July 25, 2016
For opposing teams, coming into South Carolina’s Stone Stadium is often like stepping into a hornet’s nest. In 2016, it may actually sound like a hornet’s nest thanks to the relaxation of conference rules regarding the use of artificial noise makers, such as vuvuzelas, at soccer matches. South Carolina looks to grow the soccer culture and continue to grow its rabid fan base by providing a free vuvuzela to every season ticket holder this season.
“We really want the fans to be involved,” said men’s soccer head coach Mark Berson. “Last year we had tremendous numbers and great support. This year, we want to really get them involved more. I think this is going to do that.”
“It will definitely give it a little international feel,” added women’s soccer head coach Shelley Smith. “It’s going to be a neat thing, and with our new locker room and weight room facility on the other side, there’s more of an echo in there now because it’s more closed in. So adding those (vuvuzelas) will make it really hard for other teams to play in here.”
“We’re all really excited about it,” said senior women’s soccer student-athlete Chelsea Drennan. “We want people lined up in here. It’s so loud in here with our new building, so it will be crazy to have all of our fans using them.”
South Carolina is once again offering a joint season ticket package allowing fans admission to all 21 home games played by the men’s and women’s teams this fall. Season tickets cost $25 for adults, and $10 for children under 17. The Gamecocks have enjoyed a home field advantage at Stone Stadium, also known as “The Graveyard,” and the fan support is one reason why. The women’s program ranked third nationally in home attendance last year and posted a 9-1 home record during the regular season, while the men’s team ranked ninth nationally in attendance and went undefeated at home for only the second time in school history with an 8-0-2 mark.
“Our stadium has been one of the best in the country in terms of fan bases,” Smith said. “Our players are always excited to play at home. It’s definitely a home field advantage.”
“The support of our home fans is just enormous,” said Berson. “In our game there is a fatigue factor. Our fans just give us that little extra adrenaline. There’s no question it helped us in a lot of close games. The home field advantage is undeniable.”
This is a way for fans to be involved all the time. It’s a way to participate, and it could lead to other things like the traditional singing and soccer chants.Men’s Soccer Head Coach Mark Berson
The SEC recently relaxed its artificial noisemaker rule as it pertains to women’s soccer and had previously only allowed such noise during stoppages in play. Meanwhile, the men’s team plays in Conference USA, which did not have a ban on artificial noisemakers during live play.
“It was difficult before because our two soccer teams play in two different conferences,” said South Carolina marketing manager Joe O’Clair. “We were hesitant to do anything like this before because we didn’t want the women’s team to get penalized for fans doing something that could be done only at the men’s games. Now we can do it for both teams.”
There has always been a “buzz” around Gamecock soccer as both teams reached the NCAA Tournament last year, and South Carolina is always looking for a way to improve the fan experience while also creating a traditional soccer atmosphere.
“It’s completely different than anything we’ve done before,” O’Clair said. “The hard core fans that follow European soccer know what’s going on, but for us it’s a little different. We provided scarves to season ticket holders the last couple of years, and now we’re doing this. It’s a culture thing with soccer, so we’re trying to enhance that even more by bringing a strong soccer atmosphere to Stone Stadium.”
The constant buzzing of the vuvuzelas along with the cheers of more than 5,000 fans at a home match may make it more of a challenge for coaches to communicate with players on the field, but for South Carolina’s coaches, it’s definitely worth it.
“Most of our work is done going into the game,” Smith said. “We make adjustments, but during the game, a lot relies on the players. So we’ll give up a little communication to have that kind of environment. It will make it more difficult for the away team.”
“It’s part of the atmosphere,” Berson said. “We’ve been in a number of stadiums, and ours is one of them, that when the crowd is really going, you can’t even yell to a player on the field and have them hear you. I think this gets the players excited, and it gets the fans excited. It gives the fans an opportunity to feel like they’re really impacting the game. That’s super important.
“There could be times when we’re going to be saying, ‘man this is really tough.’ The positives outweigh that. Our game is not a stoppage game for the most part, whereas you have a lot of stoppages in football. So the game doesn’t lend itself to the traditional way that our fans cheer in a game. This is a way for fans to be involved all the time. It’s a way to participate, and it could lead to other things like the traditional singing and soccer chants. That’s the next level.”
To get your season tickets and vuvuzelas, click here.