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Official Review by Sean MacDonald, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
The Greensboro Coliseum is the largest venue of the nine that comprise the Greensboro Coliseum Complex, which includes an amphitheater, convention center, and museum. Opened in 1959, it has been expanded or renovated a grand total of seven times, with the most recent in 2013.
The Coliseum is home to the UNC Greensboro Spartans, but gets more publicity in March, when it hosts the ACC tournament over five days. In 2014 it hosted the tourney for the 23rd time, but that may be a prelude to its swansong, as 2015 is slated to be the final year here before the tournament moves to bigger markets in Washington and Brooklyn. That’s a shame because the Coliseum is one of the largest arenas without a pro team in any sport. When it hosted the Carolina Hurricanes in their first two seasons from 1997-99, it was the largest arena in the NHL with a capacity in excess of 22,000. Of course, they didn’t come close to filling it up then, but they do when the ACC comes to town. It is their Big Dance and well worth a visit if you enjoy college hoops.
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A surprising number of concession stands dot the lower concourse, with typical offerings at reasonable prices. Tournament Town Grille offers a hamburger or cheeseburger basket for $8, while a hot dog basket is $7. Baskets come with fries, which are $4 on their own, while popcorn is $4 for a small bucket and an extra buck for the large.
Tamales, a Mexican stand, offers burritos for $8, tacos for $4, and nachos for $8, while Hot Dog Nation offers, what else, a jumbo all-beef dog for $6, including your choice of toppings such as chili, cheese and jalapenos. Pretzels are also available here for $4.
My recommendation is the BBQ stand with a pulled pork sandwich at just $6.50 ($9 including chips) and BBQ nachos for $7. A healthier option is the chicken salad wrap for $8 at the bar in one corner of the lower concourse, which also had no lines to make it even more attractive. They also sell salads, cookies, and candy here. Other stands include Vinny's original pizza, Authentic Philly (cheesesteaks) and Chicken Fry-fry.
Beer is available at some stands ($9 for domestic and $11 for import), while bottled water and sodas are $4.
It is best to get your food early and not at halftime, when lines can be long and slow moving. Even between the two games in a session you will find it quite crowded at many of the stands. As you will likely being seeing at least two games and perhaps four, you will have to eat here, but the number of choices is more than enough for two or even three meals.
The ACC now has 15 teams and every team gets to play. Attending the quarterfinals is a good experience as you'll see the top four seeds, but to show up before that would seem silly unless you are a die-hard fan of one of the lower seeded squads. The first game features the #15 seed against #10. The ACC is good, but not that good. Anyway, the atmosphere can differ considerably based on who is playing, especially when one of the Carolina schools is on the court.
During the many media timeouts, one of the participating school's cheerleaders and dance team appear on the floor to entertain the crowd. There are a couple of games featuring fans, but not much else, as is the norm at college basketball.
Driving into Greensboro, I saw little more than strip malls and chain restaurants. Two eateries that are nearby are Stamey's Barbecue, just across from the ACC Hall of Champions, and Cook Out, a fast food joint that started in Greensboro. A "main" (burger, sandwich, chicken fingers etc.) comes with two "sides" (fries, hush puppies, corn dogs, chicken wraps, etc.) in what is dubbed a "tray." Giant milkshakes can be had for under $3. In total, you'll spend $7 or less and walk away stuffed with decent fast food.
If you're not sure where to eat, stop by Guest Services for an area guide, which includes a list of restaurants, some of which have provided menus for you to peruse.
Each team has its share of fans at the tournament, with North Carolina and Duke the most prevalent naturally. I was impressed with the Virginia fans the most whose "Go Hoos" chants were the highlight of the first game I saw in 2014. Small placards with "Go Cavs!", "Go Cuse!", "Go Pack!" were available for $1 and most fans had demonstrated their allegiance by purchasing one of these.
The only knock here is that many Tar Heel fans only care about the game featuring their team, leaving lots of empty seats for the first game. The problem with these tournaments is that each session is two games and there is no re-entry policy, which forces ticket holders interested in only the second game into making a choice: get there early and watch the first game, or relax and show up a bit late. As a stadium traveler, I believe the better option should be to see the first game (especially since your team will play the victor should they win as well) and the fact that many fans did not knocks them down a peg.
The Coliseum is located about a mile north of I-40, with High Point Road providing access. Do not park at the Coliseum though. The parking charge was $20 in 2014 and getting out was very difficult and time consuming. Instead, leave your car on Hardie Street, just across Ellington, which is based in a residential neighborhood with no parking restrictions. A two minute walk and you are in the parking lot, saving plenty of money for your food.
Inside, the concourses are jammed during halftime and between games. Use the upper concourse, which has few concession stands and lineups, to move around should you need to.
Tickets are sold only in strips for the whole tournament, making the secondary market very lively. Face value for upper deck seats was $60 for the quarterfinals. Yes, you get two games and some of the best basketball teams in the nation, but the games just aren't that important as all the top teams will get a berth in the Big Dance.
One thing to note is that because these are not PDF tickets, secondary sellers are forced to use the pick-up or UPS option when offering their tickets online. At one seller, prices had dropped to $20 about an hour before the first game tipped off, but the pick-up location was two miles away so only those who had planned in advance could take advantage. There was a large contingent of scalpers though, but most wanted face value in anticipation of the second game featuring North Carolina. I was able to negotiate down, but many others weren't. My advice here is to wait until the last minute and use an online seller whose pick-up location is close to the Coliseum.
The Coliseum has hosted many other teams and events, most notably perhaps the 1974 Final Four, and there are two large displays on the main concourse that bear witness to these historic happenings.
There is a FanFest in the building next to the Coliseum that includes a few games and giveaways that seem quite popular for families. It opens two hours before the tip of each session and is worth a quick walk around.
The ACC Hall of Champions is a nearby museum highlighting the history of the conference. Admission is $5, and worth a look if you enjoy this sort of thing.
Without the ACC tournament, Greensboro Coliseum will mostly be limited to Spartan games with their small crowds, which force the upper deck to be closed off. This is not the way to experience such a historic building, so if you can, make it to the 2015 tourney and enjoy an afternoon at one of the unsung venues in American college sports.
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2206 High Point Rd
Greensboro, NC 27403
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