if not dangerous) promotion where fans purchase foam pucks and throw them onto the ice in an attempt to win prizes.
The arena is right in downtown Greenville just off Interstate 385, so there is plenty to do and see within a short distance. Nearby restaurants include the Blue Ridge Brewing Company, The Brown Street Club and Trio. The downtown area serves numerous businesses, the Greenville Drive baseball team and events at the BI-LO Center, so you will never be at a loss for things to eat or a good way to spend an evening.
Bars, clubs, the Peace Center for the Performing Arts and the Warehouse Theatre are all within a mile, so you can add to your enjoyment - or culture - for the evening. The metro area of Greenville has over 600,000 residents, and there is something in the area for fans of all types of sports, music, theatre, and fine dining.
Having never seen an ECHL event in person, and especially not in South Carolina, I was not really sure what to expect from the fans going into my visit. What I got was a loud - if somewhat small - group that was intelligent, loud from the first drop of the puck to the final horn, and loyal. I saw a ton of fans in Road Warrior jerseys and other gear walking around the arena, and for a team that has only been in existence for three years, this is pretty impressive. Section 228 in the arena features The War Room, a loud and fun group that has their own Facebook page and Foursquare check-in location.
The one complaint about the fans is that more of them need to attend Road Warrior games. The attendance was 3,876 on the night I visited. This is still a team that is relatively new to the market, as we mentioned, but the club already has a division championship under its belt in that short time. A lot of people have made their way into South Carolina's Upstate region from the north, and one would hope they will continue to find their way to the arena for some pretty entertaining hockey.
Some downtown locations have a real parking problem, but this is not the case for Road Warrior home games. There are numerous surface lots surrounding the BI-LO Center with $5 parking, as well as a large parking garage nearby at the same rate. Some street parking appeared to be available, but it is likely easier to park in one of the lots or the garage. None of the parking is very far from the arena, and there are no real safety concerns with downtown Greenville at night. It bears mention, however, that the Directions and Parking portion of the team's website gives decent directions to the arena, but says nothing about parking. Therefore, do some research of your own before making the trip, or just look for signs leading you to parking.
The concourse is very wide and has room for everyone in attendance to move with very little problem. The concessions and restrooms are all on the main concourse and are easy to access, but this will - as one might expect - occasionally limit your ability to see what is taking place on the ice. If you can time your visits to the concourse with the period breaks, the lines are a bit long, but move at a pace that should get you back to your seat before the action resumes.
For fans looking to fly to Greenville for whatever reason and make a Road Warrior game part of their trip, Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport is 15-20 minutes north of the arena, depending on traffic. The arena can be accessed via Interstate 385, U.S. Route 29, South Carolina Highway 291, and several additional surface streets.
I mentioned earlier that it was disappointing that there were not more fans in attendance on the night I visited, and part of that disappointment comes from the entertainment value offered by the team. The most expensive seat in the house is in the Premium Blue seating level, which costs $15 ($16 on the day of the game). Two other seating levels are offered: Select Red ($12/$13) and Value Green ($9/$10). The locations of these seats are not listed on the team's website, so it is likely a good idea to ask when making your ticket purchase.
If you purchase a ticket in the Value Green level in advance ($9), park your car ($5), and buy a hot dog and bottled Pepsi product ($4 each), this will still not set you back too much. The team has some special offers worth noting, as well, including a special ticket offer for Sunday home games. Fans showing their BI-LO (this is a grocery store chain in the Carolinas) BONUSCARD at the box office two hours before game time can get up to four free tickets in the BI-LO Family Fun Section (section 110), while supplies last. It is likely a good idea to try to book your visit through the box office, as the team uses a ticket broker known for adding fees to your purchase.
The club occasionally offers various different incentives to get fans to come out and see a Road Warrior game. There are numerous entities competing for the entertainment dollar, and teams have to find different ways to draw fans' interest. One of these ways involves a perk the team offers for Sunday home games. Playing off the theme baseball teams use allowing fans to come on the field and run the bases or play catch, the team gives fans the opportunity to come skate on the BI-LO Center ice after Sunday games. Needless to say, South Carolina is not known for its abundance of ice skating venues, and this is a nice touch.
The game I attended featured a hockey game during one of the period breaks between two local youth hockey clubs. Rowdy (the aforementioned team mascot) skated with the kids during the game and served as a "referee". This is a great way to get local kids involved with the game, and the Charlotte Hounds lacrosse team employed something very similar during my visit there. It is a big thing for children to play on the same surface on which their heroes play.
The team also conducts post-game autograph sessions on the main concourse. Two Road Warrior players come upstairs to sign for the fans, and their appearance is promoted on a sign near the souvenir shop, as well as announcements over the public address system. The line to get an autograph from the players was extremely long on the night I attended, but the players were gracious and moved things along at a pretty quick pace. This is another touch that costs the team virtually nothing, but can earn them a considerable amount in fan happiness.
As fall approaches, the thoughts of many South Carolinians turn to football and basketball. These sports are often seen as the "staples" of the region. If you find, however, that you want to change it up a bit, the Greenville Road Warriors offer a fun night out - even if you aren't a hockey "loyalist" -- at a reasonable price. The action is fast-paced, as a game only takes a little over two hours. If your plans call for you to be in Greenville, stop by and see a game. You just might find yourself smacking the glass with the rest of the fans in the front row.
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200 North Main St
Greenville, SC 29601
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407 North Main St
Greenville, SC 29601