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Behind Enemy Lines: Colonial Life Arena


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Last season, I went on the road to cover UK’s SEC road games. Ice storms have kept me from going to all of their road games this season, but I made the trek to Columbia, South Carolina, and even though the Cats laid an egg, I reviewed Colonial Life Arena. 

Vanderbilt’s Memorial Coliseum
Auburn Arena
Alabama’s Coleman Coliseum
Ole Miss’ Tad Smith Coliseum

Colonial Life Arena
Built: November 2002
Seating capacity: 18,000

Exterior: 5

I was suprised by how nice Colonial Life Arena is. Built in 2002, the arena has been well-preserved over the years, and with a contemporary brick and glass facade, fits in nicely in Columbia’s downtown area. Because there’s nothing South Carolina loves more than palmettos, it’s flanked by the state tree and has a nice fountain outside the main entrance.

Colonial Life Arena is actually the largest arena in the state of South Carolina, and was built to host NCAA Tournament games, but right before construction began, the NCAA banned South Carolina and Mississippi from hosting events because of protests by the NAACP, who objected to the presence of a Confederate battle flag flying near a soldier’s memorial at the nearby Statehouse grounds.

Baseball on the jumbotron because of course

Baseball on the jumbotron because of course

Interior: 3

The inside of the arena is nice, especially the concourses, which are wide and flooded with natural light. There are 41 suites, four “entertainment suites,” and the Frank McGuire Club, a full-service hospitality room. All 18,000 seats have chair backs, site lines are good, and the suites are pretty standard, albeit a bit dated. All in all, the interior of the arena is pretty generic.

Flow: 3.5

The concourse circles the arena, although it narrows towards the back of the arena near the Frank McGuire Club. The main entrances are easy to navigate, and from what I could tell, there were no major traffic issues.

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Concessions: 5

This is where the Colonial Life Arena shines. Instead of several standard concession stands, each concession stand specializes in a different food or cuisine, from Little Caesars to BBQ to oriental asian food to the beloved Carolina chain Bojangles. There are also unique food booths in the concourses to sell smoothies, pretzels, Dippin’ Dots, etc. The prices are pretty typical, with a “Sabrette Hot Dog” going for $3.50.

Popcorn: 4.5

With the Cats playing their worst basketball of the year in the first half, it was going to take something really special to cheer me up at halftime. The food gods heard my plea and answered in the form of free popcorn, cookies, chips, and Diet Coke in the media room. I only had eyes for that red and white striped box, and it definitely revived me. Light and buttery with just the right amount of salt, and if not for a bit too much grease, it would have gotten a perfect score.

Bojangles AND smoothies?!?!

Bojangles AND smoothies?!?!

Signature food: 5

There wasn’t really one signature food at Colonial Life Arena, but because of the plethora of options (egg rolls at a basketball game? #WhyNot), I’ll still award full marks. Have you ever had Bojangles? It’s delicious.

Bathrooms: 4.5

Clean and nice. I especially like the circular sink with paper towel and soap dispensers mounted at eye level. Very convenient and a smart use of space for big crowds.

Scoreboard: 3

The scoreboard is center-hung, with four jumbotrons on each side, and although it’s nicer than Big Bertha, it’s definitely not as nice as others in the league, like Auburn’s or Ole Miss. I did like how they had individual scores listed on either side of the jumbotrons on all sides. You don’t realize how useful that is until you don’t have it.

PA System/announcer/music: 3

The music was the standard hip-hop/pop arena mix, with a noticeable amount of Pitbull thrown in just for Frank Martin, and of course, Sandstorm. Between the Sandstorm, the cock crowing clip they played every. single. timeout., and Baseline Jesus stomping the aluminum stands beside me, I had a hell of a headache by the end of the game. But, I’m guessing that was their intent, so well done.

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Fun stuff: 2.5

Nothing spectacular, but they did throw t-shirts into the crowd. There was a hilarious trivia bit where they asked a fan to name as many basketball terms as they could in 15 seconds, and then showed a video of one of the players doing the same thing. Considering the BBN’s vast knowledge of the game, watching the South Carolina fan struggle was a bit sad, and yes, funny. For the kiddos, there was a bouncy house in the concourse.

Pep band: 3.5 

Nothing groundbreaking, but they did do a rendition of Imagine Dragon’s “Radioactive” that I enjoyed. I’ve heard a few pep bands break that one out, and I approve. Again, it made me wish that UK’s pep band would shake it up a bit.

Halftime show: 2.5

Dance team and halfcourt shots, nothing special. I was more into the popcorn. (Larry Vaught was not.)

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Souvenirs: 3

Shockingly, South Carolina didn’t have a special promotion for the UK game, so no t-shirt night, pom pom night, etc. They did distribute foam fingers to the people sitting along the sidelines, which you can see above.

Ticket price: 4

How much does it cost to see South Carolina play #1 Florida tomorrow night? A whopping $14. $20 if you want the fancy seats. Can’t beat that.

Ushers: 5

Very nice, no complaints.

Press area/meal: 3

The press area was pretty standard for SEC arenas, a cinderblock room with a podium at the front and chairs. The girl in charge of passing the microphone around to reporters after the game was NOT HAPPY with UK’s media asking questions without waiting their turn, and chided us for it afterwards. That poor girl was no match for a Jerry Tipton scorned.

I did not partake in the press meal, a sandwich and fries, but from what I could smell, it seemed fine. Again, props for the Diet Coke, popcorn, chips, and cookies.

Student Section: 4

There were plenty of empty seats, but the Gamecock fans in arena made their presence known in the second half after about 20 “Go Big Blue” chants from the BBN. It says a lot about South Carolina basketball (and therefore UK’s loss) that the fans didn’t really know how to prepare for the court storming.There was a lot of hesitancy–“Are we doing this???”–before they eventually moved towards the aisles like fawn taking their first steps. But, I will give them props for being loud in the final five minutes, and they totally deserved to rush the court. Their cheers and jeers were pretty lame though. After “Paypal Cal” was ejected, they turned their sights on John Robic, aka “Blondie,” yelling at him and “Kenny Walker” (actually Orlando Antigua and not even Kenny Payne…double fault) to sit down.

Also, he wasn’t technically part of the student section since he was probably 65-years-old, but “Baseline Jesus” was amazing. A South Carolina legend, the hippie nurse attends all USC basketball, football, and baseball games with his tattered and autographed Gamecock flag, Gamecock bandana, grey mullet, and yellow crocks. Even though the sound of him stomping the aluminum bleachers still rings in my ears, he was a true character.

BBN Effect: 5

I was stunned by the number of UK fans in Columbia. They showed up in droves, arriving by the busload at the Flying Saucer beforehand, creating a river of blue on the way to the arena, and drowning out South Carolina fans with “Go Big Blue” chants. I went to the hotel bar after I was done with postgame stuff to find it full of UK fans drowning their sorrows. Hilariously, one group behind me got into a big debate about bourbon, which led to them asking the bartender for a whole bottle of Eagle Rare to share. Even in mourning, the BBN is the best.

GBB chant count: I lost track

A bad picture of the great BBN showing at the Flying Saucer

A bad picture of the great BBN showing at the Flying Saucer

Campus: 3

I didn’t have time to really tour South Carolina’s campus, but from what I could tell of the part near the arena, it’s pretty bland, which is more of a reflection of Columbia itself. Columbia is the state capital of South Carolina, and in turn, kind of reminds me of Frankfort in that parts of it are essentially barren during the weekends. My mother and I hiked halfway across downtown to eat lunch at Zoe’s, only to find it closed on weekends. You can tell the city’s putting a lot of money back into downtown, particularly the “Vista” area, but after touring gems like Oxford, Athens, and even Tuscaloosa, I wasn’t impressed. In fact, the most impressive thing in the whole city was the Confederate printing plant that had been redeveloped into a Publix and townhomes. I’m not lying, my mother made me take at least three pictures of it.

Overall atmosphere: 3.5

Colonial Life Arena is a very nice arena in an okay Southern city. For South Carolina fans, this was an unexpected and awesome experience, but given their indifference to basketball, they’ve probably already forgotten about it. Shout out to Cantina 76 for the awesome taco salad and the Hilton hotel bar for a big glass of red wine to drown my sorrows in. The best thing about Columbia may have been the weather–65 degrees and sunny. If you stared at the palmetto fronds just right, it was like being at the beach…until you realized you were standing in a parking lot.

Total score: 77.5

Previous scores:
Auburn Arena: 84/100
Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gymnasium: 71.5/100
Alabama’s Coleman Coliseum: 76.75/100
Ole Miss’ Tad Smith Coliseum: 68.5/100

Article written by Mrs. Tyler Thompson

No, I will not make you a sandwich, but you can follow me on Twitter @MrsTylerKSR or email me.

22 responses to “Behind Enemy Lines: Colonial Life Arena”

  1. CaliUKfan

    FYI, “Oriental” today is akin to “Colored.” Its an outdated term. That aside, I enjoy these recaps.

    1. PC

      So what term are we suppose to use? And how are we to know a term is outdated? I really need to know so we can change the name of the local Oriental Inn. I want to be political correct and not offend anyone except white male Christians. We have a term for those types and it is never out of date Miss Tyler did a superb job and where I live we have a very popular Bojangles so she is right. Good chicken and fixins’

    2. PC

      Further more, as long as we have a National Association For The Advancement of Colored People the term colored will be acceptable. If you don’t want me to use that term, do away with the NCAAP

  2. Duuuuuude

    I have really enjoyed reading your “Behind Enemy Lines” series. I would love to read your take on Rupp Arena, and perhaps put together some sort of matrix with all the SEC schools.

  3. jhnny

    I really enjoy these articles. Great job!

    So, do I lose my SEC cred if ask someone to explain to me what the flying saucer is?

    1. atdaddd

      Bar/restaurant it seems. I too like ready these articles of other SEC venues. Hope when I retire I can visit most if not all.

  4. Rixter

    This might have been an interesting read had it been posted within 48 hours of the game

  5. Gman

    Good Lord, you use the word “Asian” not “oriental” in that context. That’s really offensive.

    1. binarysolo

      That font on the sign is perhaps the most offensive.

    2. PC

      The term is not offensive. No one cares except busy bodies who have nothing else to worry about.

  6. Gman

    South Carolina being racially or ethnically insensitive? I’m stunned.

  7. Holler Baller

    SANDSTORM!

  8. TB

    Parking is very convenient and reasonably priced ($5) but they do need some assistance in getting cars out of the lots. There were little vehicles with blue lights but I did not see any policemen. Could have used a few officers at intersections to keep the traffic flowing. And Bojangles is great chicken.

  9. Walter

    Seriously, Dude, Oriental is not the preferred nomenclature.

  10. el hombre juan

    Oh yes, the word oriental is just so offensive isn’t it. Look if you’re not even oriental don’t say it’s offensive. it’s just a word. Black people are colored, that’s just what they are. Not African American, unless you really are an African immigrant. White people are white, that’s just what they are, not English American. You pc idiots make me sick. Can’t host an sec tourney because of a confederate memorial? Well, south Carolina was a confederate state and Its ok to honor you’re deceased ancestors. Hey, I’m offended by Vietnam, lets boycott dc because of the veterans memorial. Lets all just be a bunch of brainwashed pansies who can’t have a belief, opinion or idea of their own because it doesn’t fit the pc mainstream agenda. I’m really offended that abortion is legal. It’s a “choice” they say. What if I want to kill my neighbors dog because he wakes me up at night, is that a “choice” too? But being gay isn’t a choice, you’re born like that. And look, I could care less if a dude is attracted to another dude or girl to a girl, just be honest youre not born that way it’s a decision you made along the line somewhere based on external factors. Just own it and quit making excuses. sorry for the rant.
    Now, to the original intent of my post…

    Bojangles is AWESOME. There used to be one in Louisville on cane run/crumbs lane??? Can’t remember where exactly but their country ham biscuits we the best. They still have them in tn and I guess. other places in the south. If you ever see one stop and try it.

    1. el hombre juan

      Another thing, I’m really sorry, I am. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not perfect. I don’t completely know where to stand on things, what’s right or wrong if there is even such a thing, because I can’t process everything completely. But just stop regurgitating what you hear or read on the blogs, news sites, media. What’s cool or popular opinion. Think for yourself. Draw your own conclusions.

  11. ukcat1

    Never been to MO, A&M, or UGA. But in my travels over the years, I thought Gainesville was the worst.

  12. Truth

    http://www.coloniallifearena.com/600/Concessions.asp#.UxVmmoUwCX0

    The restaurant is called “Thai Kingdom Oriental Kitchen”.

    Hmmm? Could that be Thai food?

  13. oriental bob

    Any quick study will inform you that orient means east. It would be logical to describe an Asian as being from the east in relation to….well just about every country with the exception of a few. Apparently what happened was a congressman from new York (where else) thought he would pass legislation saying the term was derogatory…even though it’s not, no more than the word Asian is. I swear, it’s impossible to describe somebody anymore in a way that is “PC.” Effing semantics.

    Furthermore, the word orient, as in ” my living room is orientated to where I can look out my window from my couch and make sure no (insert racial slur here) come to my door” is derived from when middle east ern temple s were made to have the entrance facing the east (orient) they were said to be orientated. So, should we stop using it when it applies to location too? should we stop going to orientation at a new job because it’s offensive? What, and lose out on that easy money before the real work starts? No thank you.

  14. BBNick

    Awesome article Mrs TT. I really enjoy reading about this stuff as I have only been to Knoxville and Athens. Great work!

  15. spookykim

    Great article; I love reading your posts. BTI sucks, but Mrs. TT rocks it!