Photos by Jared Goodman, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.57
Jerry Richardson Stadium 8701 Phillips Rd Charlotte, NC 28223
Year Opened: 2013 Capacity: 15,314
Sitting on a Gold Mine
The University of North Carolina at Charlotte didn’t have a football program until 2008. That’s when the Board of Trustees commissioned a new team for the school, along with a brand-new $45 million stadium. This venue would soon be named for local benefactor and former Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson. The Charlotte 49ers, who began play in the fall of 2013, joined the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2015 after a two-year stint in FCS. Charlotte now competes in Conference USA, and it’s quickly become clear that their 15,314-seat facility is one of the best in the conference.
Food & Beverage 4
Richardson Stadium offers dishes from two of the region’s most popular chicken chains: Bojangles’ and Chick-fil-A. The prices at both of these booths are pretty fair, though slightly inflated. For example, a box of Bojangles’ chicken supremes is $8.
Among some of the more traditional items are hot dogs, hamburgers, nachos, grilled chicken, corn dogs, pretzels, and peanuts. But the highlight of the dining experience at the stadium is undoubtedly the barbecue sandwich. This is Carolina, after all, so be sure to grab one for $6 during your visit. Fair foods such as funnel cakes and cotton candy are also available. Coca-Cola is the beverage served throughout and is priced at $3. Or, you can buy a souvenir cup for $5 and get free refills all day long. Bottled water is $3.50. Domino’s Pizza is also offered, along with stadium staple Dippin’ Dots.
The color green is extremely prevalent on the UNC-Charlotte campus, from the trees of late summer to the seats at Jerry Richardson Stadium and beyond. On football Saturdays, a few thousand folks show up to the field decked in their 49er green best. After each Charlotte score, green fireworks are set off from the field house behind the southeast end zone. This definitely contributes to the “flare” of The Mine. The 49ers’ mascot, Norm the Niner, also makes regular appearances both in the stands and on the field.
The intimacy of Jerry Richardson Stadium really adds to its small town feel, despite being located near the 16th largest city in the country. The venue’s horseshoe shape provides an excellent view of the surrounding buildings on campus, creating a sort of homey and academic atmosphere. This, however, isn’t a permanent feature, as the stadium is designed in such a way that the seating bowl can be expanded and decks added as the program grows.
The Niners home field is located on the west side of campus, near the other athletic facilities at the university. If you want to explore anything in the general vicinity, it’s generally just a short walk away. It’s an even shorter drive to the nearby restaurants and shops, which mostly include chain retailers on Tryon Street, University City Boulevard and JW Clay Boulevard. The region’s only IKEA store is just a few miles from campus and offers a full restaurant and snack bar in addition to the furniture goods on display.
But perhaps the best perk of Richardson Stadium’s location on-campus is its proximity to the LYNX Light Rail system, which provides speedy service to Uptown Charlotte, the hip NoDa neighborhood, and the revitalized South End. All three offer a variety of dining and nightlife options just a 20-minute train ride from campus. The nearest stop, JW Clay Station, offers a 5-level parking deck for those wishing to drive, but is also easily accessible on foot via footpaths. From the stadium’s main gate, it’s a short 10-minute walk to the light rail platform.
The Charlotte 49ers are not an elite football team by any measure, and often find themselves in the middle of the Conference USA rankings. This doesn’t give fans much to cheer about on game days, but the program is still in its youth.
Pre-game, you’ll see lots of gold, black, and green outside the stadium in an impressive tailgating display. The smell of food wafts through the air just outside the main gate, surely stemming from one of the many tents set up nearby. Cornhole is a popular activity, as well as general mingling and socializing. It’s almost as if pre-gaming is just as important to the fans as the football game itself.
While the crowd sticks with the team through thick and thin, they’re not usually loud or vivacious in any way. But you can be sure, whether the weather is good or whether the weather is bad, true Niners fans will cheer on their guys on the gridiron each and every Saturday.
Due to limited parking on campus, finding a spot to leave your car can be very tricky. Gameday permits are available for purchase in advance of the game, and are valid at the Union Deck, West Deck, North Deck, CRI Deck, Lot 11A/21 and Lot 25. There’s also a dedicated football shuttle, operated by Niner Transit, that has stops at the many different parking areas on campus. This bus service will take you directly to the main gate of Richardson Stadium if you choose to park in one of these lots. A word to the wise: do your parking research well in advance. If not, you could be stuck handing over $20 cash to park at the Cone Deck.
UNCC is served, as mentioned earlier, by the LYNX Light Rail Blue Line, which has a stop at JW Clay Boulevard and is just a 10-minute walk away. The parking garage at this station is your best option for gameday parking, as it is both free and secure.
Charlotte-Douglas International Airport is about 20 minutes away by car and is serviced by most of the major North American airlines. Interstates 85, 485, and 77 are close to campus as well, providing access to Greensboro, Winston-Salem and Virginia in the north and Columbia, Greenville and Atlanta in the south.
Return on Investment 3
Single-game ticket prices vary depending on the opponent and how far in advance you purchase your tickets. General admission seats are generally between $10-$25 and are located behind the northwest goalpost. If you’d like to sit on the sideline, expect to fork over between $20-$40 per ticket.
Parking prices vary anywhere from $0 to $20, but it all depends on what lot you choose to use. Concessions are reasonably priced, but a full meal adds up fast. All totaled, you could be looking at $20 or more, per person.
The Niners do have one interesting option that could save you some dough. The “Extra Point Package”, which includes four tickets, four meal vouchers and free parking, is occasionally available for $65. That’s a bargain when you add everything up. Without this package, a family of four could be looking at spending more than $200 on a single Niners game.
Although it doesn’t have much to do with the stadium itself, the 49ers football team has earned an extra point for reaching the Bahamas Bowl in 2019. Despite losing their first-ever bowl game, their appearance in Nassau could mean that the program is trending upwards. This could result in a better gameday atmosphere, more fans, and an overall better experience in Charlotte down the road.
While current attendance figures don’t demand a large venue, Richardson Stadium was built with the capability to be expanded up to a total capacity of about 40,000. A larger facility would be nice to see at some point in the future.
The ACC has dominated North Carolina in both basketball and football for a very long time. UNC-Charlotte is aiming to compete with this legendary powerhouse by putting both their school and Conference USA on the national map. With an infant football program and a modern stadium behind them, a gold mine of opportunities awaits the 49ers.