By: Bruce Bullington
Over the course of my sports-fan life, I have always considered myself just a regular fan. Certainly a passionate fan, but a fan just like everyone else. I have consistently bristled at the proliferation of luxury seating in major team sports. Premium seating started becoming a fact of life in new professional stadiums around the country in the early 90â€™s and has recently started rearing its posh, ugly head in our major college stadiums in the last several years.
Whether it be at the RBC Center, Camden Yards or, more recently, Carter-Finley Stadium, I would look up at the aristocricy in their climate-controlled, fully-catered ivory towers and pity those fools. The rich and well-connected looking down on the huddled masses from above, not realizing that, with their noses in the air, they were missing all that was right about sports competed in by athletes at the highest level. Seeing the sweat and pain on the players faces and hearing every grunt, hit or great play was something that only those close to the action could appreciate.
I felt that way until precisely September 2nd, when I became what I had despised â€“ a luxury box elitist.
A colleague of mine here at greensborosports.com, Doug Cockman, secured three club seats in Vaughn Towers for NC Stateâ€™s season opener against Appalachian State. Normally, these seats are well outside my budget for at $300 apiece. However, we were in the need for an extra seat because another friend of ours, Chan Harrison an ASU grad and legendary bandwagon fan, wanted to tag along. If you have any experience at all in the dirty underbelly of ticket scalping you would know that tickets are generally sold in quantities of two. It is difficult to find a market for tickets in odd denomination (one, three, five, etc). Thatâ€™s why, two days before a sold-out game, a gentleman in Raleigh had exactly three tickets worth almost $1000 that he could find no takers for.
In the dark ages, he would have been reduced to peddling his wares on game day, pacing up and down Blue Ridge holding up his ducats until one of the professional scalpers offered him $20 for the whole lot, take it or leave it.
However, these are not the dark ages. In a shotgun marriage made possible only through the magic of internet message boards, buyer and seller were brought together. Sandwiched between a thread about Marcus Stoneâ€™s Heisman hopes and a 12-page manifesto debating the eternal question of how one could possibly get totally wasted under the new time restraints on tailgating, an unholy agreement was made.
After a small amount of coordination, we met outside the stadium to make the exchange, with all the requisite cloak-and dagger rarely seen outside of film noir flicks. Right away, we knew we were in from something altogether different. Rather than the thick-stock paper of regular tickets, these tickets were printed on plastic. They more resembled press badges than tickets and, when worn, gave you a feeling of exclusivity before youâ€™d even breathed in the rarified air of the club level.
After an elevator ride to the first level (complete with an elevator operator, a nice touch that George Jefferson would have appreciated), we caught our first glimpse of sports fan heaven. A beautiful skybox with table after table of food that was absolutely free to eat.
For anyone whoâ€™s attended sporting events, they might want to read that sentence again. Sports fans are conditioned to getting gouged at the stadium. Five dollar slices of pizza, four dollar sodas and ten-dollar beers are all an accepted part of a night at the ballpark. Not here, not in sports fan heaven.
And it wasnâ€™t just the cold cuts they dish out at strip clubs (so Iâ€™ve been told) either. There were chicken fingers (who knew chickens had fingers?), BBQ sandwiches, hot dogs and turkey complete with a gentleman who cut it just to your liking.
My father used to have an expression that he liked to roll out when I would cut up a bit. He would bring me real close and push through his teeth â€œAct like youâ€™ve been somewhere beforeâ€. This though has not been lost on me throughout my life and I try to conduct myself as if my dad were watching me at all times. The one exception I have is when I truly havenâ€™t been somewhere before, and I had never been somewhere like this before.
With this in mind, I piled my plate as high as its structural integrity would allow and sat down at one of the many tables positioned right by the glass so that I could observe each teamâ€™s pregame workout while I enjoyed a bowl of Mac-and-cheese.
After two (ok, three) helpings, I moved onto our seats. For anyone whoâ€™s been to any of our major college football stadiums in this state, they are full of history and represent all that is college sports. They are also very uncomfortable. Relics of a time when stadiums were built more for their function than for their creature comforts, they have unforgiving metal bleachers and, in the cases of Carter-Finley and Dukeâ€™s alleged stadium Wallace Wade, no seatbacks. The width between seats suggests that these stadiums were designed during the Neogene period, when the average human was considerably smaller than the current incarnation.
These were not issues to be contended with in Vaughn Towers. Cushioned individual seats were the norm with a handy drink holder to put my Aquafina in as I politely applauded a good play or respectfully chided an official for a lapse in judgement. There was even a nice roof over my seat lest that slight chance of rain in the forecast reared its ugly head.
The coup de gras came in the second half, when they put out the ice cream. And this just wasnâ€™t any ice cream. These were those little cups of ice cream that you got in school for a quarter that you ate with a wooden stick. But there was no old maid asking you for a quarter, just a cooler full of all the kinds of ice cream you could want (as long as all you wanted was vanilla, chocolate or strawberry).
A perfect night concluded with a 23-10 victory by the good guys. As we walked back to our car, we all looked at each other and knew the awful truth. We had all become what we had despised.
And we couldnâ€™t wait to do it again.
Editors Note: We’d like to welcome Bruce to the GreensboroSports.com team!