Photos by Will Halern, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.14
Kenan Memorial Stadium 78 Stadium Dr Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Year Opened: 1927
Carolina Blue Beacon on the Hill
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, founded in 1788, was the first public university in the United States to enroll students, doing so in 1795. Exactly a century after its founding, UNC launched its football program. The Tar Heels is a state nickname dating back to the Civil War. North Carolina is now known as the Tar Heel State, and with the Chapel Hill campus being the state’s flagship university it only made sense to adopt the nickname. From 1888 until 1921 the school competed independently, after which they spent the next three decades as part of the Southern Conference, before becoming a charter member of The Atlantic Coast Conference in 1953; the Tar Heels are ACC members to this day.
The Tar Heels first played at Emerson Field, about a half-mile from Kenan Memorial Stadium, on the site of what is now Davis Library, which is UNC’s main library. The stadium only held 2,400 fans and it was clear the team needed a bigger place to play, so in 1927 Kenan Memorial Stadium opened. The stadium has been renovated and updated over the years, most notably in 2011 when the stadium was enclosed, and in 2018 when most of the bleacher seats were replaced with individual seats, dropping the capacity from 62,582 to 50,500. The stadium is now close to a hundred years old, but still looks modern, while at the same time keeping some of the original charm.
Food & Beverage 4
Kenan Memorial Stadium offers a variety of food and beverage choices to keep everyone attending a Tar Heels Football game happy. The main concessions stands offer a Chick-fil-A sandwich and chips combo for seven dollars, a Hunt Brothers pepperoni or cheese pizza for six dollars, a Backyard Bistro Half Pound Angus Cheeseburger and Chips combo for seven dollars, or a Kayem Jumbo Hot Dog for five dollars Pretzels, peanuts, popcorn, and candy are also offered, and you can get a regular fountain Coca-Cola for five dollars, with a souvenir cup for just a dollar more.
If the lines at the main concessions stands are moving slowly, then Hunt Brothers Pizza and Chick-fil-A also have their own stands offering the same items, with the addition of a full Hunt Brothers Pizza for twenty dollars if you are feeling especially hungry. There is also a Gourmet Pretzel stand, and if you’re looking for something a little more off the beaten path, check out Trash Talk Food Truck, which offers Trash Plates for twelve dollars, where you can pick a cheeseburger, hot dog, or both on top of macaroni salad, home fries, and topped with mustard, onions, and Trash Meat Sauce. The truck also offers chicken sandwiches and burgers or hot dogs with various toppings.
Frozen Minute Maid Lemonade, Dippin’ Dots, and Ben and Jerry’s with six different ice cream choices are offered for dessert. The trend in some college football stadiums recently has been the introduction of adult beverages, and Kenan Memorial Stadium now offers domestic beer including Bud Light and Coors for eight dollars, and premium beer including Corona and Blue Moon for ten dollars.
Kenan Memorial Stadium has always had great views of the field, as the front rows of the stadium are only a few feet from the field, and even in the nosebleeds you get a great view of the action. Beginning last season Kenan Memorial Stadium eliminated all bleacher seating except for the student section behind the West End Zone, and replaced them with individual chairback seating, making for a more comfortable game day experience.
The North Carolina Cheerleaders, Rameses (the Tar Heels ram mascot), and the Marching Tar Heels band also add to the energy in Kenan Memorial Stadium. In addition, there are two decent-sized rectangular video boards, hanging behind each end zone, which is a nice touch to give fans on either side of the stadium a chance to view promotions, contests, or instant replays.
There is a large amount of premium seating, with some behind the south stands (on the side with the UNC logo facing the correct way), but the majority are in the Blue Zone area behind the East End Zone. The only downside is getting up to the second levels, which requires a walk up a couple of flights of narrow stairs to a narrow concourse, which is divided into sections and does not go all the way around the stadium, so make sure to read the signage so as not to climb up and down the stairs multiple times to find your section.
Kenan Memorial Stadium is located right in the heart of UNC’s campus. Chapel Hill is a college town in the truest sense of the definition, as the town of Chapel Hill and UNC are interwoven. A few blocks from the stadium you will find Franklin Street, Chapel Hill’s main drag, filled with shops, restaurants, bars, and coffee shops. The first place to grab a bite would be Top of the Hill, a great combination of local southern cuisine with a twist – they offer Chicken and Waffles, Biscuits and Gravy, Edamame Burgers, and Cajun Pork Benedict, which you can top off with a Crème brûlée Cheesecake for dessert. Sutton’s Drug Store is another place to check out – opened nearly a century ago they offer breakfast, hot dogs, sandwiches, and milkshakes, all at a great price in an old-time friendly setting. Chapel Hill offers a number of bars as well, including He’s Not Here, Goodfellows, and Boxcar Barcade, so you’re never too far from a place to grab a drink or a fun spot to hang out before or after the game.
Chapel Hill may be a college town, but there is more within the town limits than the university. For those who enjoy being outside on a late summer or crisp fall day, take a stroll around the Coker Arboretum or the North Carolina Botanical Gardens, or catch a show at the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center – this is among the oldest and largest planetariums in the country, and has been a fixture on the UNC Campus for seventy years.
The Tar Heels also have a rich basketball tradition, so check out the Carolina Basketball Museum next door to the Dean E. Smith Center, popularly known as the Dean Dome. Or, for those who enjoy shopping head east on Franklin Street to University Place, a small shopping mall with a movie theatre, or for a more hip feel, take Franklin Street going west to neighboring Carrboro, where you can get some breakfast, lunch, or dinner at Elmo’s Diner. You can then explore the rest of Carr Mill Mall, a shopping mall converted from an old cotton mill, or the adjacent Weaver Street Market, a fair trade and organic farmer’s market and Co-Op. Or, perhaps you can catch a show at the Carrboro Arts Center or at Cat’s Cradle, a haven for up-and-coming and/or indie national touring acts – you can do all of this within ten minutes of Kenan Memorial Stadium.
There are a couple of chain hotels, the AC by Marriott and Aloft Chapel Hill, both less than two miles from Kenan Memorial Stadium, but if you are looking for something more luxurious, both the Franklin Hotel and the Historic Carolina Inn are located less than a mile from the stadium. These two are likely to fill up fast, however, so make sure to book ahead of time if you know you are going to be in town for a game; there are also a number of other hotels in nearby Durham if you don’t mind a short commute.
There is no doubt that Tar Heel fans are among the most passionate in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but in the last few years the Heels have fallen on some tough times, Kenan Memorial Stadium averaged just over three-quarters full during the 2017 season, good for tenth in a fourteen-team conference. However, in 2018 attendance rose dramatically from 76.65% to 86.38%, which happened in part due to the stadium’s capacity going down nearly 13,000 in the off-season. However, with a new coach and a program on the rise, enthusiasm for Carolina Football is going up.
The game I most recently attended was the battle for the Victory Bell against hated rival the Duke Blue Devils, and the fans were loud and passionate, and weren’t afraid to let it be known when they disagreed with an official’s or coach’s decision. With a stadium that seems to be at about the right size, and a more comfortable experience now, Kenan Memorial Stadium will continue to assert itself as one of the best atmospheres, and one of the toughest places to play, in the ACC.
Getting to and from Kenan Memorial Stadium can be a little tricky. There is some heavy traffic, as is only to be expected at a lot of college football stadiums. However, with its location close to the center of UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus, and the large amounts of public transportation, you can park anywhere you want. The closer lots to the stadium on East and West Rosemary Streets will cost you twenty dollars, but you can use the spots the entire day, so you can arrive early and stay late, and take in all that Chapel Hill has to offer.
There are also a number of lots around UNC’s campus that will cost you no more than $12.20, and many of them you can pay for in advance, so you don’t have to worry about having the exact cash needed to park. Some of these lots include the Hibbard and South Chiller Lot, with the cheapest being the Cameron-Graham Lot that will only cost you $6.75; handicap parking is available at the Ambulatory Care lot on Mason Farm Road.
There are also numerous buses that will take you to the stadium, including the J, A, U, and the Tar Heel Express, all free of charge, like all of Chapel Hill’s Transit buses. Chapel Hill does not have any official bus or train stations, so if you are coming from out of town, you’ll need to take a bus or train to either the Durham Amtrak or Greyhound Stations, or Raleigh-Durham International Airport, Luckily all of those options are within a half hour of the stadium, and you can take a number of Go Triangle Buses from any of those locations. The 400 bus will take you from downtown Durham (where the Amtrak and Greyhound stations are) to Chapel Hill, and if you’re coming from the airport, taking the 100 to the 700 will get you to Kenan Memorial Stadium for $2.25 each way.
There are several gates all around the facility, and while lines can be a bit long, you won’t have to wait too long to get into the stadium. Walking around the concourse can be a little bit tight, but not terribly hard. Handicap seating is available in sections 100, 112-119, or 131. The restrooms are showing their age a bit, but are well kept and fairly clean.
Return on Investment 4
Ticket prices for games start at $20-$25 and go up to $50-$55 depending on the game. Food prices and parking aren’t too bad, so depending on where you want to sit, park, and how much food you buy, it shouldn’t cost any more than fifty dollars to attend a UNC Football game, which given the level of competition of playing in the ACC, a Division 1 Power Five Conference, is a good value.
The first point goes to the Belltower Tailgating Area, where you’ll find some great tailgaters decked out in Carolina Blue, convening, playing some corn hole, listening to some tunes, and cheering on the Carolina football team, all under the beautiful Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower. Speaking of which, a second point goes to the bell tower being lit up in Carolina Blue after a win.
Another point goes to the Victory Walk, where fans can cheer on the team as they walk with the Marching Tar Heels band and the cheerleaders to Kenan Memorial Stadium – the walk starts at the bell tower two and a half hours prior to kickoff. A fourth point is for the playing of AC/DC’s Hell’s Bells and Eric Church’s Carolina before the start of the fourth quarter, bringing more energy to an already energetic Carolina fan base, and finally a point for the large Tar Heel Team Store located inside the stadium, where you can get all your Tar Heel apparel without having to leave Kenan.
Kenan Memorial Stadium has been home to North Carolina Football for the past ninety-two years, but it would be easy to forget its age due to the recent renovations, including its new chairback seats and its two new large video boards. Mack Brown’s return to the program has given new life to Tar Heel Football after a recent dry spell, and in playing in a division as wide open as the ACC’s Coastal, the hope of competing for the ACC Championship as they did in 2015 could soon be on the horizon. Chapel Hill may always be known for basketball, but Kenan Memorial Stadium should be the backdrop for many future Carolina football victories, and put the program back on the map.