The moniker "basketball school" is a blessing and a curse. Being dubbed a basketball school indicates that you have reached the elite level in the sport, but it can also have a negative connotation. Some fans immediately hear the term and get the impression that this is the only sport in which a school enjoys success.
This is clearly not the case at North Carolina, however. The Tar Heels have a number of ACC titles in their school's history, and some of the NFL's all-time greats and current stars have taken the field in Chapel Hill. Lawrence Taylor, Hakeem Nicks, Julius Peppers, Jeff Saturday and Greg Ellis are just some of the names to have worn the Carolina blue as collegiate standouts.
The one constant among all of these individuals is the stadium in which they played, Kenan Memorial Stadium. Opened in 1927, the stadium is one of the more instantly recognizable structures on this scenic and historic campus. Though numerous renovations and expansions have taken the stadium from its original seating capacity of 24,000 fans to the current configuration that holds 63,000, much of what was likely the original "soul" of the facility remains.
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".
If going to a game means popcorn, hot dogs and an ice cold soda, you'll have no problem finding those things on a trip to Kenan Stadium. A Smithfield jumbo dog ($4), popcorn ($5), nachos ($5) and pretzels ($4) are among the go-to items at the numerous stands along the concourse. There are also specialty items at individual stands, including a Chick-fil-A sandwich and chips ($6), Papa John's personal pizza ($5), Firehouse Subs sandwiches and chips ($7) or Brookwood barbecue sandwich and chips ($7).
You can also find burritos or quesadillas ($7), gyros and wraps ($7) and roast beef or grilled chicken sandwiches at various stands. Along with these offerings, there is a Carolina Smokehouse stand, which offers $8 combo meals. Among those combo meals, there is a barbecue sandwich, Carolina melt sandwich, Carolina cheesesteak sandwich, chicken tenders and fries and ribs and cole slaw.
Coca-Cola is the bottler for the stadium, offering Dasani bottled water or small fountain beverages for $4, regular fountain beverages or one-liter Smart Water for $6 and a souvenir soda for $8. For those who want something sweet to go with their food or beverage, local favorite Smitty's Ice Cream can be found on the concourse, as well as Sweet Frog frozen yogurt ($6 for a bowl of yogurt with toppings). Candy ($3), kettle corn ($6) and cotton candy ($6) can be purchased at the fixed concession stands.
The stadium allows great sight lines throughout, except for the concourse areas. This means there are very few bad seats -- to see the action, anyway -- anywhere in the facility. The stadium is a full bowl as of 2011, allowing fans to see the field from many angles. However, this limits a lot of the view of the surroundings outside the seating bowl.
The home side of the stadium is most easily accessed through gate 6. The seats in 100-111 and 200-211 are on the home side. If you are attending a day game, particularly while the weather is still warm, it may be recommended to sit on the home side of the stadium. The angle of the sun allows for shade for most of the home side. It should also be noted that there is a lot of bleacher seating in Kenan Memorial Stadium, so be sure to bring something that might make your seat a bit easier on your lower body, if necessary.
The North Carolina band plays during the half at each game, forming "Carolina" on the field as they play their first song. This is as much a part of the normal events at a Tar Heel contest as the playing of Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" after the first quarter. The "Tar Pit" student section in the end zone sings along as the song plays, with the video boards imploring fans to chime in during the familiar chorus. The video boards, located atop each end zone, are easily visible throughout the seating area. They also show the game action as it occurs, with the score, time remaining and time outs in an ESPN-style graphic at the bottom of the screen. The lone unfortunate part of the boards is that the score disappears during breaks, leaving fans to scramble to the ribbon boards along both upper decks to discover the game information.
Chapel Hill is a beautiful small town, and the town and campus invite a nice walk on a fall afternoon. Unfortunately, most of the activities in which one might partake on that fall afternoon require said walk. Kenan Stadium is located in the center of campus, and there are not many dining establishments within a half-mile radius.
The locally-renowned Franklin Street houses much of the pre and post-game activities and dining, so you should plan to walk or drive to one of the many restaurants and bars that line the street. There are a couple of locations that seem popular with the locals, with one being a favorite of one of our writers who previously visited Kenan. That particular favorite is Lantern Restaurant, offering local and Asian-inspired dining. The restaurant also offers a beer garden, which is open late for those who want an after-hours drink. Keep in mind, though, that the restaurant does not open for dinner until 5:30. You'll need to make alternate plans until that time, if attending after a day game.
If a beer and a brew are more your speed, try The Top of the Hill or Spanky's Restaurant & Bar. Both spots offer house brews, locals, domestics and imports. The menus for these restaurants include slightly more upscale American fare, with interesting offerings like slow roasted pork mac and cheese (Top of the Hill) and a BLT with applewood-smoked bacon and local favorite pimiento cheese (Spanky's). Both locations are less than a mile from the stadium, and can be reached on foot in 10-15 minutes.
As previously mentioned, the Tar Pit section in the west end zone is quite loud. This group is involved throughout, and the band is also seated among the group in this end zone. The stands are covered in the well-known Carolina blue, and the drive to Kenan Stadium along North Carolina Interstate 40 and Highway 54 reveals flags on cars, as well as magnetic signs with slogans such as "On My Way To See The Tar Heels Play". It seems unusual to see tailgating in a relatively sanitary parking garage, but this is the case in Chapel Hill.
Unfortunately, the day of the game I attended did not have the same level of excitement inside the stadium as there was outside. The announced attendance was just over 48,000 on a gorgeous, sunny fall day for the home opener. Many of those fans started to depart at the half, with the stands nearly empty in many areas by the time the fourth quarter arrived. Whether the fans felt they had the game in the bag or not remains to be seen, but seeing fans streaming out of the stadium on a warm day was disappointing, especially for a successful program like North Carolina.
Chapel Hill is located quite a few miles off Interstate 40. If coming from the interstate, you will need to travel down North Carolina Highway 54 and/or US 15/501. These roads significantly back up as you approach the stadium, so be sure to add in an extra half-hour or so to reach the parking locations. There are a number of signs leading fans to public parking -- some are a bit hard to see, in fact -- and these signs lead you to exit onto another highway, then to exit off that highway and make a turn. If you plan to drive, bring cash (the parking decks are $10) and plan to park in the Cardinal Deck. This deck is just up the hill from Kenan Stadium, and seems to be one of the easier decks to access.
If at all possible, though, take the Tar Heel Express. This shuttle service departs from one of five locations, beginning either one-and-one-half or three hours before kickoff (depending on the location) and returning up to 45 minutes after the end of the game. The service costs $3 for a one-way ride, or $5 for round-trip. This will help avoid a lot of the stress of traffic before and after the game.
Inside the stadium, the concourses are quite narrow, as are the gates. This can make walking around a bit of a hassle. This is mostly the case because of the age of the stadium. The restrooms could also use additional modernization.
When leaving the stadium, most of the traffic is returning toward the interstate and Raleigh. If time allows, it may be better for you to travel west along NC 54. Unfortunately for those who travel by air, the airport is located in Morrisville, which is over 15 miles northeast of the stadium along Interstate 40. This is normally a 25-to-30 minute drive without traffic, but may be more toward 45 minutes or an hour after a game.
Visiting a game at Kenan Memorial Stadium really adds up in a hurry. There are three pricing "tiers" for North Carolina games, with "lesser" opponents in the first tier ($35), "lesser" conference opponents ($50) and "premium" conference and local opponents ($60) making up the cost structure. A three-game "mini" season ticket package is also available for $135, allowing fans to choose one game from each tier.
For fans who drive their cars to see a game, the cheapest ticket ($35), parking ($10), hot dog combo ($13 - which offers no savings whatsoever from separately buying the items, rendering the combo essentially useless) and program ($5) will set back a family of four $252. That is, no matter how you slice it, a lot of money for a family. If you factor in a t-shirt or other souvenirs, $300 is not an unreasonable total. If you choose a more "elite" opponent, this total rises to $352. Sure, this is an ACC school and the quality of football being played certainly merits watching, but this is a lot to ask of fans to attend a stadium that is not loaded with modern amenities and comforts.
There are several souvenir locations around Kenan Stadium, including a tent just inside Gate 6 and a fixed stand along the concourse. UNC jerseys, caps and spirit gear are readily available throughout, offering fans the chance to add to the Carolina blue they already sport to the stadium. Prices and selection are on par with what one would expect from these points of sale.
North Carolina, much as they do in Boshamer Stadium pays homage to its program's history throughout Kenan Stadium. Key moments in Carolina football history are commemorated throughout the stadium, as well as retired numbers ringing the upper deck and photos of Tar Heel greats on pillars around the stadium. If the building itself does not tell the story of Kenan Stadium, the callbacks to the greats who graced its grass and the memorable moments in UNC football will certainly handle the job.
North Carolina is a storied program with tradition to spare, and much of the campus' story is told in the pillars of Kenan Memorial Stadium. UNC diehards and college football enthusiasts alike would certainly enjoy a trip to see the Tar Heels play, though likely for different reasons. Unfortunately, the cost of admission and overall lack of modern amenities would probably prevent those who do not bleed Carolina blue from making a return trip.
They've had their highs and they've had their lows, but one thing that has eluded the North Carolina Tar Heels is consistency. The Tar Heels have a mediocre 56% winning percentage and have an under .500 record in bowl games. But don't let that fool you; they always carry upset potential.
The Tar Heels play their home games at Kenan Memorial Stadium, a stadium that is quickly becoming an antique despite many renovations over the years. With the Tar Heels' latest renovations this year, they can currently seat just below 63,000 fans, though not very comfortably; I will get into that later.
Poor food is reason why I won't go back.
This was a bad experience. The football stadium, like the Dean Dome, is a venue built for the rich and old. Tickets are expensive and the team is not even very good. The only good part about this venue is the neighborhood. There is no parking for the stadium, you have to walk a long way to your car from the stadium.
What a disappointment! I'm sure it was a really good place for football in the 40's and 50's but this place is horrible now. Creature comfort is abysmal. Although the school has some nice looking buildings on campus, nothing about my experience here makes me think of great football. The fans seem to care very little about the game of football and it shows with many empty seats. I sat on row 4 and I could not see the game. I moved to an empty seat much higher up after the first quarter. Those seats are tight and very uncomfortable. Next time I think about going there, I hope the game is on TV!
I'm going to try to be nice to this review because I don't think Kenan Stadium is incredibly bad, but it is just lacking all around. Maybe it is the fact UNC hasn't been competitive in a while or the area is more into basketball, but the place just doesn't have much character. And the one thing it does (a nice landscape in the background) is pretty much blocked by end zone expansions over the years. A buddy of mine thought this place was neat-o, but I don't really see how it is.
FOOD: They had barbecue, chicken, pizza, and Kona ice/ice cream so they had a good variety, but nothing really sticking out.
ATMOSPHERE: Strangely it adds characteristics to an SEC stadium with hedges along the side, the padded wall with the color and the block namesake (like Alabama), press box (like Ole Miss), and, well, that's it. Too bad it feels nothing like an SEC stadium.
NEIGHBORHOOD: Well, you can hit Franklin Street a few blocks away and have great options for foods (my suggestion is hit the Time Out cafe-great). The stadium is located in the heart of the campus and you are in a nice, country area as well.
FANS: They are fine overall. They are into the game, but some of the fans lose their minds, but that is to be expected.
ACCESS: Locals around say it is really bad and honestly it is. You don't have a major highway around from the interstate to help you and it creates major issues before and after the game. Parking is a disaster too, though you can find a good parking deck about a half-mile away from the stadium, but for $10.
ROI: For a team that is pretty much not a power and not really drawing great, prices were a bit on the high side. Most foods hit $6-8 and the souvenirs were about normal, but tickets were $20 or more for upper level. I think the Heels can cut back a bit with prices and you could make the place a problem for other teams, not for fans.
EXTRAS: I digged the Carolina blues, and the fact they are really pushing to go "green" with the way they do things, but overall this place fell flat. Overall this was a major disappointment and just doesn't distinguish themsleves from other stadiums.
UNC is not terrible at football, but is not great either. The town of Chapel Hill is nice if you like quaint, and the stadium really fits that vibe (smallish and closed-in). You can't see the field from the concessions, but the stands themselves have nice sight lines. If you sit near the student section you might have issues b/c no one sits in their assigned seats so you may get crowded out. Parking is a pain, though.
423 W Franklin St
Chapel Hill, NC 27516
100 E Franklin St #3
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
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