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Official Review by Lloyd Brown, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Georgia State University is the second largest school in the University System, with an enrollment of more than 33,000 students. Founded in 1913, it began as Georgia Evening College, a night school for businessmen who worked during the day. Gradually it transformed into a commuter college, with more than 250 degree programs. Today, it is a traditional college campus located in the heart of downtown Atlanta.
Its urban setting is a blessing for students due to its central location, the adjacent rapid rail system and immediate access to the surrounding business community for students involved in work/study programs. However, it is a curse for the athletics program, as the only teams with on-campus facilities are basketball and volleyball. The football team practices in a small training facility across the interstate from the campus, and plays its home games in the nearby Georgia Dome. All outdoor sports are played at the Pantherville Sports Complex, which is located 15 miles from campus in the suburb of Decatur.
The GSU soccer team calls the GSU Soccer Complex home. Built in 2007, the facility features natural turf and a seating capacity of 1,892. It features bleacher seating, but fans are welcome to bring lawn chairs, beach towels or other portable seating to watch the games. 2014 was the first year Georgia State competed in the Sun Belt Conference, which includes Troy State, Howard University, Georgia Southern, South Alabama and Appalachian State University.
Thankfully, the days of operating the GSU athletic program from a remote site to the campus are coming to an end. Ironically, it was the announcement that the Atlanta Braves would be leaving Turner Field after the 2016 season ends that has turned GSU’s dreams of on-campus athletics into a real possibility. In May 2014, Georgia State announced its intentions to purchase Turner Field and its surrounding property for conversion into a new sports complex located adjacent to the campus. Both the Panther football team and the soccer program would move into a reconfigured Turner Field, with other sports also moving their home fields to the site, as well. Reaction to this development has been extremely positive, both from the school and the business and governmental communities, as it will bring jobs and a gentrification to the area surrounding the complex.
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".
Concessions are extremely limited, as a Coca-Cola trailer serves as the concession stand. A variety of Coke products are sold at $2 for a 32-ounce bottle. The other items available are bottled water at $2, and chips, which sell for a dollar. No spirit items are available at the soccer field.
The soccer complex can be compared to an area youth league facility. The "complex" consists of bleachers, which can hold 1,892 fans on aluminum bench seating, a portable concessions trailer, two port-a-johns and one scoreboard. There is no fence surrounding the field, so admission is free. Parking is also free in a gravel parking lot, or you can park along the curb leading into the complex. Unfortunately, the dismal facilities draw away from the excellent product on the field. GSU has a very successful soccer history, but few people venture out from the school campus to witness it.
The area surrounding the sports complex is dominated by government-related buildings, both at the state and county level. Amongst the neighbors are the state mental health facility, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and the school bus maintenance facility for the county. Georgia Perimeter College, a commuter school, is located three miles from the stadium. GSU's Sports Complex is located down an isolated two-lane road from any major thoroughfare, with various outdoor facilities (soccer, softball and baseball) all located in a row at the end of the road. The nearest restaurants or lodging are located about six miles away at the Candler Road/I-20 exit.
The fans are true believers in the soccer program. Many of them in the stands for our visit had played high school soccer and are very knowledgeable about the game. In fact, many of the fans played alongside players from both teams in the years leading up to college. Another segment of the crowd consisted of parents and family of many of the players. Since the season had just one home game remaining after that night, many did not want to miss their loved ones' last soccer game. When a great defensive save is made by the goalkeeper or an offensive charge is made by the home team, the cheers definitely reach a higher decibel level. Aside from the shortcomings of the sports complex, I enjoyed a good quality game on the field and a very enjoyable set of fans in the stands.
Georgia State has maintained its outdoor sports facilities in Decatur since the 1960s. The soccer facility's bleachers were not constructed until 2007. The present site is more than 15 miles from the school, and the nearest public transportation to the sports complex is nearly a mile away. No shuttles are provided by the school to the games, and even if you have a car, reaching the facility is a nightmare, due to the metro Atlanta gridlock on its interstate system, especially given the team's 7pm starting times.
Though a majority of this review has pointed out GSU's opportunities for improvement, from a ROI perspective, a GSU soccer game is a good value. You pay nothing for parking and tickets, the concession stand prices are reasonable and the quality of the play on the field is very entertaining. Due to the port-a-potty bathrooms, though, I bring my ROI down to a 3 from a 4.
No extras are available at this facility.
While I understand the cost of land in downtown Atlanta is prohibitive, there are numerous high schools and colleges closer to the campus with more than adequate soccer facilities that GSU could make facility share arrangements with. (High school soccer is a spring sport in Georgia; GSU plays a fall soccer schedule.) Many of these alternative sites are also located on public transportation, so that students who want to support the team could access the games more easily. 2017 cannot come soon enough for the GSU soccer program, which deserves a much more respectable site in which to play its games. As an alumnus of the school, I will definitely contribute to make that happen.
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