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Official Review by Aaron S. Terry, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Fetzer Field was constructed in 1935 and extensively renovated about 15 years ago; the field was named in honor of UNC’s first full-time athletic director. The multi-sport facility has a natural grass playing surface, and is home to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's women's and men's soccer and lacrosse teams. The field itself is surrounded by the Belk Track, so the complex is also home to UNC's women's and men's track and field programs.
Fetzer Field officially seats 5,025, but the venue is known for far exceeding this capacity, especially during women's soccer matches, specifically during and since Mia Hamm's tenure at UNC. In fact, Carolina women's soccer led the NCAA in average home attendance from 1998-2002, and has been in the top 5 in seven of the last 13 years. The women's team is also known for packing stadiums in other parts of the country, setting attendance records in venues as far away as College Station, Texas and San Jose, California.
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Concessions at Fetzer Field are sold from a fixed stand at the top of the concourse near the center of the stands. There aren't a ton of options, but there is enough to get you by for a couple hours. Prices for certain items are slightly on the high side, but overall the costs are in line with other stadiums.
Food options include Papa John's pizza, hot dogs, nachos, popcorn (regular or bottomless), peanuts, pretzels, boxed candy, Cracker Jack, and cotton candy. These items will run $3 to $7, with hot dogs, peanuts, boxed candy, and Cracker Jack on the low end, and pizza and bottomless popcorn on the high end. If you grab a pretzel, be sure to add a cheese cup for $1 - their cheese cups are very large, and will give you way more than enough cheese for your pretzel enjoyment.
Drinks are limited to Coke products (in bottles or from the fountain), bottled water, and PowerAde, which run $3 to $5. No alcohol is sold at, or allowed in, Fetzer Field.
Though celebrated by many thanks to the Mia Hamm connection, the atmosphere at Fetzer Field during a soccer game is quite tame, and the amenities are just okay. The players do toss out mini autographed soccer balls to fans seated in the stands before the game starts, which is a nice gesture (and a reason to get there early). However, the seats are just plain metal bleachers with no chair backs, and the signage is actually a little hard to read, due to the Tar Heels' color scheme of white letters on a Carolina blue background.
The grandstand is located on the north side, facing the video board, with the McCaskill Soccer Center on the west end. The dugouts and media tower (scaffolding where media and photographers can take pictures during the game) are directly across from the stands. The main entrance is by the concessions stand, at the top of the concourse near midfield, behind the press box.
Check out a video of Fetzer Field here:
Fetzer Field is located on campus, and is surrounded by other athletic fields and campus buildings ( Kenan Memorial Stadium is across the street). That said, there isn't much to do within walking distance - Franklin Street is really where you need to be to find excitement in Chapel Hill (about a mile from the field).
Located near the center of campus, Franklin Street is the Mecca of restaurants and bars for UNC students. If you head that way, the Mellow Mushroom is a popular place to enjoy pizza and beer before or after the match, as is Italian Pizzeria III. If you aren't in the mood for pizza, Top of the Hill and Spanky's are upscale brewpubs that offer more traditional pub fare, as well as house brews, local beers, domestics, and imports.
If you are a soccer fan, you may not be interested, but since UNC is most well-known as a basketball school, the Carolina Basketball Museum may be a place to check out while in town. The museum is on the other side of campus from Fetzer Field, near the Dean Smith Center.
There is a lot more energy around UNC's women's soccer than their men's team, so the stadium will generally have a much bigger crowd at women's game than men's (1,800+ average attendance for women's soccer vs. about 1,200 per match for the men). That said, if you are looking for a more exciting atmosphere, be sure to choose a date when the women's team takes the field.
Parking on UNC's campus is always a challenge, but for soccer games they allow free parking at the School of Government parking 'deck,' which is on the corner of South Road and Country Club Road - they call it a deck, but really it is a surface lot with a second lot underneath, so it doesn't look like one.
The free parking is nice, but unfortunately, this makes the ticketing process at Fetzer Field probably the most cumbersome I have ever seen. This is because if you park at the School of Government, you will most likely enter Fetzer Field from the east end, using a sidewalk built ostensibly for that purpose. The catch is, tickets are not sold inside the soccer stadium, but are instead sold at Carmichael Arena, which is in front of the field (on the north side). So, if you come in on the east side, you will have to walk back out the main gate to go buy a ticket, and then come back in. Many fans don't bother, they just come in on the east end and stay inside, and the staff doesn't really pay attention. This probably costs the university a little money in lost ticket sales, but also may hurt their attendance figures. I will say there is some construction going on right now, so this could be remedied in the future.
Other than the ticketing issue, getting around Fetzer Field is pretty simple - the bathrooms and concessions are easy to find, and the lines are never long since the crowd is so small. Fans with special needs can sit at the top of the concourse, on outcroppings built for that purpose.
Tickets to soccer matches here are $5, parking is free, and concessions are reasonable enough, so not an expensive outing by any means. However, Fetzer Field also lacks the amenities you will find at other college soccer venues, and you can tell it was built long ago. Given its location, the university may not be able to make drastic changes, but some small changes, like better seating, would improve the experience a lot.
The team does hand out autographed balls to fans at the start of the match, which is a nice feature. There is also some nice scenery, with lots of trees in sight beyond the campus buildings.
A typical college soccer venue in need of updating, Fetzer Field is fine if you are just looking to take in a match, and the women's team is very popular. However, there are much better sports experiences in Chapel Hill, and there are much nicer soccer venues within half an hour or 45 minutes.
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