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Official Review by Andy Mantsch, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
The average college basketball fan may not know where Winthrop is located, but if they've followed the sport even somewhat closely they surely know the name. If you rank college basketball teams by conference affiliation, then Winthrop has historically outperformed all expectations. That is less of an indictment of Big South basketball than a recognition of Winthrop's decade long success story from the late 90's through the early 2000's. Although the Eagles began playing Division I college basketball in the 1978-79 season, their success story truly began with what would be the first of nine Big South Championships in 1999. Under Gregg Marshall and Randy Peele, the team appeared in nine NCAA tournaments in 12 years including a memorable first round upset of Notre Dame in 2007.
The home of the Eagles is the Winthrop Coliseum, a large venue opened in 1982 that plays host to a variety of Winthrop sports and events. With a capacity of 6,100, it is the second largest arena in the Big South and serves as a suitable home to such a decorated team.
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".
Winthrop's concession options were once far better than they are today. Numerous closed stands and carts line the concourse outside the arena, but only two standard concession stands are open.
The food at these two stands seems to be pretty run of the mill. The Eagle's Nest serves up BBQ sandwiches ($5), grilled chicken sandwiches ($5), hot dogs ($3), and Eagle Claw nachos ($6), as well as a couple of side items. On the other side of the concourse you'll find a standard concession stand with a wider variety of snack and standard options including pizza slices ($3), pretzels with cheese ($4), chili dogs ($4), popcorn ($3-$6), and a variety of frozen treats ($1-$4). You can also purchase a WU Deal including popcorn and a drink with most of the main items ranging from $6 to $10.
Coke products are sold at both stands as well as Dasani bottled water and Powerade all for under $4. There is no alcohol sold at the Winthrop Coliseum.
Almost all of the food items are pretty standard issue. The Eagle's Nest grilled chicken is dry and boring (it comes off a Foreman Grill), so I'd recommend grabbing a barbecue sandwich or a combo with popcorn and head on in to enjoy the game.
The stadium itself is beautiful and has vast potential for a great atmosphere. But as the Gregg Marshall era has faded into the rear view mirror, the once great atmosphere has devolved a bit despite some unique efforts.
The stadium is large with a bowl seating and a walkway that circles the entire arena from the top. This makes it easy to take in the game from any perspective you may want as the arena is very easily walkable. The walls, seats, and flooring are all painted in Winthrop's dark red color making everything in the arena seem dark except for the well lit court in the middle. The coliseum feels larger than its 6,100 capacity would suggest, and it has some nice acoustics. You can almost envision how much an Eagles game must have been a wild experience in their championship era.
There are a few things that stand out at a Winthrop game in terms of side entertainment. The player intros come complete with a soaring eagle projection that flies around the arena when the lights go down. Many stadiums do this with a spotlight, but the eagle and eagle cries are definitely unique. The pep band is engaged and entertaining as they play pretty consistently. And some of the video board time out videos are wildly entertaining (particularly the dancing Eagle mascot). And one of the more entertaining (if not comical) events is the board at one end of the arena that measures made 3-point baskets by number 3's that light up. Unfortunately, this needs to be done manually and the responsibility falls on the cheerleaders who sit courtside. So every 3-pointer results in one of the cheerleaders having to hike up the stairs to the concourse and stand on a chair to activate the next 3 on the board. When Winthrop hits over 15 3-pointers (as they did on the occasion I attended) this becomes quite entertaining to watch.
All of this would build a truly fan engaged experience, but there just aren't that many fans to enjoy it. But that does allow for some excellent seating options. There really isn't a bad seat in the house here and you'll be able to choose almost any seat of your liking. The arena layout also makes it incredibly easy to relocate throughout the game if you want to take in the action from multiple perspectives.
While Winthrop isn't the most happening of college campuses and areas, the town of Rock Hill isn't exactly devoid of options either. The stadium is a bit isolated for a lot of walking, but driving around is relatively simple.
Michael's Rock Hill Grille seems to be the most highly recommended local option within the general stadium area. It falls somewhere between casual and a bit more upscale dining and is just a couple minutes away.
If you're into craft beer, Legal Remedy Brewing is only a short drive away and offers some unique bar food as well as its craft beer selection. If you're looking for something quick, you'll find a wide selection of chains as you drive east back towards I-77 to suit your needs.
Outside of some parks and gardens, Rock Hill isn't loaded with attractions. Perhaps the best of these is Glencairn Garden. It's worth a stop for its beautiful scenery. Aside from that, you're probably best served taking the short drive up I-77 to Charlotte.
Almost all of the local hotels are going to be clustered around the interchange of Cherry and I-77, a few miles east of the coliseum, meaning you'll have to drive. There's a huge number to choose from, but I'd recommend the Courtyard Rock Hill or the Country Inn & Suites.
You can almost picture the rocking arena with all of the effects in the heyday of the Eagles in the mid-2000's. But the fan support has lessened considerably since then, despite the best efforts of those who do attend.
Less than a decade ago Winthrop was drawing over 4,000 fans per game, but today that number has dwindled to below 1,500. One can only hope that this is a lull in the Eagles success and not glory days in the rear view window. The venue and passionate fans that remain deserve more. That's not to say that the Eagles are bad, but they are a shadow of the Gregg Marshall led teams of yesteryear and the fans know it.
Despite the low turnout in fans, there is definitely some energy here. The arena averages being less than 1/3 full, but those spectators make as much noise as they can and love their Eagles. The student section, while only extending about 10 rows deep, comes complete with hardcore fans that do everything they can to enhance the atmosphere. Fans bring pom poms and wear their colors with pride, there's just not enough of them.
It couldn't be much easier to get to and around Winthrop Coliseum. Whether you're coming from the north or south, I-77 provides easy access to Rock Hill.
There aren't really mass transit options for a Winthrop game, but you'll also have no need for them. If you're flying in, the Charlotte airport is 30 minutes away (although Charlotte traffic can affect that). Once into Rock Hill, you jump off I-77 and it's just a couple miles straight to the stadium. An important note, some GPS directions for stadiums will take you to campus instead of the Winthrop Coliseum so keep an eye out for signage on your way.
Once you arrive at the arena, parking is abundant and free. Police will direct you in, although with the current crowds that's not even all that necessary.
There are a few gates around the coliseum, so park near and choose whichever you'd like. The main gate may be the easiest and it's the first one you'll see when you enter the lot. Lines aren't long and access is easy.
The stadium is one of the more walking friendly you'll find. It's ringed by an outer concourse/hallway and an inner concourse overlooking the court. Both go all the way around the arena and provide easy access to all of the seating. Concession lines never seem particularly long (although you may have to wait for the grilled food). Restrooms are large and not at all crowded.
If you're passing through Rock Hill, a game at the Winthrop Coliseum is definitely worth the stop. You'll eat and catch a game for the price of a nice meal at a restaurant.
With parking being free and food costing you no more that $10, there aren't a lot of hidden costs here. Tickets start at $8 (and there's no reason to pay for the $12 or $15 options) so the most you can spend per person is probably around $18 for the whole experience. That's definitely not unreasonable for a top level program in the Big South.
There is some unique character at a Winthrop game that will hopefully someday be enhanced by the fans in the seats again. Right off the bat, the outer concourse comes complete with trophy cases and a Hall of Fame for Winthrop athletics. One inside, the walls are adorned with Winthrop paintings and logos. In the rafters, the decorated decade of Winthrop basketball hangs from the ceiling in the form of banners. The in-game entertainment such as the soaring eagle and the dancing mascot video add personality to the event that exceeds the run of the mill that you get at so many schools.
There's a lot at Winthrop Coliseum to like and it's definitely worth a visit. With all the positives, you can only hope that Winthrop basketball again ascends to the glory days of its past so the venue can meet the high ceiling of potential that it has to be a great college basketball experience. But for today, enjoy a game and just picture what it must have been like a decade ago.
Member Review by brian on Jan 26, 2013
When searching for programs that define success at the mid-major level, Winthrop University certainly belongs in that discussion. Winthrop has seven regular-season and 10 Big South tournament championships in the program's history, with nine NCAA tournament appearances. This success is made all the more impressive by the fact that the program fielded its first team in the 1978-79 season. The Eagles have experienced some ups and downs in recent years, but the university is taking clear steps to quickly return itself to championship form.
Every great program has a great home, and Winthrop is no exception. Opened in 1982, the Winthrop Coliseum has played host to Winthrop winter sports, as well as wrestling events and other shows. The facility seats over 6,000 people, making it the second-largest regularly-used facility in the Big South Conference. Winthrop has an arena and game-day experience that are a good fit with the program's stature and previous success.
Member Review by ianmccor on Apr 18, 2014
Speaking as a High Point fan and lover of Big South basketball, this is not an arena that treats opposing fans well. But it is otherwise a good mid-major venue.
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