“It’s Saturday in South Carolina, welcome to Williams-Brice Stadium” is the final line in the intro video played pre game at a Gamecocks home game, and the line says more than it would seem. Although Columbia, SC is larger than many of the college towns across the southeast, the pride that the SEC is known for is as evident there as it is anywhere in the country. Saturday in Columbia is sacred. You’ll have a hard time finding a conversation to engage in that doesn’t steer towards Gamecock football or a traffic jam that doesn’t lead to Williams-Brice Stadium.
Built as part of the Works Progress Administration projects in 1934, the stadium was originally the 17,600-seat Columbia Municipal Stadium. The stadium was soon after renamed Carolina Stadium, a moniker it would hold until 1972. The stadium underwent multiple expansions over the years, but its most significant expansion increased capacity to 54,000 in 1972. This expansion was funded by the estate of the late Martha Williams-Brice, and the stadium was officially renamed in her honor. Today the stadium officially holds 80,250, but often gets crowds up to 85,000 for big games. In recent years, as the Gamecocks program has risen from mediocrity to being one of the elite programs in college football; the stadium has been considerably upgraded and a home game at Williams-Brice has rapidly become one of the best experiences in all of college football.
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".
There are a lot of food options available in the stadium at some surprisingly reasonable prices, which gives Williams-Brice a favorable rating here. Unfortunately, no one option stands out as unique or iconic, putting that fifth star out of reach. Bojangles' is definitely the most southern presence throughout the stadium, offering Cajun sandwiches for $5 and seven-piece chicken supreme meals for $7. Little Caesars Pizza is the other major vendor located throughout the concourse with individual slices for $3 and whole pizzas for $18. Hot dogs ($3.50), brats ($4.75), nachos ($3.75) and popcorn ($3 for 32-ounce bag or $10 for bottomless) are some of the other staples. The closest item to an iconic purchase is a bag of boiled peanuts for $5. If you've never enjoyed boiled peanuts before, by all means, enjoy! Coke products are available from $3 for a 16-ounce to $12 for a bottomless souvenir cup. Overall, the prices are hard to beat for a major sporting event.
Status quo for SEC stadiums is that there are no liquor sales at the games, and it's the same in Williams-Brice. However, for both food and beverage, your obvious choice should be to partake in the revelry going on outside the stadium in the Fairgrounds tailgate or the redone Farmer's Market tailgate. You'll find more alcoholic beverages and classic tailgate food than you could ever hope for within easy walking distance.
Get ready for southern football pageantry and just flat out noise. The in-game atmosphere at Williams-Brice is rapidly becoming one of the best in all of football. There are certain traditions that every true college football fan should have on their bucket list. Tailgating on the river at Tennessee, dotting the "I" at Ohio State, the Midnight Yell at Texas A&M are some of these, and you'll want to make sure 2001/Sandstorm at Williams-Brice is on your list.
But let's start with what's going on outside the stadium. The tailgate is massive. The State Fairgrounds to the north is the best public parking option to take in the whole experience, so get there early and get your spot. You'll find yourself in a sea of a garnet and black party, complete with loud music, alcohol and delicious grilled food. The slightly more upscale area is the new Farmer's Market to the west of the stadium. Grass lots and brick walkways adorn this mostly reserved tailgating area. The team also walks through this area to get to the stadium, shaking hands and meeting fans along the way. Check the calendar and grab a spot near the stadium gates to see the Gamecock Walk. The most famous tailgating tradition is the Cockaboose Railroad to the south of the stadium. Gamecock-adorned cabooses have been modified to be the ultimate tailgating experience, complete with rooftop seating with views of the whole area. But let's be honest, only the richest or most connected fans can find their way inside.
Once in the stadium, prepare for one of the longest and most spectacular build-ups to kickoff you'll find in college football. The band will take the field about 15 minutes prior to kick off and play an array of traditional fight songs. The alma mater will be played, and the band will take its place on the south end of the field to prepare for the emergence of the Gamecocks. The Gamecock chant will signal that it's time to have your cameras or video recorders ready, because once the "Welcome to Williams-Brice" video plays, the stadium will be rocking up until and through kickoff. Joe Morrison's tradition of 2001 will blare through the speakers as the team takes the field. Fireworks will shoot from the scoreboard, Cocky will emerge from a box in the middle of the field and the team will charge through the smoke behind the Gamecock banners. And if that isn't enough, the newest tradition is Sandstorm playing until kickoff with fans jumping up down waving white towels, shaking the entire stadium. It's truly an experience that you'll want to be a part of.
The atmosphere keeps up the intensity for the entire game. Sandstorm plays again each time the Gamecocks score, with the same energy as pre-kickoff. 2001 plays between the third and fourth quarters. Overall, the stadium is just imposing for opposing teams. At one point, the Gamecocks had won 19 straight home games in recent years. As Georgia running back Todd Gurley put it in a post-game interview, "This place is unbelievable, man. It's one of the craziest environments I've ever been in. Once you give the fans something to be excited about, it's hard to shut them up." As coach Joe Morrison once put it when the new east upper deck would visibly move during games, "If it ain't swayin', we ain't playin'."
Five years ago, this would have rated only three stars. But the area around the stadium has seen a massive overhaul in recent years, and now feels much better. The stadium will likely always lose a point because it's three miles from campus. But the University is doing all the right things to make the area around the stadium feel like a truly great college environment. The Fairgrounds was recently paved with defined grass spots, giving it a much more "finished" feel. The old Farmer's Market area that was once a paved area with sheds and barns is now a beautiful brick-lined grassy tailgate area, complete with stage and Gamecock-themed restrooms. Future enhancements have the area immediately around the stadium transforming from paved parking lots to green areas with statues of former Gamecock greats.
Hotels are readily available two miles away in downtown Columbia. The Vista area is likely the best place to stay, and is full of bars and restaurants. The Hunter-Gatherer has several unique food items, the Flying Saucer is loaded with beers on tap and the Tin Roof is an excellent venue for beer and live music.
There's not a lot to say here that hasn't already been said in the Atmosphere section. Expect the Gamecock fans to arrive early to tailgate and leave late after the game. The garnet and black sea will extend for miles around Williams-Brice on gameday, so there's no shortage of passion. Even in 1998 and 1999, when the team wasn't winning ANY games, the stadium still sold out. There's a lot that can be said about Gamecocks fans in terms of their optimism, but with a history like theirs, you have to give them credit for their devotion. With the recent success under Steve Spurrier, the fan base has only become even more Gamecock-crazy. And yes, if you haven't heard it yet, it is flat-out loud in Williams-Brice.
To have a good gameday experience at a Gamecocks football game, you have to plan to enjoy the tailgate.....and why wouldn't you? If you take the alternative and try to arrive late, you'll be stuck in traffic with the thousands of latecomers. The stadium is off-campus and away from the city, so access from I-77 is fairly easy from Bluff Road or Shop Road. You can also get there from downtown using Assembly Street, Rosewood Avenue or Huger Street, but traffic can be much more variable. Plan to get there at least four hours early for the tailgate, though, and you should have no problems.
Stadium access is also relatively easy. There are police everywhere to direct traffic and there are a whole lot of gates for access, so you'll never get caught waiting in line. The walk to your seat can be a bit daunting up the winding ramps at each of the corners of the stadium, but there are no stairs, so everything is accessible. Make sure you enter the stadium on the right side (east, west, north or south), because it can be difficult to navigate around the end zones to reach the other side.
Leaving the stadium is the same. Postgame tailgate is something you should again plan on attending, because traffic away from the stadium can be rough, to say the least. Stay an hour or two for the second course off the grill, and you'll have no problems getting out.
Ticket prices are right at the SEC average, and that's not necessarily cheap. Expect to pay somewhere between $40 and $80, depending on the opponent, but the experience is more than worth the price. Food is surprisingly cheap for a major athletics event, as well. Overall, this is one of those sports venues that is worth attending, regardless of the price. So in terms of ROI, I'd have to say just do it.
Pageantry is taken to a new level in Columbia. Sandstorm, 2001, tailgating Cockabooses, the Gamecock Walk and boiled peanuts are just a few of the many, many reasons to take in a game at Williams-Brice. Shell out the extra money for the Georgia or Clemson game for the true experience, but there's never a dull game in the "Cockpit."
Williams-Brice Stadium, where the University of South Carolina Gamecocks play football, has long served as an impressive structure and deserving home to everyone's favorite team in Columbia, SC.
The stadium's humble beginnings take us back to October 6, 1934 when Columbia Municipal Stadium made its debut after being constructed with help from the Works Progress Administration project. The stadium originally seated just 17,600 but as football's popularity grew throughout the 20th century in America, so did the stadiums that hosted the football events. Carolina Stadium underwent its most sizable expansion prior to the 1972 season via a bestowal from the estate of a generous donor named Martha Williams-Brice. The stadium saw its capacity increase to over 54,000 and was renamed in honor of Mrs. Williams-Brice as a token of gratitude.
Williams-Brice continues to grow to this day, now sitting an estimated capacity of 80,250, making "The Cockpit", as many fans call it, the 20th largest college football venue in the country.
The stadium is located approximately three miles from the school campus in downtown Columbia but is visible from several vantage points in the city as a striking and formidable presence in the distance.
One of the loudest stadiums in college football and arguably, one of the best student sections as well. Future additions to the stadium will include adding more seats to the North Endzone. The old farmers market is also getting an overhaul and will be turned into a tailgating venue similar to "The Grove" at Ole Miss.
I sat in the student section (even though I am admittedly not a student nor was I ever) and therefore was treated to a different experience than someone who visits anywhere else in the stadium. I have considerable experience with SEC stadiums and this one holds it's weight with some of the best. Access was pretty difficult as it's far from pretty much everything.
While South Carolina doesn't have the same history like its SEC counterparts, they are starting to create a good bit of history under the Steve Spurrier Era. 3 straight 10 win seasons and now one of the the toughest teams in not just the conference but the nation. Williams-Brice is a stadium that is a true homefield advantage when the fan base is rocking (or a swayin). Alabama lost there, ending their win streak back in 10. Rival Georgia has gotten crushed there a few times, as it has become mostly their lone blemish to their schedule as of late.
The place has a great feel and something you really can't compare, but it is an overall mixed bag.
FOOD: Some variety such as bbq sandwiches and boiled peanuts. But nothing out of the ordinary, similar to the taste of the food. Nothing great.
ATMOSPHERE: It could be Georgia coming in, Florida coming in, Clemson coming in, or it could be UAB coming in. The place gets packed and quickly. And it is loud the ENTIRE GAME. Most intense atmosphere I've seen.
NEIGHBORHOOD: On the faigrounds. And yes there are things for the casual fan to see, but besides that, there's absolutely nothing around.
FANS: Goes with atmosphere. They are into every game, and it doesn't matter who they are playing. They have a deep knowledge of the game as well as being very friendly.
ACCESS: Well, getting there isn't the problem. But parking is hard if you aren't a season ticket holder/donor. You can park off of stores along the highway, but it is brutal and alarming given the fact you're walking near cars driving 50-60 mph right next to you. After the game is rough as you can only go one way out. Very challenging.
ROI: You will get a true experience of a college football GAME, but not much else. But I guess that's all that matters.
EXTRAS: I liked the 2001 song to the intros and Sandstorm as many say that South Carolina was the one who started that fad. It adds in to the whole homefield advantage.
The town of Columbia lives and breathes Gamecock Football! From the moment they take the field until the end of the game, there are 80,000 people that are constantly making their presence felt.
I went to a game against the Citadel (a local school but not a rival) and the game was almost entirely full at kickoff and stayed that way through the 4th quarter.
Parked at the Basketball Arena and took a complimentary bus over because you couldnt park within TWO MILES of the stadium!
Def an awesome experience walking around the stadium seeing everyone set up for the tailgate. I plan on making another trip in the near future to see them play a SEC rival.
To start, I've been to a lot of college football games around the country, and on in-stadium experience on Gameday, Williams-Brice is unrivaled. Between 2001, Sandstorm, the colors, the band, Cocky and the just beginning to end environment it's spectacular. The stadium itself is old and needs some updates, but it's on it's way over the last few years. The area around the stadium has seem some drastic updates and the Farmer's Market is one of the coolest tailgate experiences around. Parking is tough as there are well over 100,000-150,000 people hanging out around the stadium near gameday and they arrive early. Overall, one of my favorite stadiums in the country.
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