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Official Review by Brandon Charpied, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Charleston is very much known for its centuries-old Live Oaks, its unparalleled local history, and of course its southern charm. From King Street to Market Street, through Rainbow Row and the Battery, all the way out to Fort Sumter in the Charleston Harbor dotted with pristine white sailboats, Charleston is like few other cities.
The college scene in the area is often dominated by The Citadel and the College of Charleston, both situated right in the heart of the Charleston peninsula. Often overlooked is the Big South Conference’s Charleston Southern University, a modest school of 3,300 students spread out over a 300-acre campus. Contrary to its name, Charleston Southern is neither located in Charleston proper nor in the southern portion of the Charleston MSA. In fact, Charleston Southern is tucked away in the incorporated city of North Charleston - the third largest city in the state of South Carolina.
Charleston Southern Buccaneers football is played at Buccaneer Field, a humble 4,000 seat multi-purpose facility built in 1970, but with football specific upgrades since the team’s inception in 1991.
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".
Buccaneer Field offers a better-than-expected menu on the home side on the back end of the fieldhouse. It includes some southern staples, such as BBQ pork ($4) and a Chick-fil-A sandwich ($4), as well as other stadium norms like hot dogs ($2) and nachos with chili and cheese ($3).
Drinks (e.g., water, Gatorade, soda) all run between $2 and $3 each. In addition, there are a few other private vendors that serve at their own tables on the gate side of the fieldhouse. Some of these vendors are redundant, such as more BBQ pork and an official Chick-fil-A stand, while others provide some additional variety like 'The Peanutman' who struts around the stadium boasting the flavor of his boiled peanuts, often with off-color jokes, much to the delight of the crowd, and an old school ice cream truck that may just make you reminisce of those childhood days of sprinting down the street on a steamy summer afternoon.
The visitor side leaves a tremendous amount to be desired. Food and beverage goes as far as a single Pepsi logo cart that serves prepackaged Costco bulk items. The menu on this side goes no further than a bag of chips and Gatorade.
It is easy to see how the atmosphere at the game is lacking for several factors. Given that the facility is a multi-purpose facility, the football field and stands are separated by a significant amount of real estate dedicated to track and field usage, just as you would see at many high school stadiums. This puts the fans at a less than optimal distance from the game. The stadium is also lacking any sort of lighting, thus only day games can be played, as well as a sound system that is capable of playing hype music in between plays, on big downs, or kickoffs. Finally, there is no screen on the scoreboard capable of playing any video or showing stats, let alone instant replays.
The area surrounding Charleston Southern is relatively quiet and no different than typical American suburbia. Starter homes and apartments border the campus to the south and east. On the north edge sits a mix of undeveloped woodland and marsh, while I-26 runs alongside the western border of the campus. Aside from a few local medical centers, there is no real industry or commerce to speak of in the immediate area. Larger shopping areas, food, and hotels can be found clustered just a short distance south down either I-26 (near Ashley Phosphate Road) or Rivers Avenue (toward the east side of the campus). On the positive side, you're only about 7 miles away from downtown Charleston, one of the prettiest towns in the United States.
While it is not to be expected that visitor side fans are afforded the same luxuries as those that support the home side, Buccaneer Field provides such a wide chasm between the two that it is difficult for the visiting side to be fully entrenched in the event in front of them. While rarely would ever be the case, the visiting side for this game (in fall, 2013) had so many fans that it overflowed the stands and many hundreds of them had to attempt to watch the game by lining the fence around the stadium.
The home side is loud, excited, and deeply emotionally into the game all while being extremely respectful, which is all you can ask from fans in a game of this magnitude.
Accessing the campus and stadium is not entirely easy. Departing is even more difficult. Most access the campus coming off of I-26; however, the campus entrance is a quick left turn soon after exiting the highway, forcing you to cut across two lanes of traffic to get to the stop light. Parking is straight forward. Charleston Southern does not have any parking lots nearby the stadium so they line the vehicles in an empty grass field.
Exiting the stadium is quite frustrating. The university does not have any campus police or traffic attendants to assist with the couple-of-thousand vehicles that are converging upon a grassy exit that is only two cars wide. From the time we entered our car to only leaving the parking lot (only about two-hundred feet away), it took a little over twenty minutes. Once out of the parking lot it was a simple hop onto I-26 and on our way home.
While rarely a deal breaker when attending sporting events, access to bathrooms are always an important aspect for those times when you really need them. The bathrooms at Buccaneer Field are subpar to say the least. On the home side, there are not enough stalls for both the men and women. During intermission between the third and fourth quarters, lines outside the door to the women's bathroom cam be twenty deep, whereas the men's side may be six deep. The men's bathroom consists of two toilet stalls and four urinals. Both toilet stalls had broken latches during my visit, which made for an uncomfortable situation of an older man being walked in on four times. The bathroom was devoid of any paper towels or device to dry your hands after you washed them. It was reported to me that the women's bathroom was equally in disarray.
On the visitor side, there are no plumbed bathrooms. Rather, the university brings in approximately fifteen port-a-johns and one larger bathroom 'truck'. While I did not use the port-a-john, I did use the truck and found both the toilet and faucet to be inoperable.
Game tickets are on par with most FCS level football stadiums, and certainly right in line with other schools in the Big South Conference. Most will opt for the $10 General Admission tickets which will give you access to the bleacher seating areas on both the home and visitor sides. For those looking for a little nicer seats, you may wish to opt for the $20 single ticket seats on the home side of the field. Tickets often come with a redeemable coupon that can be used toward one of the southern staples of fast food eateries (e.g., Chick-fil-A or Bojangles).
Seeing that at least half of all visiting fans present did not have a seat given the massive overselling of tickets, I can say that the ROI at Buccaneer Field is hugely dependent on your arriving early enough to grab a seat, or simply paying the $20 to assure yourself a seat on the home side of the field. This stadium's experience runs a wide spectrum of experiential return.
The biggest extras have little to do with the campus or stadium itself, and more to do with the beauty of the surrounding area. Whether you head twenty minutes south to the heart of Charleston and take in one of the most historically significant cities in our nation, or head over toward Mount Pleasant and visit some of the local parks and Boone Hall Plantation, you really can't go wrong. Charleston Southern University is fortunate enough to be located within shouting distance of the city that has currently been named the Best City in the United States by Condé Nast magazine for three consecutive years, as well as being named the Friendliest City in the United States by the same publication. There are few stadium locales that can boast anything close to where Charleston Southern University and Buccaneer Field are located.
The humble and low key nature and design of the Charleston Southern University campus certainly extends into Buccaneer Field. While there isn't a necessity for light stanchions or even the ability to play hype music or show replays, there are certainly basic elements for people to be able to enjoy a sporting event that Buccaneer Field needs to do a better job performing on. A little TLC to the bathrooms and port-a-johns, a few parking lot attendees to assist in exiting, and making sure that the visiting fans actually have a legitimate seat and viewing ability for the tickets they purchased are just a couple of those elements that need to be tended to.
Charleston is such a vibrant and culturally rich area that it only makes sense that visitors would have a difficult time freeing up a Saturday afternoon to catch a Buccaneers football game up in North Charleston; however, if you simply can't avoid the itch, I suggest you get to the game, spend the $20 to sit on the home side, and take in an afternoon of sun, fun, and football.
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