Jerry Richardson Stadium – Charlotte 49ers
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The Crown Town’s Home For D1 Football
When thinking of a university with an undergraduate enrollment of greater than 20,000, it seems almost unfathomable that there would not be a football program on the campus. This was the case at UNC Charlotte until 2008, when the university got the proverbial ball rolling on the eventual 49er program. The approval for the program came late in the year, with groundbreaking taking place just over two years later.
After a series of practices and the school’s first-ever spring game, Jerry Richardson Stadium officially opened on August 31, 2013 to a standing-room only crowd of greater than 16,000 fans. The program got its start as a member of the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), and continued at that level until 2015, when it joined the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) as a member of the geographically diverse Conference USA. Jerry Richardson Stadium presents a beautiful home for the up-and-coming program, which fits right in with the wonderful stable of facilities on the Charlotte campus.
Food & Beverage 5
There are a number of fixed stands throughout the concourse at Jerry Richardson Stadium, and they fall in one of four categories. Carolinas favorite Bojangles’ features a number of stands, offering some of their specialties, such as cajun filet sandwiches or chicken supremes ($7 for combo baskets with seasoned fries), the traditional seasoned fries ($3.50 for regular, $4.25 for large) and the chain’s self-proclaimed “legendary” sweet tea ($3.50 for a regular, $5 for a souvenir cup with free refills). Several additional options are available at each of the stands, including popcorn ($4.50 for a large, $7 for a “bottomless” tub or $7.50 for a combo with a large popcorn and a souvenir soda), Niner nachos ($4) and soft pretzels ($4 plain, $5 with cheese or $12 for a “super jumbo pretzel”). Peanuts are $3.25 and candy is $3, with regular sodas (Coca-Cola products) for $3.50 and souvenir sodas for $5 (plus free refills). Hot chocolate is $2.75, with bottled water and Powerade for $3.25. The Pick Axe Grill also has several locations around the concourse, offering a number of hot items. Three different types of hamburger baskets (all including fries) are available, including bacon jalapeno ($7.50), cheeseburger ($7) and hamburger ($6.50). If burgers aren’t your style, try a grilled chicken sandwich basket ($6.50, $7.50 with jalapeno bacon), chicken quesadilla ($6), double fun corn dog ($7) or jumbo hot dog ($3.50 for plain, $4.50 with chili and cheese). Four different types of french fries are sold at these locations, including plain ($3.25) or garlic, bleu cheese or chili cheese (all $4).
The third option is All-American Dogs. Five different dogs are available, including the 49er hot dog (with jalapeno bacon, jalapenos and cheese) for $5, the footlong chili cheese dog ($7), chili cheese jumbo hot dog ($4.50) and bratwurst ($5). As with the other locations,the jumbo hot dog is priced at $3.50. Barbecue sandwiches — you are in the Carolinas, after all — can be purchased here for $6, with barbecue chicken or pork nachos for $7 apiece.
Papa John’s Pizza makes up the final fixed-stand option. Along with the other “standards” available at the other locations, Papa John’s offers an eight-inch personal pepperoni or cheese pizza for $6. There are also some standalone carts that offer fresh-squeezed or frozen lemonade, Dippin’ Dots and fair foods, among other selections. The fair foods cart offers funnel cakes ($4.25), pretzels ($4), kettle or caramel corn ($5) and cotton candy ($4).
To be honest, one of the best features of Jerry Richardson Stadium may eventually vanish. The stadium has, for lack of a better term, a “low profile,” meaning that all of the beauty of the surrounding campus is easily visible throughout the facility. The stadium was built with the idea that it would eventually be expanded, which is a blessing and a curse. The good news is that the expansion would bring more of the large program trappings, but it would also remove the openness and sense of connection to the campus of the existing structure. The interior of the stadium offers — as one would expect — a wide concourse with plenty of room to move. The concourse circles the entire stadium above the existing seating bowl, with a number of great places to stop and observe the game action taking place. Some of the areas on either side feature blocked views because of the placement of the stands, but a clear path to see the game is not far away. The placement of the press box is a bit unusual, as fans can walk almost beside and in front of the press box to get to the seating areas. The seats are all metal bleachers, which can be a bit uncomfortable in the warm early parts of the season. This is especially a concern with home games being played at noon, due to the lack of lights. The alternative to this seating arrangement is to lease a seatback for $40 per year. This allows comfortable (such as it is) seating, and there is no need to lug around a seat cushion.
The teams take to the synthetic playing surface (named McColl-Richardson Field) from the same end of the field in which the Judy W. Rose Football Center can be found. The building cuts a striking appearance beyond the end zone, with a large video board mounted atop the structure. The building contains locker rooms, a classroom/media room, offices, training facilities and many more of the modern amenities expected with a program this size. An electronic scoreboard is located at field level beyond the opposite end zone. The video board displays the action on the field, as well as replays, in-game advertisements, contests and more. The basic game information is also available on both boards.
The students and band can be found in the end zone opposite the Football Center. This is a great setup to keep both of these integral groups close to the field. Be careful, however, if you have seats anywhere other than the side on which the press box is found, sunglasses are an absolute must. The sun is often prevalent behind the press box. If you look toward the field, along with seeing 49er football, you’ll also see mascot Norm the Niner and some of the on-field activities, including the t-shirt “Gatling gun.”
The stadium is located just off US Highway 29 (North Tryon Street), and a number of shops and dining options are available just off neighboring JW Clay Boulevard and in adjacent strip malls. Food choices from just about any cuisine are available in this area, including Cheddar’s, Hwy 55 and more. If you want a great slice of pizza, DaVinci’s Pizza is the place to stop, and is also just across North Tryon from campus. Many of these options are technically walkable, but the walk may take 15-20 minutes. Crossing North Tryon is also a somewhat stressful experience by foot, especially with the road being modified to accommodate the LYNX Light Rail system expansion.
Additional dining and shopping options can be found just under five miles north of the campus at Concord Mills. This mall consists of greater than one million square feet of area, and includes a large movie theater, outdoor attractions and more. The Charlotte Motor Speedway is also just under five minutes away along US 29. The university is not actually located in center-city Charlotte — it is instead located in the University City neighborhood north of the Uptown district — but there is still plenty to do before and after a game.
Charlotte is still a program in relative youth, so it does not have the robust, rowdy crowds that many schools enjoy. Many of the fans of other Charlotte sports support the football program in full spirit, and their green — or black, depending on the uniform choice — and white is visible throughout the stadium. The day we attended was a bit upsetting, though, as the program was competing for a possible bowl berth, and the weather at kickoff was gorgeous, despite turning sharply cooler as the game progressed. The stands never quite filled, despite an announced attendance of near capacity, and a lot of fans left when the homestanding 49ers fell behind, 24-6. Those fans missed a spirited comeback by the home club, as Charlotte nearly won the game. That said, expect to see a tailgate scene here much as one would see at major FBS institutions, with the scent of food in the air and the tossing of bean bags in your peripheral vision. Fans can often be seen with children in tow, which sets up Charlotte football quite well for the future.
It is also tough to mention Charlotte sports without a mention of The Uh-Huh Guy. Those who are regular attendees of Charlotte sporting events know the legend of Paul Buchanan and his alter ego, and those who do not can read more about him in this feature from Niner Times.
The campus is served by Charlotte International Airport (CLT), for fans who are visiting from other cities. The airport is approximately 20 minutes away from the campus. Interstates 85 and 77 run near the campus, along with US Highway 29 and North Carolina Highway 49. Charlotte’s mass-transit system (CATS) also offers routes to the campus. This system can be a bit complicated, so it is best to plan your route ahead of time. The existing Charlotte light rail system, LYNX, will eventually serve the campus, as tracks will travel along North Tryon Street within walking distance of the stadium. Plenty of parking is in place for 49er games, though the system is a bit convoluted. It is strongly recommended to review the university’s football parking website before making your way to the game to plan out your options. There are quite a few decks where parking can be purchased before the day of the game for between 12 and 21 dollars. One deck (Cone Deck) is available for cash parking on the day of the game, at a rate of $20. There are no in-out privileges for parking in these decks.
The stadium gates are staffed by friendly game day personnel, and they move quite quickly. There are separate entry points for fans with bags, but the bag check is not a stressful process. Like most stadiums, backpacks and large bags are prohibited, so try to consolidate as much of your belongings as possible. Gates 1 and 2 enter on the home side, gate 3 enters behind the end zone and gates 4 and 5 enter on the visiting side. Once inside, the concourse is quite wide and offers plenty of room to move. Restrooms are plentiful, clean and up to date.
Return on Investment 3
Charlotte plays in the FBS, and Conference USA brings in some exciting teams. Single-game tickets are priced at $30 for reserved and $20 for general admission (in the end zone). This is still a bit pricey, but understandable for Division I football. A single fan buying a reserved seat, paying cash to park and buying a hot dog and drink will pay about $60-$65. The facility is beautiful and one you should definitely visit, but be sure to bring cash or credit cards for concessions. No ATMs are available inside the facility, except for special occasions.
One of the most unique extras inside the stadium is also one of the most popular, particularly in the still warm weeks of the early season. The stadium offers free water bottle filling stations along the concourse. Fans may bring in empty clear water bottles for use at these stations. Charlotte has secured coverage deals with several local media outlets. Local CW affiliate WCCB carries some of the university’s home games, and select road games. WFNZ (610 AM/102.5 FM) broadcasts the games via radio. Outstanding local play-by-play talent Matt Swierad and former NFL offensive lineman Kevin Donnalley are on the call for 49er contests. IMG also makes the games available via the TuneIn app, for fans who are unable to make it to the games.
The university offers a free program to fans that includes the rosters for each team, schedules for campus teams, game day information and much more. This is a nice publication, and provides all the information fans may need. There are also souvenir stands on either side of the stadium, so if you want a t-shirt, hat or other 49er gear to go with your ticket and program, both stands have a great selection of items at reasonable prices.
Charlotte takes great pride in presenting a fun and exciting game day atmosphere, and a large part of that atmosphere involves the staff. All of the people with whom I spoke were friendly and welcoming, seeming genuinely happy to have fans in attendance. I have always been impressed with the operations staff at Charlotte events, and football games at Jerry Richardson Stadium are no exception.
There has been somewhat of a void in the Charlotte area for college football for a while, and Charlotte is staking its claim. Though many fans in the vicinity have allegiances to North Carolina, NC State, Duke or Wake Forest, a 49er game allows fans to see a great product without having to make the two-plus hour drive to one of those other schools. In fact, fans can see Duke take the field at Jerry Richardson Stadium in coming years, as the school boasts home-and-home series with the Blue Devils, North Carolina foe Appalachian State and Big Ten squad Maryland on its future schedules. The story of football in the Queen City is just beginning to be told, and there will surely be many exciting chapters ahead.
Holiday Inn Charlotte University
8520 University Executive Park Dr
Charlotte, NC 28262
Hyatt Place Charlotte Downtown
222 S Caldwell St
Charlotte, NC 28202
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