Oct. 29, 2015
By Brad Muller | More Features
The Colonial Life Arena used to be a lonely place for women's basketball. Now, it's the place to be. South Carolina led the nation in women's basketball attendance last year as the Gamecocks won their second-straight SEC title on the way to the program's first NCAA Final Four. There are already similar expectations for this year's team, and the fans are keeping up their end as a school-record 10,000 season tickets have already been sold.
"What you've been able to do, the atmosphere you provide for our basketball team, is nothing short of amazing," Head Coach Dawn Staley said to season ticket holders Wednesday night at the `Pre-Show Party' inside the Colonial Life Arena. "You paint a picture that is so beautiful. Our players will never, ever, forget the experience that they had as student-athletes at the University of South Carolina. It's all because of you."
"I don't want to have to worry about whether I will have to miss the first quarter, so, yes, I would absolutely use the shuttles."
With the success on the court along with the growing fan base, there will be the occasional bump in the road. Sometimes that is the cost of progress, and the Athletics Department at South Carolina is sensitive to that. It is harder to get tickets, and the parking demands will cause some congestion. The loss of a couple of surface lots in recent years as our campus and city continue to grow and expand creates some challenges to your routine in getting into the arena. Long gone are the days of pulling into a front row parking spot five minutes before tipoff.
Parking is not only more challenging, but it is also no longer free for anyone. This allows the Athletics Department to provide traffic and parking attendants to ease the flow of cars around the arena and ensure fan safety. Gamecock Club members can purchase season parking passes, but if you do not have one and are arriving at the arena less than one hour before tipoff, I highly recommend avoiding the surface lots adjacent to the arena to ensure you don't miss the game while sitting in traffic. Fans are encouraged to utilize the shuttles at the Pendleton Street and Pickens Street garages where parking is free for game and a round-trip shuttle fare is $3 per person. Similar set ups have worked well for fans attending other South Carolina venues.
"I would absolutely use the shuttles," said women's basketball season ticket-holder Rick Ackerman. "It works really well for football and baseball as well. It's a really great idea. It's worth every nickel not have to deal with traffic and not to have to worry about whether I have a place to park. I don't want to have to worry about whether I will have to miss the first quarter, so, yes, I would absolutely use the shuttles."
"I do have a parking pass, but I would absolutely be willing to park further away to make sure I made it inside on time," said season ticket holder Nona Kerr, who was also one of the `First 18' scholarship recipients in South Carolina athletics history as a softball student-athlete. "This is my first year as a season ticket holder, but I've been to many games over the years. I love the direction that this program is going, and I just wanted to be a part of it."
You can also try the city garage at Washington Street and Lincoln Street. There is also the Discovery garage across from the CLA, and some surface parking next to the Convention Center, but that option may not be available for every game due to events inside the Convention Center.
Let's back track. It wasn't that long ago that some thought the cavernous 18,000-seat Colonial Life Arena was too big for women's basketball, and that maybe the Gamecocks should play in a smaller venue. I started broadcasting Gamecock women's basketball games on the radio during the 2007-2008 season. It wasn't uncommon to have less than 1,500 listed as the paid attendance for a home game. With that many empty seats, it felt like even less. It was so quiet at times, I can remember actually having to keep my voice down while a player was shooting free throws so as not to be the one distracting her.
Our players will never, ever, forget the experience that they had as student-athletes at the University of South Carolina. It's all because of you.
During Dawn Staley's first season as South Carolina's head coach in 2008-2009, the Gamecocks averaged less than 3,000 fans per home game. As Coach Staley's program grew, so did the fan base as people saw what she was building with each passing year.
Just three years ago, Staley pushed the "Drive for Five" in the hopes of averaging 5,000 fans per home game. The supporters in Gamecock Country delivered by averaging 6,371 fans in the CLA for the 2013-2014 season as South Carolina won its first ever SEC regular-season championship. South Carolina doubled that number last year with a nation-leading average of 12,540 fans per home game, including an average of 14,516 garnet and black faithful for home SEC contests. Now that we've hit 10K in season ticket sales alone, what's next on the checklist? How about sellouts?
My wife and young son used to be able to get General Admission tickets and sit down in the front row behind where I broadcast on press row. Now, they're season ticket holders midway up in the lower level. Don't get me wrong, they enjoy their "neighbors" in the seats, but it tells you how the culture has changed.
Does winning help put people in seats? Of course it does. There's more to it than that. Through various community service and outreach efforts by the basketball program, fans feel like they have some ownership in the program.
"It's fantastic that we have 10,000 season ticket holders," said Kendra Matheny, who has been a season ticket holder for more than a decade along with her husband, Richard. "The downside is you can't always get as close to everything like before, but it's just fantastic for this team and the school to have so much support."
Going to a women's basketball game at South Carolina is an event, which I feel comfortable in comparing to a football game day atmosphere. If you're going to the game; go early. Perhaps take in an early meal in the Vista before tipoff. As noted earlier, I strongly recommend reviewing all of the parking options available before you make your way to the arena. That may actually get you inside quicker than trying to circle the streets around the arena.
I know we're going to pack the CLA again this year. The product on the court is at an all-time high, as is the excitement of our fans. As we navigate through any growing pains outside Colonial Life Arena, I can't wait to have you inside to help me tell the story of South Carolina basketball. At least I won't have to be quiet when someone is shooting free throws anymore.
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