At football games, hanging around outside the main event is a mere extension of tailgating for unlucky folks without tickets.

At the Family Circle Cup on a Thursday full of weather arranged by the Daniel Island Rotary Club, it was hard to tell who was having more fun. Fans watching the likes of Venus Williams, Jelena Jankovic and other top players on Billie Jean King Court?

Or those taking part in the constant carnival outside the main stadium?

There is so much to do, buy, eat and drink that the match goes at least three sets with a tiebreaker.

Of course, it's possible to do both. Watch Eugenie Bouchard edge Venus in a classic three-set match and slip out to the Geechee Island Food Truck for seafood and grits, Geechee Q Sammich or pimento cheeseburger. Condiments include Spicy Bob Marley Sauce.

It was also easy to forget about the big stage for hours at a time.

Conventional tennis, anyone?

The Althea Gibson Court offers top-tier tennis in a close-knit setting. Fans can watch from umbrella-covered tables. There's a full bar in one corner. Oak tree limbs laced with Spanish moss hang over part of the bleachers.

No. 12 seed Daniela Hantuchova, a Family Circle Cup veteran, taught Teliana Pereira some hard lessons Thursday on the Althea Gibson green clay, winning 6-2, 6-3. Much to the delight of fans drinking mimosas or eating paninis ordered from the attached Duvall Express.

"Some players who have played a lot at the Althea Gibson Court develop a following over here," said Family Circle Tennis Center membership manager Nancy Heinz. "Then they take that following over to the stadium court."

Chocolate Sea Salt?

Court 3, idle Thursday but active earlier this week, is even more intimate: 18 green, wooden bleacher rows on one side of the court and four on the other.

You can hear the players whisper. They can hear you.

"It's awesome," said Family Circle Cup volunteer Monica Goldstein. "You really do get a close-up of the players. You can see their frustration, you can see their intensity. You don't get that in the stadium."

You also don't get TV analyst Pam Shriver signing autographs at the Salonpas tent - as she did late Thursday afternoon - for fans eating free samples of Oikos yogurt.

Samantha Stosur, the 2010 Family Circle Cup champion, knows her way around Charleston menus (Australians always know how to have a good time). This week she planned to dine at Hall's Chophouse, Fish, FIG and McCrady's.

"I make my reservations three or four weeks in advance," Stosur said, "and hope that matches don't conflict with bookings."

But while Stosur and fellow top seeds are slugging it out on green clay, Family Circle Cup patrons can eat well without knowing a maître d'.

From Zeus Grill gyros to Chick-fil-A, T&T Kettle Korn and Port City Italian Ice. At the King of Pops, it's possible to cool off with Chocolate Sea Salt, Kiwi Lemonade, Oreo Cheesecake or Orange Dreamsicle.

Serves, salads and No. 1

Midway through Bouchard's victory over Williams, tables were full of oblivious people munching on Daniel Island Grille meals aside the Matchpoint Market.

For exercise, the Interactive Tennis Zone loomed as a big green machine uncorking serves at kids just getting familiar with a cumbersome racket. A play-by-play announcer followed the action.

"Oh, that's OK, Molly," he shouted after a whiff. "Let's give it another try."

Too hot out there?

You can watch stadium court matches on large-screen TVs - and eat salads and wraps - inside the Verde tent at the Ketel One Racquet Club, where Happy Hour lasts four hours each weeknight.

It's always great to hear Cliff Drysdale go on about "exquisite" Charleston in his exquisite South African accent during ESPN2's Family Circle Cup telecasts.

"No. 1 travel destination in the U.S.A.," Drysdale pointed out Thursday while covering the Williams-Bouchard match on stadium court.

Surely, reasons include all that goes on outside of stadium court on Daniel Island.

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff