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Official Review by Andy Mantsch, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
When you think of solid sports programs of the Charlotte 49ers, you probably only think of basketball. But Irwin Belk Track and Field Facility/Transamerica Field plays host to a less heralded success story. 49ers men's soccer has had more success on the pitch than any other 49ers sports team, including an appearance in the national title game in 2011. Since the program's inception in the 1970's, the 49ers have won more than they've lost as a member of Conference USA, and are a frequent visitor to NCAA Soccer's top 25 rankings.
Opened in 1996 as one of the southeast's premier track and field facilities, Irwin Belk Facility/Transamerica Field immediately played host to both the track and field and soccer programs. The facility boasts a massive grass surface surrounded by an eight-lane track (the first of its kind in the southeast). The pavilion contains 10,500 square feet of internal space, including a hospitality suite, multiple locker rooms, coaches offices and an air-conditioned press box. As far as college soccer goes, it's an excellent venue and tribute to Charlotte's campus.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
For a college soccer venue, there is a shocking variety of food available, with a unique twist, to boot. While availability may be inconsistent, you can be sure of finding options here.
The main concession stand is to the left as you enter the main gate. The menu here offers up a wide variety of items with a lot of character. Burgers ($6.50-$7.50), including the "Old Forty-Niner Burger," chicken tenders ($6.50), barbecue pork sandwiches ($7), grilled chicken sandwiches ($6), hot dogs ($3.50) and even chicken quesadillas ($5.75) are on the menu, but not available at every game. A wide variety of snacks and other items can also be purchased here, including nachos ($4), french fries ($3.25), bottomless popcorn ($7), chocolate cookies (two for $3) and much more. The real headliner is the gathering of food trucks in the grassy area to the right of the concourse. While these may vary per game, they've been known to include barbecue and even gourmet cheesecake.
Coke products are the order of the day in the concession stand at $3.50 for one size. Frozen lemonade, hot chocolate, Powerade and bottled water are also available. Any other drink options depend completely on the food trucks.
Because the food trucks can be different game to game and the concession stand doesn't always sell all of the items every night, it's hard to recommend a specific food item. But any time food trucks are around, it's worth rolling the dice on the delectable local items you can get there.
There are huge pluses and minuses to a game at Irwin Belk/Transamerica Field. But by and large, the venue is high-quality when weighed against other college soccer stadiums around the country.
The all-brick facade facility is lined with statues depicting each sport that takes place here. The top concourse is split in two by the press box and opens downward into three sections of bleachers. Pillared viewing areas at either end are excellent birds-eye view standing areas for those not wanting to sit at the lower levels. A lower concourse splits the bleacher sections and extends from one end of the field to the other. A large grassy hill extends to the left behind one goal while to the right the grassy area is used as the food truck concession area.
Perhaps the biggest downfall of the stadium (at least for a soccer game) is the massive eight-lane track separating the bleachers from the field. No matter where you sit or stand, you're at least 30-40 yards from the playing field.
The students turn out in pretty good numbers to see the 49ers play, so there are some rambunctious fans to be seen. But overall, there's not much additional in-game promotion or theatrics to be had for the average fan.
If you're okay with being far from the action but having a good view of the entire field, sitting in the top bleacher section is probably the most ideal spot from which to take in the game. The field gets closer as you lower, but so do the sideline obstructions as your sightline narrows. But there's not really any seat to choose that is superior to all others.
While Charlotte itself is chock-full of bars, restaurants and nightlife, campus is located fairly far away from any central areas. The general area is primarily surrounded by chain restaurants and local taverns.
Located just off campus, you'll find Macado's. This quirky restaurant is full of pop culture memorabilia and is known for its over-stuffed sandwiches. To the north of the campus is a lakefront shopping area called the Shoppes at University Place. There are additional food options here, including Boardwalk Billy's. This barbecue, seafood and drinks spot is ideal for relaxing with a beer on the water prior to any 49er event.
While Charlotte has an on-campus botanical garden worth checking out, easily the most popular local attraction is the Charlotte Motor Speedway. When racing isn't going on, you can always get a tour of the massive facility.
Just to the west of the university along Harris Boulevard, you'll find multiple hotel options at varying levels and prices. The Hilton Charlotte University Place is an excellent choice, due to its proximity to the Shoppes at University and other dining restaurants, although none of the hotels are within easy walking distance of the soccer field.
Nothing in particular stands out about the fans at a 49ers soccer game, other than student turnout seems to be above average. There's about as much passion and energy as you'd expect from a college soccer atmosphere, and not much more.
In 2015, Charlotte ranked 37th in attendance in NCAA soccer with an average of 924 fans per game. While that easily ranks in the upper half of programs, the number itself falls well below that of the top performing venues in the country.
The students make up the majority of those in attendance, and they bring the expected excitement from students, for better or worse. Those that are engaged cheer for their team and yell at opposing players. Many in attendance are there for the food or the cheap social option of the game and are hardly paying attention. Overall, Charlotte fans aren't anything to be ashamed of, but they are far from a premium soccer school experience.
Getting to the stadium during peak hours can be a bit dicey in sometimes challenging Charlotte traffic, but otherwise, accessing the stadium is pretty simple.
While CATS (Charlotte Area Transit System) buses will take you to the Charlotte Amtrak station and other locations around the city, it's far from convenient for travelers. The campus and facility are located on the northeast side of Charlotte near the intersection of I-85 and 485. While this makes for easy in and out at light traffic times, traffic can be more challenging during rush hour. Once off the interstate, it's an easy drive to campus.
Just across the street from the facility is a free parking garage, making access incredibly easy. Attendance is low enough at the stadium to keep you from expecting any traffic problems.
The main gate and ticket window is directly across from the garage, and really couldn't be much easier. You'll need a paper ticket, but those can be purchased at entry, as there's no need to purchase in advance here.
Once inside, movement around the venue is pretty easy, aside from the press box cutting the main concourse in half. But a quick trip down the stairs to the lower concourse gives you access to all of the field. Restrooms are adequate for the small crowds and leave nothing to really complain about.
While not the highest-level soccer experience in the country, low ticket prices and free parking make this an inexpensive night out for any soccer fan.
Tickets run $5 for adults and $2 for youth. Coupled with free parking and reasonable food prices, you shouldn't have to spend more than $15 per person for a trip to the game.
The statues around the field make up the bulk of the extras category here. They add character and pride to an already solid facility and make for an excellent first impression of the stadium when you walk up. The all-brick facade adds to that character, making the structural portion of the venue the highlight of the whole experience. Added value for the use of food trucks that seems to do very well with the 49er student population, and you have enough character here to make it worthwhile.
Irwin Belk Track and Field Facility/Transamerica Field certainly isn't going to win any awards for grandeur in the near future, but as a college soccer stadium, it more than holds its own. When you sum up all the good and bad, it's worth a visit if you're a soccer fan locally in Charlotte or just passing through.
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