While it may not be the most aesthetically pleasing arena in college basketball, Minges Coliseum at East Carolina University provides the best college hoops experience in the state east of Raleigh. Constructed in 1967, Minges Coliseum provides the viewer with a typical, small market basketball experience. Known as primary a football town, Greenville offers one of the most illustrious and dedicated college fan bases in North Carolina.
In 2004, Greenville was honored as Sports Illustrated’s Sportstown for North Carolina, an honor well deserved considering Greenville houses no professional sports teams.
The Pirates of East Carolina love their football, but it’s their basketball program that noticeably drops off in attendance. Thankfully, I attended what’s surely ECU’s most significant game of the season against Memphis on Jan. 30, 2013. Minges Coliseum utilized 6,246 of its 8,000 capacity, filling the student section to the brim and almost all the seats in the rafters.
The atmosphere was initially quaint, but came to life once the game was underway. Prior to the game, parking was a mess with cars being funneled into a relatively small parking area full of construction. ECU is in the process of erecting a 48,000-square-foot basketball practice facility to try to enhance the program. The construction is part of a comprehensive Athletics Master Plan developed by the university a few years back. The practice facilities will be the final element in the multimillion dollar plan.
Once the parking situation was resolved, purchasing tickets was the next adventure. Usually, Pirate fans have little problem acquiring tickets for basketball games, but the game against Memphis proved to be a very different story. ECU’s ticket office is small, only consisting of three windows. A half hour before tipoff, the line stretched 50 to 60 yards towards the parking lot as customers were forced to wait in light rain and high winds. Tickets were reasonably priced and ranged everywhere from $5 for children to $40 for courtside.
Once the tickets were purchased, fans were funneled into a makeshift entrance, due to the construction, and entered the main vestibule. There, fans were instantly greeted with various promotions, a merchandise booth and a vending area. The aesthetics are pedestrian. Gray bricks and narrow hallways with the occasional pirate graphic make up the outer shell of the court.
For 6,000 people they had just two vending areas opened, both of which covered the essentials. Beverages ran from $3 to $4, pizza was $4, a hot dog was $3.50 and popcorn and candy were $3. My personal favorite, the soft pretzel, was $4 and quite good.
I had the privilege of sitting in the student section for ECU’s biggest and most attended game of the season, but in retrospect, there really wasn’t a bad seat in the house. The shape of the arena gave every fan that purchased a ticket a full, unobstructed view of the court. The nicest part of the interior of the facility was the actual court. ECU integrated a new athletics logo to their football field and basketball arena in 2011, consisting of the state of North Carolina shrouded in a swashbuckling skeleton. ECU’s new logo resembles the familiar logo of the University of North Carolina’s court.
Then there was the game. ECU’s small but sold out student section was consistent in maintaining a lively energy through all forty minutes. In fact, they may have been too lively. There were a collection of verbal altercations between the student section and the poorly placed visitors section. The visiting Memphis fans, who were place directly next to the heart of ECU’s student section, were displeased with some of the chants and taunting coming from ECU’s student section.
Overall, the game was exciting and a high energy environment. The fans were extremely engaged as the Pirates consistently interacted with the student section throughout the game.
Exiting the coliseum was easier and more organized than the entry. Fans were funneled by security guards through two exits to cut down on congestion. Parking officials and police opened up the adjacent road to the parking lot, making it easier for fans to quickly and efficiently exit the parking lot.
After the game, I decided to check out Greenville’s nightlife and Uptown area. The most well-known Uptown bar, Sup Dogs, was small, but crafted to be a college-friendly environment. Decked out with Pirate assemblages, Sup Dogs delivered with multiple TVs, a dedicated and fast-paced staff known as the “Sup Pups,” a large outdoor deck and great bar food. The buffalo burger was sloppy but a delicious and filling meal that came standard with fries and Sup Dogs’ signature sauce. The beer selection was decent, consisting of an assortment of bottles with Bud Light, Lion’s Head and Shock Top on tap. The bar itself was a little dirty, but overall Sup Dogs was an excellent venue, top-to-bottom.
The next eatery I ate at was Pirate’s Den, located just down the block from Sup Dogs. Pirates Den provided a calmer, cleaner and less energetic environment than Sup Dogs. The bar had a similar beer selection as Sup Dogs with more draft choices. The food, on the other hand, was not up to par. A few of my companions and I ordered an assortment of appetizers, containing potato skins, boneless wings, nachos and jalapeño poppers. The boneless wings were mushy, the potatoes skins were undercooked and the nachos were congealed and hardly edible. I wouldn’t recommend Pirate’s Den. Fans would have better luck eating at Sup Dogs or the newly opened Peasants Pub, locating directly across from Pirate’s Den.
My experience at Minges Coliseum and Greenville showed me that you don’t need a professional sports team to be considered “Sportstown USA.” I would recommend viewing a basketball game at Minges to an older demographic of fans, as the environment was anything but family friendly. For those fans who would like to continue their night after the game, Greenville has a wide range of bars for college students, as well as older fans.
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".
Minges Coliseum's vending areas come equipped with the essentials: drinks, nachos, pizza, hot dogs, popcorn, candy and pretzels. I decided to purchase a soft pretzel, which turned out to be nothing special. The prices were relatively high. The family of four in front of me in line got four slices of pizza and four drinks, and it was well over $25.
Heavy construction made up most of the outside of Minges Coliseum, interfering with parking and making entering the arena a chore. The outside and inside were unaesthetic, consisting mostly of narrow hallways and gray brick. At first glance, the arena didn't have the Division I basketball feel that it should. The student section also stood on rickety pullout bleachers and leg room in the rafters was minimal. The pep band was unenthusiastic, but the fans made up for it and maintained the energy throughout the game.
If you plan on doing some sightseeing in Greenville, you've come to the wrong place. The city of Greenville has an overabundance of bars and restaurants, so much so that it can be rather intimidating at times. The Uptown section of Greenville is excellent for the visiting college student, comprising of night clubs, bars and excellent food.
I visited two bars to cap off my experience:
Sup Dogs - This bar is the ideal sports bar for any sports fan in Greenville. Sup Dogs, while a rather small establishment, has a large outdoor deck and plenty of TVs. The prices were fair and the beer selection was decent. They had a few light beers and Shock Top on tap, as well as 15-plus bottles available. The buffalo burger was excellent and came with fries and Sup Dogs' specialty sauce.
Pirate's Den - While nice on the outside, Pirate's Den located about a mile from Minges Coliseum, was not up to par. I liked the four pool tables and karaoke area they had available, but the food was less than stellar. I ordered an appetizer sampler with potato skins, boneless wings, jalapeño poppers and nachos, none of which were good. Pirate's Den had a better beer selection than Sup Dogs, but only had four TVs spread all over the large bar.
During the pregame warm-ups, it seemed like the fans weren't going to be into ECU's biggest game of the season. I was wrong. For all forty minutes, the Pirate student section was on their feet and kept the momentum going on every possession. The fans were a big reason the Pirates kept the game so close. The only downside was some of the language coming out of the student section. Memphis fans, being inconveniently placed right next to the heart of the student section, complained almost the entire game about how Pirate fans carried themselves. Other than that, the Pirate fans made the experience worthwhile.
Parking was an absolute mess coming into the arena. Construction caused cars to be funneled through one entrance, causing massive congestion and inefficiency. Exiting the lot was easier and more organized than getting in. Restrooms were clean and readily available throughout the arena.
The fans are great and the city of Greenville is entertaining, but I wouldn't recommend a basketball game to anyone who visits. Pirate football at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium has one of the best attendance rates in the conference and would be well worth attending instead.
East Carolina has just fewer than 30,000 students attending the school. The campus in organized and consolidated so the bars, restaurants and sports venues can be easily accessed by students and fans without driving. The campus is beautiful and makes the overall experience more enjoyable.
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