USC School of Journalism
COLUMBIA — Perfectly trimmed grass, freshly painted lines, 80,000 seats and tributes to the Gamecock greats of years past. Sounds like a Carolina football game, right?
Well, it doesn’t have to be. Williams-Brice Stadium, home of the South Carolina Gamecocks, is so much more than just a football field.
Imagine the scene described above, but instead of 80,000 strangers the stadium is filled with a few hundred of your family, closest friends, business colleagues or even potential customers.
Williams-Brice Stadium is not only home to the Gamecocks but also hosts all types of affairs throughout the season and off-season.
In the past year alone, the venue has housed events ranging from an AFLAC Employee Appreciation Day to the Spring Valley High School prom.
Corey Potter, a Columbia photographer, didn’t know of the possibilities the stadium held until a few years ago when a couple requested to have their engagement photos there.
“Once I posted those pictures on the site, tons of people started asking about it,” he said.
Potter described the typical couple who chooses this setting for such events as playful, willing to have a good time and generally people who spend a lot of time going to or watching football games.
“People who are really big Gamecock fans are usually kind of starstruck going in there,” he said.
Michael Jennings is the vice president of operations for Centerplate, the catering company that handles events held by USC, including all concessions for Williams-Brice Stadium, Colonial Life Arena, Carolina Stadium and the Koger Center.
Almost three years ago, his daughter had her wedding reception in the Zone portion of Williams-Brice, the largest room available for rental.
All catering was done by Centerplate, and Jennings described the staff at the stadium as very flexible and cooperative.
“They’re willing to work with you,” he said.
They worked with Jennings enough for him to have a 40-foot stage erected on the field for his daughter and her new husband to be presented on, as well as put the traditional slideshow of the newly hitched couple on the scoreboard.
“It was a very glamorous event,” said Mel Parker, the assistant director of facility management at Williams-Brice who has worked there for 17 years.
Parker, who is in charge of all bookings for private events in the stadium, says it’s a popular place for events.
“It’s typical stuff for the most part,” he said. “We do a lot of business meetings, parties, things like that.”
Between March of 2012 and March of 2013, the stadium rented space for hundreds of events, mostly to USC for staff meetings, football games and sometimes sorority and fraternity functions.
Events by private individuals, such as birthday and graduation parties, weddings and baby showers were the second most frequent reason for rentals. The stadium was home to 11 wedding-related events last year, ranging from rehearsal dinners to receptions.
Corporate events, like the AFLAC Employee Appreciation Day and a Palmetto Health Foundation fundraiser, were next on the list.
Since July 2012, the stadium has brought in $87,000 from these rentals.
Parker mentioned the Zone is generally the most popular room for large private events, as it can hold up to 650 people for a sit-down dining experience.
“I rent this room alone probably 30 or 40 times a year,” he said as workers shuffled in and out setting up for a party. “I could rent it 75 times a year if I rented it on back-to-back days.”
“Last August, we had 41 events in 30 days, and that was in all of our rooms, but probably half of them were in here,” he said as he sat outside the Zone.
There are nine rooms available for private rental – the Zone, the Letterman’s Lounge, the Champion’s Club, five Executive Clubs, and P-1, which can be split in half and rented as the whole room or half the room.
Each room varies in size, price and luxury, but Parker said most large parties and wedding receptions are in the Zone.
Smaller events, such as birthday parties, are usually in the Letterman’s Lounge or Champion’s Club which hold 120 and 250 people, respectively.
Todd Koesters, an assistant professor in the University of South Carolina’s College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management, has some experience with such events and their impact on the facility as a whole.
Koesters joined the USC faculty after serving as vice president of marketing and sales for Churchill Downs Entertainment Group. That’s right — that Churchill Downs.
“The primary purpose of the hospitality rooms in Churchill Downs and in Williams-Brice is to entertain people,” he said. There’s a different focus from hosting a football game, “but they’re designed to entertain.”
“The stadium is really only used for a few Saturdays out of the year,” he continued. Events like this bring in money for the stadium so “it isn’t just sitting there for months.”
Koesters believes that like any other purchase, the decision to hold a special event at Williams-Brice all hinges on perceived value, whether it’s monetary or emotional.
“We want to stand out. We want to be the center of attention,” he said, hinting toward the emotions that might lead someone like a bride or a teenager to choose the stadium for their event.
He acknowledged that bigger events, like the upcoming Kenny Chesney concert, bring in money not only for the stadium, but for the city.
He explained that such an event attracts people from surrounding areas who in the past might have traveled elsewhere to spend their money.
Previously, those same people might have gone to Charlotte, Charleston or Atlanta to see an act as well-known as Chesney.
Whether it’s country music or Carolina football, Williams-Brice is a venue people are accustomed to across the state. It’s a local celebrity in its own right.
“There’s a lot of pride around Carolina football right now,” Koesters said.
Article courtesy of SC News Exchange