Over the past few seasons, I’ve been fortunate enough to cover some of UK’s SEC road games for KSR. Along the way, I’ve also been reviewing the venues across the SEC, and earlier this week, I visited Georgia’s Stegeman Coliseum for the second time. The first time was in 2013 to see Kentucky lose pitifully, and I was too depressed to review the gym. The results were a little different this time around. Before we get rolling, here are my past reviews:
Vanderbilt’s Memorial Coliseum
Alabama’s Coleman Coliseum
Ole Miss’ Tad Smith Coliseum
South Carolina’s Colonial Life Arena
Florida’s O’Connell Center
Mississippi State’s Humphrey Coliseum
Seating capacity: 10,523
From 2010-2011, Stegeman underwent a major $13 million renovation in which the old facade was removed and replaced with a beautiful glass front. Like a lot of SEC arenas, Stegeman is small but classically designed, and I really love that the architects kept the original bones of the building while modernizing it. The effect is striking, and at night, lights illuminate a huge UGA mural:
This may be the best exterior renovation of an older gym I’ve ever seen.
The inside of Stegeman has a great retro feel to it thanks to the unique patterned ceiling, which has thankfully remained intact throughout multiple renovations. The arena is small, with a capacity of only 10,523, and in turn, there are no bad seats. Interestingly, Georgia’s website says the Coliseum is actually two structures: the roof and the building beneath it. “The only connection between the two is an aluminum bellows which seals the joints and permits the rise and fall of the roof with temperature change.”
The 2011 renovation expanded the concourses, giving the arena an easy flow, even with a sellout crowd. In fact, sometimes there seems like there is too much room in the lobbies, but that’s never a bad thing. Throughout the concourses, there are trophy cases, large murals, and displays highlighting past and present Georgia legends.
Nothing spectacular, just standard fare of pizza, hot dogs, smoked sausage, BBQ, nachos, etc. I will give them half a point for offering an “extra cheese cup” for $1 because sometimes you just need extra cheese. Also, because South be the South, there were “bottomless” options for popcorn and soda.
Hot dog price: $3.50
Popcorn: 3 (incomplete)
Confession time: I did not sample the popcorn. Between the late tip, the press meal, and all of the distractions, I didn’t have time to get popcorn, so I’ll give it the industry standard 3. I noticed the popcorn was in bags, not boxes, so props for that.
Signature food: 2.5
I didn’t really see one. I guess boiled peanuts? That’s a Georgia thing. You can get that for $4.50.
Not impressed. The one I visited was small, had broken locks on the bathroom doors and the paper towel dispenser was broken.
What do Rupp Arena, the O-Dome, and Stegeman Coliseum all have in common? None have a center-hung scoreboard. Despite all the renovations to Stegeman, there is no big pretty scoreboard, just a cluster of speakers; in fact, there is only one large video board, and even it looks outdated.
PA System/announcer/music: 3.5
Typical pop/hip-hop blend, but I appreciated the old school hip-hop, which got the crowd even more hyped. Georgia must have known Charles Barkely was coming, because they had a whole clip reel ready. Sadly, they used ones that weren’t really that funny, which is kind of a crime because Barkley is hilarious.
Fun stuff: 3
Even though their scoreboard sucks, Georgia had plenty of “cams”: Kiss Cam, Dance Cam, etc. Lots of free t-shirts, giveaways, etc. Actually, Georgia’s t-shirt guns were the most impressive I’ve seen, sending some tees bouncing off the roof.
Pep band: 4
Great blend of new stuff and old stuff. They even did a rendition of “Uptown Funk” that made me really, really happy.
Halftime show: 3.5
The popular “Quick Change” act yet again. In case you haven’t seen it before, here it is at a Milwaukee Bucks game a few years back:
Meh. Maybe I’ve just seen it too many times, but they have nothing on the Firecrackers.
Posters and free t-shirts for the student section to promote their blackout.
Ticket price: 5
$15 for all seats, even for the Kentucky game. That’s a deal, my friends.
Very nice and helpful.
Press area/meal: 4
The press meal was fried chicken, green beans, and mashed potatoes, which I’ll never complain about. Sweet tea, water and cookies were also available, and there was a Coke fountain in the press room. God bless Georgia’s Coke monopoly.
Student Section: 3.5
The students got their early, and when the doors opened, they stampeded into the gymnasium:
They also heckled the players throughout warmups:
Oddly enough, I don’t think they used the cheers they came up with for the game, maybe because Drew publicized them on the site. While I was taking pictures of the students, one saw my KSR pullover and yelled “HEY, WHERE’S THAT DREW FRANKLIN” at me. “Because of him, I got cussed out by hundreds of UK fans.” Sorry, dude.
There was an older man in the crowd that obviously wasn’t part of the student section, but did jumping jacks for nearly the entire game in a crazy red and black sweater. He seems to be a bit of a celebrity at Stegeman, and someone in the student section even made a fathead of him that they showed on the jumbotron. I’d love to hear his story.
BBN Effect: 5
Kentucky fans always travel well, but they were out in force in Athens. There’s a big contingent of UK fans in Atlanta, and the Alumni Club even presented the MVP of the game, Andrew Harrison, with the Bill Keightley Mr. Wildcat Award. I met David Shelton, the past president of the Greater Atlanta UK Alumni Club, and he wanted me to spread the word about their campaign to get a UK license plate for Georgia. To help them out, visit ukfan.net.
Back to the crowd. From tip off on, Kentucky fans made their presence known with several LOUD “Go Big Blue” chants. Here’s one of them:
At the end of the game, Andrew Harrison and Tyler Ulis motioned to the crowd to thank them for their support, and a large group of Kentucky fans stuck around to send the team bus off from Stegeman Coliseum. I’ve already written about this, but Kentucky fans across the South have flocked to see this team play, and being able to witness the BBN presence at road games has been one of my favorite parts of this season.
GBB chant count: 10
Athens is right up there with Oxford as my favorite SEC town. In fact, it may have passed it on this trip. Downtown Athens has plenty of great bars and restaurants, along with an excellent music scene (it is the home of REM and the B-52s, after all). My favorite haunt is Trappeze Pub, which has excellent food and tasty craft brews. Over lunch, I sampled Creature Comforts Tropicália, an IPA brewed right across the street. Two thumbs up.
Georgia’s campus is gorgeous as well, all brick and pine trees. It’s pretty much the ideal setting for a big school in the South, and if you haven’t been there yet, put it on your bucket list.
Overall atmosphere: 4
Stegeman was buzzing for Tuesday’s game, and at times in the second half, the atmosphere seemed prime for an upset; however, this Kentucky team was once again just too good. Props to the Georgia crowd for bringing it and the Georgia team for giving Kentucky a serious scare.
As for the building itself, the renovations to the exterior and the concourses are gorgeous, the perfect model for updating older small arenas without sacrificing character. Once Stegeman gets a new scoreboard, it will be one of the nicer arenas in the SEC. Combine that with an ideal college town like Athens and you’ve got one hell of a road trip.
Total score: 75.5/100
Auburn Arena: 84/100
South Carolina’s Colonial Life Arena: 77.5/100
Alabama’s Coleman Coliseum: 76.75/100
Florida’s O’Connell Center: 74/100
Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gymnasium: 71.5/100
Mississippi State’s Humphrey Coliseum: 69/100
Ole Miss’ Tad Smith Coliseum: 68.5/100