Five Star Stadium – Mercer Bears
Photos by David Welch, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71
Five Star Stadium 1327 Stadium Dr Macon, GA 31207
Year Opened: 2013
The Home of Mercer Bears Football
Hour-and-a-half south of Atlanta is the central Georgia city of Macon, the hometown of the Allman Brothers, Little Richard, and the Mercer University Bears.
Football at Mercer first started in 1891 but went on hiatus twice due to World Wars I & II. During World War I football was paused for two seasons, in 1917 and 1918, then returned in 1919. The program continued until 1941 when football was again dropped, this time for what might have seemed permanent. It would take 71 years for Mercer to see football revived by the time it made its comeback for the 2013 season.
2013 didn’t mark just the return of football at Mercer, but it also saw the opening of Anderson Field at Five Star Stadium. Built for $14 million, Five Star Stadium just isn’t the home of Mercer football but also their men’s and women’s lacrosse programs. Given the astronomical amounts of money spent on building and renovating stadiums, what Mercer has done in building such a gem of a stadium for $14 million is astounding.
Food & Beverage 4
There are five traditional concession stands around the stadium, three along the larger west concourse and two smaller ones spread out on the visitors’ side. These stands offer a bit of a limited selection of burgers, hot dogs, nachos, and other stadium staples at very reasonable prices. None of the offerings at these concession stands are more than $6, with most options in the $4 range.
Those wanting a bit more still have affordable choices. One of the more popular options is Toby’s BBQ which for $6 you can get either five very hefty smoked wings with a side of BBQ sauce, or a BBQ sandwich with a heaping portion of pulled pork – both are highly recommended. Local catering company Milly Grub also offers a small but impressive menu of dogs and nachos, but one of the most popular items is the Kona shaved ice truck; the line here just seems to get longer as the game goes along.
In addition, the local brewery Fall Line has a distinctive presence both inside and outside the stadium. A pre-game biergarten can be found in the heart of the tailgating area outside the stadium, and there are two tents set up inside. The Macon micro-brewery offers its three mainstay brews: Fall Line Lager, Cloudbreaker IPA, and Daily Rind Tangerine-Wheat.
Between any of the food or drink options and Fall Line beers, fans can eat a full meal for less than $20. You’d be hard-pressed to find any stadium in the country where you’d be able to eat a full meal for a less expensive price while matching this quality of food.
It is evident Mercer puts a priority on the game day experience. Black Field, just north of Five Star Stadium, is a tailgating carnival of pregame festivities. The field features giant inflatables, campus fraternities, and other groups with tents set up with impressive tailgating spreads, as well as a steep embankment that turns into a sliding hill once the tailgating hits full force. The centerpiece of the tailgating area is the university-sponsored game day concert series for each home game. The concert stage does take a break two-and-a-half hours before kickoff, though, as the marching band leads the team through campus to the tailgating field and into Five Star Stadium.
Tailgating Concert at Five Star Stadium, Photo by David Welch, Stadium Journey
Five Star Stadium itself is a modern, brick facility with separate stands on the east and west sides. The home side features high two-tiered seating, while the field level has 10 rows of aluminum bleachers followed by a second level with four rows of orange plastic stadium seats, followed by several rows of aluminum benches. The visiting seating is built into the surrounding hillside and matches the field-level aluminum seating of the home side.
The south end zone spotlights the Drake Field House that includes Mercer’s locker rooms, weight room, and sports medicine facilities. The north end of the stadium features a 2,100-square-foot scoreboard that was installed in 2019. It is mainly used to flash in-game ads, a source of entertainment for the dead time during changes in possessions, and to show the game on the field. What felt missing though was the scoreboard being used to update fans on any statistical information from the game.
If there is a drawback to the football atmosphere here, it’s that there seems to be an overreliance on prerecorded music in place of the band. When the defense needs a stop on 3rd down, the horns of Timmy Trumpet’s “Narco” blare from the stadium speakers. Why not have the band blast out these notes when the need for a big stop is needed? It’s not that it takes away from the overall experience, but the prerecorded music tends to overshadow the band’s involvement with the game – it seems as if there could be more of a balance between the two.
When purchasing tickets, stick to the home bleachers. For a late afternoon kickoff, fans in the east stands are facing directly into the sun for at least three-quarters of the game, so simply following the action on the field can be difficult.
The off-campus areas adjacent to Mercer help feed into the game-day vibe around the stadium. Across from the southern entrance to Mercer is Amici Pizza, which is packed with Bears fans even 3 hours before kickoff. Their front doors are adorned with a large bear logo and the inside features Mercer athletics decor. Over on the northern side of campus, located in Mercer Village is Margaritas Mexican Grille – fans wait outside the doors for a table to grab a pregame meal. While Margaritas is not as close to the stadium it is still a reasonable walk.
Margarita's Grill, Photo by David Welch, Stadium Journey
Fans coming from a distance or looking to make a weekend out of their visit can stay at one of the two hotels directly adjacent to Mercer’s campus; Hilton Garden Inn and Towne Place Suites are both near Five Star Stadium.
Music and sports enthusiasts will have options to pass the time if visiting for the weekend or before a night game. Macon is the hometown of The Allman Brothers and Little Richard, and both have museums within 2 miles of Mercer. Or, fans just wanting to have a full sports experience during their visit might be more interested in visiting the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame or Luther Williams Field, the current home of the Coastal Plain League’s Macon Bacon. Luther Williams Field also served as a long-time minor-league baseball stadium and has been the backdrop for multiple movie shoots, including Trouble with the Curve; scenes from IFC’s Brockmire were also shot here.
The Mercer student body, alumni, and local fans turn out to make a game at Five Star Stadium an event. While the official listed capacity is just a shade over 10,000, most official attendance numbers have been well more than that. While the stands themselves might not necessarily show capacity, many fans gather to watch the game from the berms that border both end zones.
Fan engagement with the game is about average. There isn’t necessarily a 12th-man feel that’s created by the fanbase, but they are definitely into the highs and lows of the game. The game entertainment team does a good job of building a sense of tradition in the still-growing program by having a student or fan ring the bell in the Elliott Bell Tower following a scoring play. Also, while probably unintentionally created, it’s become a tradition for kids to make sleds from used pizza boxes to slide down the steep, grassy areas along the end zones.
Located less than half a mile from I-75, getting in and out of Five Star Stadium is rather easy. Traffic can get backed up a bit given the volume of vehicles trying to get back onto the highway, but it does run rather smoothly, and the wait is minimal.
Parking lots at Five Star Stadium sit to the east and west and are just a short walk away. One lot is situated to accommodate RVs and their tailgaters, while another larger lot easily handles more traditional fans and their pre-game festivities.
There are two entrances into Five Star Stadium – most fans enter through the main western plaza. While the majority of fans use this main entry point, lines move quickly and there is a minimal wait to get in when the gates first open, an hour before kickoff. A second entry point, mostly used for fans of the visiting team, is in the southeast corner of the stadium.
Once inside the stadium the concourse almost surrounds the field. Fans can traverse from the home to the visitors’ side of the stadium, and around to the northside berm uninterrupted, but there is no access point to get back into the home bleachers in this direction.
Return on Investment 4
With ticket prices starting at $15 and seats at the 50-yard line available for $25, tickets are priced very reasonably. Add a parking cost of $10, and you’re looking at one of the most affordable college football experiences you’re going to find. Factor in concessions prices that won’t put a dent in your wallet, and you’d be hard pressed to find a better college football experience for the price.
For those wanting to save on ticket prices, a handful of fans set up their tailgating chairs on the hills outside of the stadium for a view of the game, free of charge. Mercer also has a “478 Day” promotion where tickets to the game are only $4.78, a price that reflects their telephone area code.
What Mercer has done in less than 10 years since rebooting its program is spectacularly impressive. Between the beautiful stadium they’ve built, the tailgating experience that rivals FBS schools, and the overall affordability of going to their games, it’s no wonder why Mercer has been in the top 10 of FCS Stadium Rankings by Stadium Journey for multiple years.
While the program is still relatively young, Mercer has wasted no time in becoming one of the hidden gems in college football. They have created an all-around positive game day experience from the pregame festivities to the game on the field.
Whether you’re a football purist who wants all the pomp and circumstance of college football, or someone who just wants to bring the kids for something to get out and do on a Saturday afternoon, Mercer is as good an experience as you’re going to find.