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Official Review by Aaron S. Terry, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Bon Secours Wellness Arena, formerly known as the Bi-Lo Center, was built in 1998 to replace the aging Greenville Memorial Auditorium, which was located across the street. Bon Secours is currently the second-largest arena in South Carolina, and hosts concerts, motocross, wrestling, and other events, but mainly serves as the home arena for the ECHL Greenville Swamp Rabbits (since 2010). The venue has an interesting and controversial history – because it is located in South Carolina, the arena is no longer permitted to host NCAA tournament games, due to complaints from the NAACP about the Confederate flag being displayed in the state. To that point, it has not hosted an NCAA tournament since 2002, except in an emergency situation in 2005. Incidentally, the restriction also includes the state of Mississippi, for the same reason.
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".
Bon Secours has three main vendors - Bojangles, Pizza Hut, and Moe's, with prices for main dishes ranging from $4 to $8, depending on which you choose (chicken, pizza, or Mexican). The nice thing about the set-up here is that these items are available at the main stands, as well as at smaller satellite stands throughout the arena, which cuts down on the lines. You can also purchase burgers, corn dogs, hot dogs, smoked sausage, and Philly cheese steak sandwiches at the same stands for around the same prices - it may be a bit discombobulating to see hot dogs listed on a Pizza Hut menu, but you have to appreciate the variety, right? There are also some generic Mexican items such as nachos and jalapeno poppers, which I don't think are from Moe's, but are still available.
In addition to main dishes, you can also find popcorn for $5 and up (depending on size), as well as pretzels for $4, roasted peanuts for $3, or cinnamon glazed almonds, cashews, or pecans for $4.50 - these are the same glazed nuts you can watch being made that are found in stadiums and arenas all over the south. Warning, this product may be habit-forming.
Of course Bon Secours also has desserts as well as drinks - doughnuts for $3, candy for $4, or ice cream for $4 to $6 (Dippin' Dots or soft-serve with toppings available), plus water for $4, soda and Bojangles' sweet tea starting at $4, hot cocoa and coffee for $3 and $3.50, respectively, fresh-squeezed lemonade starting at $3.50, and beer and wine for $3 and up. Kid's meals are also available for $5 each (hot dog, chips, and a drink), and on special occasions you can get $2 beers, hot dogs, pretzels, and sodas.
The most impressive thing about seeing a game at Bon Secours is the wide variety of community programs the Swamp Rabbits support. At a typical game you can see kids from Greenville's Learn to Skate program demonstrate their budding hockey skills, in addition to a performance by the Greenville Figure Skating Club, as well as a Chuck-a-Puck fundraising event to benefit local Cub and Boy Scout troops - during the latter, numbered foam rubber pucks can be purchased for $2, and thrown onto the ice during the second intermission.
A lottery of sorts, the purchaser of the puck that lands closest to the center of a target placed on the ice wins $250, with the rest of the proceeds going to a local charity, a different one each night. Adding to the fun are the antics of mascot Rowdy, which are always a joy to watch, whether he is pumping his fist on the big screen to fire up the crowd, or playing hockey with the kids, or tearing around the ice on his specially-equipped golf cart.
For a closer look at the 'Learn to Skate' program, check out this video.
There aren't really any restaurants or attractions within sight of Bon Secours, just parking lots and some downtown buildings. However, there are a couple of parks within walking distance, as well as a cemetery. Also the Greenville Zoo is only 3-4 blocks away if you want to make a day of it - the zoo is open until 5 pm, and admission is $8.75 per person for adults and $5.50 per person for kids 3-15 (under 2 is free). If you are looking for a place just to hang out before or after the game, about 8-10 blocks away, you will find an area of town with numerous restaurants. Two local favorites are Wild Wing Café (wings) and Sticky Fingers Smokehouse (barbecue), both of which are perfect pre or postgame options, with great food, beer, and multiple TVs.
Far from having regular sell-outs, for hockey games Bon Secours actually curtains off some of the seats in the upper level. To boost attendance, the staff does many things to try and keep fans engaged (and bring more of them in), including holding special events like Scout night or Wounded Warrior night, or offering special pricing like 2 for $10 tickets with $2 food and beverage options. More so than the hockey, the highlight of the game tends to be the giveaways and special performances, which fans actually stay in their seats for, instead of running for concessions during every break in the action. Most notably, this includes the t-shirts that are tossed out multiple times during each game, which the fans really get excited about - jumping up and down, yelling, and cheering, all in the hopes of snagging one of these fabulous, wearable prizes. Of late, the Swamp Rabbits have not offered much on the ice to cheer about, so the fans make do with what they have, and really seem to enjoy it.
Located right in downtown Greenville, Bon Secours is very easy to get to, and plenty of parking is available right next to the arena for only $5. The venue is also very close to several major freeways, so getting away after the game is pretty much smooth sailing. Once you park, there are plenty of entrances into the arena, so getting in and out isn't a problem, either. There are plenty of bathrooms inside the arena, and even at the busiest times (i.e. during intermission), there is ample room to walk around and get where you are trying to go. The best thing about the arena, however, is the number of staircases and walkways rinkside - it is surprisingly easy to get to and from your seat, because there are so many paths in and around; you might not even have to disturb your neighbor.
Tickets can be purchased for $12 to $29, depending on where you sit (face value not including fees), and on special occasions, you can actually get tickets in the upper level 2 for $10. For hockey games, some of the seats are blocked off, so even the cheapest tickets are not nosebleeds, and the sightlines are pretty good. Parking is only $5, and concession stand prices are reasonable, so it is certainly worth the price of admission to attend a Swamp Rabbits game. It is also a much more relaxed atmosphere to see a hockey game than some of the more crowded (and pricier) NHL arenas.
One point for the community events supported and sponsored by Bon Secours and the Swamp Rabbits; it is gratifying to see a team give back in the ways they can, e.g. by teaching kids how to play hockey or giving a local skating club a place to practice.
A second point is given for the brand promotion of the title sponsor - Bon Secours Health System purchased the naming rights in 2013, and the arena now showcases monitors around the concourse displaying 'Well Facts,' as well as a fitness space promoting wellness, all linked to the hashtag #BeWellFans. It is gratifying to see a sponsor try to make a positive impact like this, and a rarity - in most cases, venue promoters such as this rarely do more than simply advertise their own services.
A final point is given for the architecture - around the concourse, there are walkways not unlike freeway overpasses that allow fans on the upper level to get to and from their seats. Not only does this make it easier to get around, but it also makes the arena seem much more spacious and less confining.
All in all, Bon Secours is a fun place to watch a hockey game. Even though the home team, currently an affiliate of the New York Rangers, might not always be having the best season, the staff works really hard to create a fun atmosphere in the form of giveaways and special events. You are guaranteed to see some interesting spectacles on the ice, and the arena does a great job supporting the local community. Ticket prices and parking are very reasonable, and there are several other attractions nearby that you can take in during your visit to Greenville.
Member Review by brian on Oct 26, 2012
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.
200 North Main St
Greenville, SC 29601
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407 North Main St
Greenville, SC 29601