Stadium and Arena Visits

Reviews and Photos of Arenas, Ballparks and Stadiums in the United States and Canada during Sporting Events

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Shivering in Utica and Syracuse

Posted by Sean Rowland on March 12, 2017

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Just like last year, this trip began by working a snow event as the day began at 2 AM. No rest for the weary as I immediately hit the road at 11:30 AM to try and thread the needle between the departing snow and returning snow squalls. It worked as the roads were fine as was the strategy of coming up to Utica from the east side (using I-87) to miss weather problems. Utica is a rust-belt city like many others in that initial prosperity faded as manufacturing and the population left. They’re now left with trying to rejuvenate areas and there are a few spots where it looks to be successful, like on Verick St. The interesting aspect of Utica is how it has become the home of many refugees as their stories and work ethic have given this city some lift.

My introduction to Utica was a slap in the face as I arrived to the Memorial Auditorium for outdoor pictures and I stepped out of the car to a biting 40 MPH wind and temperatures in the 20s. The time of year and preceding record warmth made this feel worse. After shivering through an exterior tour of the circular Aud, I checked into the hotel for an attempt at a few Z’s before the game. Dinner was at the excellent Delmonico’s, where I had a traditional Utica dish of Chicken Riggies. Game-time was 7 PM and I got there an hour before to take a tour and I was more than impressed, starting with the exterior. Inside, the small concourse featured so many displays and historical images of the city, arena and past teams, while inside is a rink built in 1960 that has a unique seating design. The most noticeable feature is the fanning out of cable wires, which made me think of MSG. Before the game, I got a good feeling about the atmosphere as Utica jerseys were aplenty and hockey talk abundant. However, when the game started…it was a disappointingly flat crowd. They barely noticed an impending PP and did little to induce noise. The fans did get better as the game went on though and they were quite vocal in the last two minutes. I also loved how most of the building lept to their feet after a goal, something you don’t see much of in the AHL. In addition, I know come playoff time, this is one of the loudest buildings in the league. Utica went on to win the game 2-1 and look for a full arena review (on the right) next week.

I woke up the next morning to a beautiful 7 degrees and chose to spend the morning catching up on sleep and reviews. Begrudgingly, I headed out late morning into the cold and made a visit to the Oneida County Historical Society. For lunch, I wanted to try a place really representative of the city and the refugee population has led to many, great ethnic restaurants. The largest group in the population are the Bosnian’s, so I went to Tarik’s Bakery and enjoyed an excellent lunch on a cold day. The owner helped me understand some of the dishes and I went with Burek and finished with a lemon dessert that was similar to Baklava. Great stuff! There is not much else to do in the city, so I stopped at Turning Stone Casino, before heading to Syracuse. I wish I remembered that the Boxing Hall of Fame was in nearby Canastota as the Thruway sign made me regret not doing that instead.
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In Syracuse, the last time I was here was to watch the Rochester Amerks win Game 7 in their first-round series against the Crunch in 2005. It was the most memorable game I have ever seen live thanks to the Amerks winning in OT. I do remember issues with the building, like our ticket being duplicated and it being stifling hot inside. Some things don’t change as this re-visit started with waiting in a cramped space too small for Will-Call as it didn’t open until 6 PM, forcing some to wait outside in the frigid cold and snow. Not a good start, but things got better inside as I took my tour around the 60+ year old building. Some stadiums are called “War Memorial”, but Syracuse takes this to heart. Remarkably poignant displays fulfill the concourse and ensure that the building is a true War Memorial. Take a look at some of these dedications (1, 2 and 3). The review has all the arena details and for this game, the Crunch fell in OT to St. John’s 3-2 in an entertaining affair. Overall, this is a building with character and one that is worth a trip in the AHL. Highlight of the game for me: Using the urinal next to a 6’6″ guy wearing a complete Hanson Brother outfit.
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A Central New York Hockey Weekend

Posted by Sean Rowland on March 8, 2017

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Didn’t I say before that I was not going to be driving in anymore snow for a road trip (here, here and here)? Well, here we go again as a four-month hiatus from the sports tripping scene has me itching desperately for a visit and I’m hoping to thread the needle between areas of snow for a relatively stress-free drive. Once the snow ends late morning Friday in North Jersey, I’ll try to dodge post-storm snow showers and head up into Central NY for a weekend hockey trip. The first stop is Utica, where the AHL made a surprise comeback to the city in 2013 after nearly 20 years away. Friday Night’s game is against Bridgeport in their home, the Utica Memorial Auditorium. Every “Aud” I’ve come across has a special atmosphere and I’m hoping to see the same here. Then, as long as lake effect snow does not get impede my travels, I head an hour west to Syracuse for a return visit to the War Memorial Arena Saturday Night. I’ve seen the Crunch play a few times back in my college days (both were Rochester Amerks playoff victories!) and I’d like to update my review for a regular-season crowd. With St. John’s moving next year to Laval, I realized that after this trip I will have seen games in 10 of the 14 AHL Eastern Conference Arenas. The remaining four are all within driving distance, so I may strive complete the conference over the next few years.
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2017 College Basketball Conference Tournaments

Posted by Sean Rowland on February 27, 2017

Palestra and Playoffs together is mouthwatering

Palestra and Playoffs together is mouth-watering

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It’s my favorite time of year again! The College Basketball season is winding down and the first conference tournament of the year begins tonight. While the NCAA Tournament is the core of March Madness, the Conference Tournaments should not be overlooked as there is plenty of excitement within each bracket. Since this is a stadium website, I like to break down each College Basketball conference and their respective tournament location. It’s not as fun when more conferences nowadays need a plane ticket just to travel to a road game, but nonetheless, long-time lovers of this sport can’t resist getting excited when the calendar hits late February. This year, we welcome the Ivy League to the party, a bittersweet change that ends the 14-game championship. Every conference and tournament location is placed below into one of three categories: “Good”, “OK” and “Bad”.

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Good

  • Big East:     New York, NY – Madison Square Garden

    • I know it is not the classic Big East, but at least there are still five original members
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  • Big Sky:     Reno, NV – Reno Events Center

    • Great move by the Big Sky last year. This is a spread-out conference in the western half of the US and with Vegas already packed with other tournaments, the next best choice is Reno. The Events Center is relatively new and mid-sized, a venue that fits wonderfully.
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  • Big XII:     Kansas City, MO – Sprint Center

    • Perfect spot in a basketball-rich city that loves the conference and always supports this tournament well.
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  • Big West:     Anaheim, CA – Honda Center

    • The California Bus League features most if its members in SoCal, so Anaheim is a great host
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  • Ivy:     Philadelphia, PA – The Palestra
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    • This post is about best tournament locations, not whether a conference should have a tournament. With that in mind, Yes! The Palestra is an incredible place to watch basketball already. Can you imagine the atmosphere on a doubleheader semifinal or a championship final? My one qualm: What if Penn gets in for future years as a #3 or #4 seed? That’s quite unfair to the other teams if they don’t bring their own fans. We’ll see how it plays out.
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  • MAC:     Cleveland, OH – Quicken Loans Arena

    • Excellent location and fans travel well here. It’s a great tournament made even better by a natural bracket with no double-byes.
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  • MEAC:    Norfolk, VA – Norfolk Scope Arena
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    • Norfolk is probably the best option around for this league.

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  • Missouri Valley:     St Louis, MO – Scottrade Center

    • Hands-down, Arch Madness is the best conference tournament in the country.
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  • Ohio Valley:     Nashville, TN  –  Nashville Municipal Auditorium

    • A long time home for the OVC tournament that is a natural fit. The venue is perfect for the crowd size and the atmosphere has been pretty good in recent years.
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  • Pac-12:     Las Vegas – T-Mobile Arena

    • New arena, same great neutral site. Vegas baby.
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  • Southern:      Asheville, NC – Asheville Civic Center

    • The Southern Conference has struck gold as they enter their seventh year here. Crowds have been good and Asheville is a terrific city
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  • Southland:     Katy, TX – Merrill Center

    • Small arena in a Houston suburb that is an ideal host for the Southland
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  • Sun Belt:     New Orleans, LA – Lakefront Arena

    • New Orleans is centralized and offers a lot for visiting fans. Great move in playing this year’s edition at the Lakefront Arena as that is a much better venue for the Sun Belt, than the Smoothie King Center.
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  • West Coast:    Las Vegas, NV – Orleans Arena

    • Big crowds fill this casino arena just off The Strip as each team brings a high number of fans. They are doing very well here

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Ehh

  • America East:    Campus Sites

    • I know this conference is too small to generate a big crowd at a neutral site. But I think Springfield, MA and the MassMutual Center is a solid location for them. Side Note: They have unusual spacing between the games with AE’s long-time format as three rounds are spread out over 11 days.
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  • Atlantic-10:     Pittsburgh, PA – PPG Paints Arena

    • Well, it’s not Atlantic City…but it’s a bit better than Brooklyn as Pittsburgh can be considered more “centralized” than Brooklyn. Though Duquense gets an advantage here.
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  • Atlantic Sun:     Campus Sites

    • Campus sites are fine for this constantly evolving conference. They still could try for better…how about Savannah and the Civic Center? It’s a nice destination town within driving distance of most schools
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  • Conference USA:     Birmingham, AL – Legacy Arena at the BJCC

    • Similar boat as the American Conference (just realized their league names are similar). At least Birmingham is kind of the middle for this far-reaching conference.
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  • Horizon:     Detroit, MI – Joe Louis Arena

    • Detroit and Oakland certainly will have an advantage in the Motor City and I think that Detroit is a fine host. But, I still believe Fort Wayne would be a perfect fit for the Midwestern City School league.
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  • MAAC:    Albany – Times Union Center

    • Despite it being Siena’s home court, Albany has been the best of the many places tried by the MAAC the last few decades. I wish they would consider Newark’s Prudential Center as it is closer to the core of the league’s teams.
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  • Mountain West:    Las Vegas – Thomas & Mack Center

    • See above (UNLV’s home). How about Salt Lake City?
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  • NEC:    Campus Sites

    • Not ideal, but there probably isn’t a suitable place for them in the NYC Metro area
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  • SEC:     Nashville, TN – Bridgestone Arena

    • Nothing at all against this fine city and arena, but both Atlanta and the SEC are Kings of the South. This event should stay in Atlanta.
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  • Summit:     Sioux Falls, SD – Denny Sanford Premier Center

    • The Sanford Premier Center is a beautiful new arena and Sioux Falls is a fine town to host an event. It’s just that the Summit League is so spread out that it is understandably hard to get fans to make the trip.
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  • SWAC:     Campus Sites
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    • Sadly, the right move to head back to campus as the amount of empty seats at any attempted neutral site is embarrassing

 

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Bad

  • ACC:     Brooklyn, NY – Barclays Center
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    • C’mon man, Brooklyn? I hate these big leagues and their spread out schools. I long for the days of seeing the teal and purple court in Greensboro. Games were routine sellouts as most schools were within a six hour radius from the tourney.
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  • American:     Hartford, CT – XL Center
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    • It really doesn’t matter where the tournament is since this conference is a random mix of teams stretching halfway around the world. The American did take a step back this year as Hartford is a slightly less desirable destination city to bring in fans than last year’s site: Orlando (just slightly).
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  • Big South:    Campus Sites

    • Surely they can do better as the league footprint has plenty of mid-sized cities that could host. Roanoke, Greenville, Florence, Greensboro. Even going to Myrtle Beach would be worth a shot.
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  • Big Ten:  Washington, DC – Verizon Center
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    • Blasphemy! Well, I guess if you are going to expand to Maryland and Rutgers for $ and TV eyeballs, then anything is fair game. I’ll miss Indy and hope Maryland loses early so that there are a lot empty seats.

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  • Colonial:     Charleston, SC – North Charleston Coliseum

    • A great city and warm climate for a tournament…but, it’s not even close to 70% of the league’s members. My heart longs for the good ol’ days in Richmond when this was a Virginia-centric league.
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  • Patriot:     Campus Sites

    • OK Patriot, it’s time to take a step and grow up…especially since you decided to make the curious move to 10 teams a few years ago by adding Boston and Loyola (MD). Allentown and the relatively new PPL Center would be perfect.
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  • WAC:     Las Vegas, NV – Orleans Arena

    • What kind of crazy teams play in this league again?
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Bucket List – Hockey Arenas

Posted by Sean Rowland on February 16, 2017

MSG Exterior

MSG: Still bucket-list worthy, but it has lost some charm since recent renovations

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Here is Part 3 of my Bucket List for sports facilities as we turn the page to hockey. There are certainly not as many as what I had for basketball and football, but that is likely due to the lack of available college facilities worth seeing. Hockey is my favorite sport to see live and it is a shame the number of amazing venues that have disappeared (Maple Leaf Gardens, The Forum, Chicago Stadium, Hersheypark Arena). There are plenty of beautiful, new gleaming buildings, but if you want to enjoy a game like it was done in yesteryear, try visiting Kitchener or Fort Wayne.

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Air Canada Centre  – Toronto Maple Leafs:  Stuffy, corporate, lacking atmosphere…but it’s the Leafs. Worth seeing, plus the HHOF is just down the road
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Allen County War Memorial Arena – Fort Wayne Komets:  A great, old barn. Big and unique with very few like it nowadays
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Amsoil ArenaMinnesota-Duluth Bulldogs:  Remarkable new building that is done so well as every feature was completely thought over
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Bell Centre – Montreal Canadiens:  I am certainly not a fan of this cavernous arena, but the diehard fans make it a worthwhile trip
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Budweiser Gardens – London Knights:  Despite the arena name that feels so wrong, for London, ON, the Gardens is a beautiful building for hockey  
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Giant Center – Hershey Bears:  Best of everything in the AHL: Location, Fans and Arena
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Kitchener Memorial Auditorium – Kitchener Rangers:  Near the top of my list as they just don’t build them like this anymore
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Madison Square Garden – New York Rangers:  This was/is not the best place for hockey sightlines, but the aura and mystique of watching hockey in Midtown Manhattan makes it special. It is also quite loud compared to other NHL buildings
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Mariucci Arena – Minnesota Golden Gophers:  College Hockey at its finest 
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MTS Centre – Winnipeg Jets:  See Game 3 of their first playoff series since the return of the team. They were on their feet for icing calls!
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Matthews Arena – Northeastern Huskies:  Oldest hockey arena still in use. I am a huge fan of a second deck, even in small arenas. Makes for great sightlines
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Pengrowth Saddledome – Calgary Flames:  Last of the NHL’s unique arena designs
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Ralph Englestad Center – North Dakota Fighting Hawks:  Terrific place to watch a hockey game. I wonder if they removed all of the Sioux logos?
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Xcel Energy Center – Minnesota Wild:  Opened nearly 17 years ago and the final result is still what designers strive for
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Upcoming Schedule

Posted by Sean Rowland on February 1, 2017

It’s always risky for me to make firm stadium trip plans in the winter due to my crazy work schedule during the snow season. However, this year I decided to take a risk after finding a great set-up in Madison, WI featuring a Badger basketball game and a USHL hockey game. The flight was direct and only $200, so I booked the mid-February trip and crossed my fingers for no delays. Well unfortunately, it was indeed snow that screwed the trip, but in an unexpected way. I was in a car accident where a car in the opposite lane slid on snow and ice into my lane and I struck it. Thank God all participants were ok and I was the only one injured, but will recover. A broken left wrist and finger required surgery a few weeks ago and I won’t be able to drive for awhile, so Wisconsin is cancelled. It got me thinking and frustrated at how challenging it will be to fly for stadium trips because of airline expense and the price gauging closer to the date of departure. My original $200 EWR-MSN flight is now $780!!! Tickets are non-refundable (and exchanges are a sham) and I’ll be hard-pressed to plan another flying trip for awhile due to the volatility of it all. I love the flexibility and affordability of driving and I’m thankful of the vast amount of sports stadiums that I can visit within a 10-hour drive.

So, while I rest and rehab my left arm (and be thankful it wasn’t my dominant right hand), I’m trip planning. It’s an activity that I love and I’ve come up with a lot of ideas for March. Each weekend has a potential trip, but given weather, work and rehab, I’ll wait til early in the week to pick one. Here are the ideas:

March 4-5: Maine High School Championsips in hockey and basketball  (at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee and Augusta Civic Center, respectively)
March 10-11: Utica Comets and Syracuse Crunch
March 11-12: Owen Sound Attack and Hamilton Bulldogs
March 17-18: Ohio and West Virginia High School Basketball Championships  (at the Canton Field House and Charleston Civic Center, respectively)
March 25: Lehigh Valley Phantoms

Stay Tuned!
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Bucket List – Basketball Arenas

Posted by Sean Rowland on January 23, 2017

Siegel Center Interior

VCU’s Siegel Center is at the top of the Basketball Bucket List

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A couple weeks ago, I talked about my Bucket List and began in the world of football. Now, let’s move onto basketball, which includes my favorite group of stadiums: College Basketball Arenas. I love the diversity of these facilities as they come in all different shapes, sizes and ages. Note that the Basketball Bucket List below only features 2 NBA arenas as those sterile, manufactured places just don’t do it for me.

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Alaska Airlines Arena – Washington Huskies:  Despite the corporate name, this remains a historic gem at heart. I prefer still calling it Hec Edmundson Pavilion
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Assembly Hall – Indiana Hoosiers:  Recent renovations made this place even better. Remarkably unique seating design and very loud
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Bankers Life Fieldhouse – Indiana Pacers:  One of only 2 NBA arenas on the list. Designers did it right and the arena just ‘feels’ like Indiana
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Breslin Center – Michigan State Spartans:  The Izzone! I also really like the soft lighting near the top of the arena bowl
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Cameron Indoor Stadium – Duke Blue Devils:  Despite my dislike of all aspects regarding Duke, this is an amazing place that needs a visit 
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Charles Koch Arena – Wichita State Shockers:  The Shockers were on my list even before the Gregg Marshall era. People underestimate the atmosphere in The Roundhouse
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Dean Smith Center – North Carolina Tar Heels:  Mainly on here just because they are a basketball blueblood
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Dee Glen Spectrum – Utah State Aggies:  So sad how far the Spectrum has fallen in recent years. The student section is nowhere near doing stuff like this. Hope they come back to glory soon.
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Gallagher-Iba Arena – Oklahoma State Cowboys:  Another atmosphere that has dropped off. However, the near-100 year old arena itself is worth visiting 
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Hinkle Fieldhouse – Butler Bulldogs:  No words needed as Hinkle is on a level of its own
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Hilton Coliseum – Iowa State Cyclones:  Hilton Magic.
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Marriott Center – BYU Cougars:  Huge place with great crowds
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McKale Center – Arizona Wildcats:  Arizona is perennially good and their tightly packed arena is always quite loud
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McCarthey Athletic Center – Gonzaga Bulldogs:  I’d love to go to pay homage to a remarkable program and what they have done in the sport the last 20 years
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Memorial Gym – Vanderbilt Commodores:  Like a theater. There may not be a more unusual college basketball arena than Vanderbilt’s. Awesome.
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Pauley Pavilion – UCLA Bruins:  I’ve always been blah about UCLA and Pauley, but, history.
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Phog Allen Fieldhouse – Kansas Jayhawks:  Rock. Chalk. Jayhawk. Cue goosebumps.
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Rupp Arena – Kentcucky Wildcats:  Generic downtown arena in a shopping center. But it’s Kentucky!
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Siegel Center – VCU Rams:  Been Here!  Blown away by the game-day atmosphere. Get here an hour early to fully take in The Peppas
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Staples Center – Los Angeles Lakers:  It’s LA. It’s The Lakers. Gotta go once.
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The Palestra – Penn Quakers:  Been Here!  Walking from that tight concourse into that incredible gym for Penn-Saint Joseph’s is something I’ll never forget
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The Pit – New Mexico Lobos:  Yes, literally built in a Pit, New Mexico has always been at the top of basketball places to visit.
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Viejas Arena – San Diego State Aztecs: Viejas looks like a Pit as well with the no-frills floor to top seating. The Show is an entertaining student section.
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Williams Arena – Minnesota Golden Gophers: The Barn is similar to Vanderbilt in that no arena is like it.

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Bucket List – Football Stadiums

Posted by Sean Rowland on January 9, 2017

Camp Randall Stadium

There are a decent few I can cross off the football part of the Bucket List

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When I started laying down the foundation of this stadium travel hobby some 20 years ago, I never had a specific goal in mind, as hard as that may be to believe for those that know me well. The idea was just to visit as many arenas, stadiums and ballparks as possible. That continues to be the case, but I thought it would be fun to create a Bucket List. Even if the goal isn’t necessary to get to them all, this list might help me with trips to places that I really want to experience. There are 92 stadiums on this list and I’ve happily been to 20 so far. Most places are part of the five main sports in North America and over the next month or two, I’ll share my desired places to visit. Since we’re closing in on the end of the football season, let’s start there. Feel free to share your thoughts if you think one should be added to the Bucket List.

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Albertsons Stadium – Boise State Broncos:  The Blue Turf and the history of being one of rare non-Power 5 schools to break the mold in an increasingly money-driven era
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Arrowhead Stadium – Kansas City Chiefs:  Old-School NFL, yet modernized. Awesome, loud fans
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AT&T StadiumDallas Cowboys:  Don’t know if I like, just know I have to see for it’s sheer massive size (that’s what she said)
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Autzen StadiumOregon Ducks:  Loud! Though 2016 probably wasn’t the season to go visit
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Beaver Stadium – Penn State Nittany Lions:  Been Here! Enjoyed my game, though the atmosphere was somewhat lacking since it was against an FCS opponent
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Ben Hill Griffin Stadium – Florida Gators:  Doing The Chomp in the The Swamp sounds like fun. Just not on a hot September Afternoon
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Bryant-Denny Stadium – Alabama Crimson Tide:  Because it’s Bama
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Camp Randall Stadium – Wisconsin Badgers:  Been Here! Lived up to expectations and Madison is an awesome place. Jump Around and the 5th Quarter were the highlights
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CenturyLink Field – Seattle Seahawks:  The 12th Man
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Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium – Texas Longhorns:  I’ve been to a Texas baseball game and want to replicate on a bigger platform the “Hook em Horns” sign with “Deep in the Heart of Texas” playing
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Doak Campbell Stadium – Florida State Seminoles:  The Tomahawk Chop and Chief Osceola. Goosebumps
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Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium – Oklahoma Sooners:  I know this is on a here for a reason. Tradition? Boomer Schooner? Not at the top, but still want to attend
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Harvard Stadium – Harvard Crimson:  Oh the history. Love the Ivies
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Husky Stadium – Washington Huskies:  That View! And the recent renovations made this place even better. Seattle football fans have it made
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Jordan-Hare Stadium – Auburn Tigers:  Toomer’s Corner and everything else that embodies the SEC
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Kinnick Stadium – Iowa Hawkeyes:  Don’t know why, but I’ve always had a soft spot for Iowa football. Maybe it’s the water tower in the background that gives Kinnick a homey feel?
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Kyle Field – Texas A&M Aggies:  The Original 12th Man. What a sight when each seating deck sways with people
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Lambeau Field – Green Bay Packers:  No words
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Lane Stadium – Virginia Tech Hokies:  Enter Sandman
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LaVell Edwards Stadium – BYU Cougars:  There’s plenty of stadiums with nice views, but this one is hard to beat
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Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum – USC Trojans:  A crappy stadium, but important for it’s history. Great fight song too
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Memorial Stadium – Clemson Tigers:  Howard’s Rock and the run down to the field. Not to mention a darn good team the last few years
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Memorial Stadium – Nebraska Cornhuskers:  It’s not just the SEC where football is a religion. 
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Michie Stadium – Army Black Knights:  Been Here! The Setting, the Traditions, the Cadets. As good as it gets!
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Michigan Stadium – Michigan Wolverines:  Been Here!  A better stadium than I expected. The band really enhances the experience. Hearing “Let’s Go Blue” makes me think of an October Afternoon on a Saturday
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Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium – Navy Midshipmen:  I’m not too familiar with Navy’s game-day, but I would imagine it’s good
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Neyland Stadium – Tennessee Volunteers:  Rocky Top is my favorite fight song
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Notre Dame Stadium – Notre Dame Fighting Irish:  Been Here!   A walk throughout campus is just as memorable as the game. If you can’t tell by now, I love college bands and all of their music. ND has a good one in Celtic Chant
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Ohio Stadium – Ohio State Buckeyes:  OK, now I’m starting to wonder if I made this Bucket List solely on Marching Bands. Dotting the I and other great tunes are what I want to see (and hear) at the Horseshoe
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Razorback Stadium – Arkansas Razorbacks:  Wooooooooooooooooo Pig Soooooeeeeyyyyy
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Rose Bowl – UCLA Bruins:  A boring bowl of a stadium and an eh fan base for football…but one that has huge imporance in sport
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Sanford Stadium – Georgia Bulldogs:  Between the Hedges as about half the SEC made this list
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Tiger Stadium – LSU Tigers:  Death Valley. The pre-game food. The noise. At Night. Oh yeah!
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Vaught-Hemingway Stadium – Mississippi Rebels:  Really just want to go tailgating on The Grove
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Yale Bowl – Yale Bulldogs:  Been Here!  The place is literally falling apart…but, it was important to see

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The Year In Visits – 2016

Posted by Sean Rowland on December 23, 2016

map

Locations of each stadium visited in 2016

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It’s the most, wonderful time, of the year…I enjoy recapping the year in stadium visits as it gives me a chance to reminisce before they become a little more distant in the memory bank. My goal each year is 12 new stadiums and that was met in 2016 with a varied assortment of facility types and locations. It’s been fun and memorable, so let’s take a look at the past year in stadium visits:

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Favorite New Stadium:  Robins Center……This was a lot harder than I thought, but the home of the Richmond Spiders narrowly gets the nod. Taking into account all-around experience, this was the best and it also has to be near the top of my all-time list in terms of arena design. A renovation turned this into a beautiful, classy place that is perfect for college basketball. Richmond is spoiled in that they have two great programs within miles of each other (the other being VCU).
………Honorable Mention: Siegel Center, Michigan Stadium

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Worst New Stadium:  Eunice Kennedy Shriver Stadium……My apologies to The College at Brockport as this one is a little unfair since Shriver Stadium is a D3 Football stadium, which means there should not be much expected. Still, there are better places to watch a game, even within the conference. This was as vanilla as it gets and I walked around aimlessly at times to just fight off the cold and occasional boredom.
………Honorable Mention:
Rynearson Stadium

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Favorite New City:  Ann Arbor, MI……A2 lived up to the hype as this is an awesome place to both live and visit. Downtown is full of great little shops and restaurants, while the sidewalks are always bustling with people. When researching places to eat before visiting, I bet that somebody could have an enjoyable meal at a different restaurant every night for half a year. The University of Michigan is close to the center of town and we walked a good portion of it with several sights to see along the way. 

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Most Memorable Moment:  VCU Peppas……Mesmerizing. They are amazing and elevate the game experience to a whole new level. I spent so much of the VCU game just enjoying their jams and while they have a reputation as one of the best in college basketball, it is hard to imagine a better band. After I returned home from this trip, I was on YouTube for an hour watching them at work.
………Honorable Mention: BLM Movement at Eastern Michigan, Hearing Hail To The Victors

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Best Restaurant:  Shiloh Grill…..Located in the Mount Washington section of Pittsburgh, this was an eclectic restaurant that delivered with an enjoyable meal. I had Fish Tacos that were exquisite, while my brother had an amazing Turkey Burger. People close to us probably thought we were crazy as we couldn’t stop re-enacting the Seinfeld scene from “The Outing” when Jerry and George are at the coffee shop (“No, No, I will not keep my voice down!”).  
………Honorable Mention: District Kitchen in Pittsfield, MA;  The Continental in Richmond, VA

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Best In-Stadium Food:   Primanti Bros.……This could go above too as we did visit the original in the Strip District while we were in Pittsburgh, but you can also get this at the Consol Ener…er, PPG Paints Arena. A local staple in Pittsburgh, this sandwich is a messy combination of everything, so it’s probably best to eat it at a counter in the concourse instead of a seat. The Pitts-burger and the Capicola & Cheese are two sandwiches offered, both good choices.
………Honorable Mention: The several Food Trucks at the Connecticut Tennis Center

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Best Game  Eastern Michigan vs Wyoming……Incredible to look back at this game as going in, these looked like two of college football’s bottom dwellers. Now, Eastern Michigan just reached their first bowl game since 1987 and the Cowboys completed a six win turnaround from the year before. This was a wacky game that featured mind-boggling turnovers, lead changes and off-field distractions. In the end, it was the Eagles who drove the length of the field for the winning score with a minute left to play.
………Honorable Mention: VCU vs George Washington;  Brockport vs Cortland; Pittsfield vs North Shore
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Championship Teams:  Pittsburgh Penguins……Walking out of the arena in downtown Pittsburgh, it would have taken a lot of persuading for me to believe that the Pittsburgh Penguins would win the Stanley Cup later in the Spring. We watched them go through the motions in a listless loss to Calgary that had the fans walking out in the middle of the third period. But, since that March loss, they played much better and it continued into the playoffs on the way to a second Cup.
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Best Drive:  US-20 between Pittsfield and Albany…..By default, this was the winner. Nothing special here, but there are trees and hills on a two-lane road making for a nice ride during the day. 

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Worst Drive:  I-87 in NY on a Summer Sunday……I know New Yorkers like to go “upstate” on weekends, but didn’t realize how congested they make the NY State Thruway in the Hudson Valley. The traffic and rain combined to delay me 1.5 hours and I later found out this is the norm in the summer months as everyone heads back to The City and surrounding areas.

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Weather:  6-6……That is 6 wins and 6 losses. The Pittsburgh and Richmond trips featured good late winter weather, while the Michigan trip was very pleasant. Everything else stunk as I fought an early season snowstorm (Ithaca), cold October winds (Brockport), a heat-index well into the 90s (CT Open) and rain (several places). Thankfully, the rain was light enough to get through the baseball games in Ramapo and Pittsfield, but I was not that lucky in Troy, where my luck ended as I had my first rainout.

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Best Side Trip:  Virginia State Capitol……My second visit to Richmond allowed me to visit another state capitol building and this one was the best I’ve seen yet. The original building dates back to Jefferson’s design in the late 1700s and as you would expect from this commonwealth, there is an abundance of statues and history here. Plus the grounds are well-maintained and there is a nice view from the hill.
………Honorable Mention: Ithaca Falls in Ithaca, Pinball Pete’s in Ann Arbor

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Best Return Trip:  Michigan Stadium……Simple, yet stylish. You have the “M” at midfield and the “Michigan” in the endzones which are both nice and traditional. My favorite touch is the different direction the fake grass every five yards. The slight differentiation in color is a good look.
………Honorable Mention: Siegel Center

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If I Was Commissioner of North American Soccer…

Posted by Sean Rowland on December 12, 2016

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Welcome to MLS Chattanooga! (photo from Marc Viquez at Stadium Journey)

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MLS Cup was a few days ago and around that time, Don Garber gives his State of the League address. For the last decade, expansion has always been the center of the press conference and this year was no different. With MLS handing out franchises like hotcakes and cities/states throwing millions to get them, there seems to be no end to the conversation and new teams coming on. What’s the endgame? Well good news. I, Sean Rowland am the new commish and in this fantasy world, stadiums are built and teams are in place, they just need a place to play. That’s my specialty as I am here to figure that out. Promotion/Relegation is a debated item and while I don’t believe that it fits our current system, a 30-team league in the world of soccer just does not work as well as it does for other sports. So, I’m proposing a pseudo Pro/Rel system. One within MLS and one within the “Minor Leagues”, which we’ll call USL. Let’s start with what I call MLS1 and MLS2. I’ve set up teams (both old and new) based on where I think they’d belong based on popularity/franchise strength. I’ll break down how it works after the list of teams. Oh yeah, I’m taking care of the ridiculous FC and SC attached after each city name. This is the U.S. (and Canada), where we have team nicknames. We don’t have to do everything Europe does because they are supposed “masters” of the sport. I came up with some new nicknames on a quick whim, while others I left blank for future thought. Let’s start with a breakdown of the new MLS:
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MLS 1
1.  Cincinnati Monarchs

2.  DC United
3.  Houston Dynamo
4.  Los Angeles Galaxy
5.  Kansas City Cauldron
6.  Montreal Impact
7.  New York Red Bulls
8.  Orlando Lions
9.  Philadelphia Union
10.  Portland Timbers
11.  Sacramento Republic
12.  Salt Lake City Brigade
13.  San Antonio Scorpions
14.  Seattle Sounders
15.  Toronto Reds
16.  Vancouver Whitecaps

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MLS 2
1.  Atlanta Silverbacks

2.  Carolina RailHawks
3.  Chattanooga (Nickname)
4.  Chicago Fire
5.  Colorado Rapids
6.  Columbus Crew
7.  Detroit Rogue
8.  Dallas Goats
9.  El Paso Chuckos
10.  Louisville (Nickname)
11.  Miami Fusion
12.  Minnesota Loons
13.  New England Revolution
14.  San Diego (nickname)
15.  San Jose Earthquakes
16.  St. Louis Rivermen

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How this will work is we will have a 30-game regular season, so each team plays the other one home and away. Given the harsh winter in the north, the international calendar and other cup competitions this leads to a nice season from early March to the end of September, with six open weekends to account for an international break. All CONCACAF Champions League games will be mid-week, as will the US Open Cup and Canadian Championship competitions. The US Open Cup will get a deserved weekend, showcase final. In this new MLS, there is no more Supporters Shield. It is either a champion via playoff or via regular season in my league and we are choosing playoff. 25% (not the current 60%) will make the postseason and it will be a 4-team playoff in October to determine the MLS (1) champion and it will be an aggregate home/home for the semifinal and then a final at the home of the higher seed. There is promotion and relegation between the two leagues and the bottom team in MLS 1 will get relegated. Down in MLS 2, it’s the same playoff format as the winner will get promoted into MLS 2. How do we get the teams set in MLS 1 and MLS 2? We’ll just have one combined season where each team plays each other once and the Top 16 are in the upper division and the Bottom 16 are the lower division. I’m sure the team choices up there are interesting and I’m all about including cities that don’t have many professional sports as you will find their full attention will be on soccer. The success story of Chattanooga FC made me include them and you need to have a few smaller places in there to make it fun. Note, that there is no reason LA and NY get only one team

Because we can’t have MLS owners go too far down the division rung since they paid a buttload of money to get in, we will have a separate “Minor-League” system. These teams can be affiliates of an MLS counterpart, but they will have their own First and Second Division to add some intrigue into their season. Screw the MLS Reserve Teams currently in USL, they can have their own league where they play in front of 50 people. The following is the United Soccer League (USL) First Division and Second Division, with the format including the same season type, pro/reg and playoff structure as what was laid out above.

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USL 1
1.  Birmingham (Nickname)

2.  Charleston Battery
3.  Connecticut (Nickname)
4.  Edmonton (Nickname)
5.  Jacksonville Armada
6.  Indy Eleven
7.  Las Vegas (Nickname)
8.  Nashville (Nickname)
9.  OKC Energy
10.  Pittsburgh Riverhounds
11.  Richmond Kickers
12.  Rio Grande Valley Toros
13.  Rochester Rhinos
14.  San Francisco Deltas
15.  Tampa Bay Mutiny
16.  Wilmington Hammerheads

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USL 2
1.  Albuquerque (Nickname)

2.  Bethlehem Steel
3.  Boise (Nickname)
4.  Colorado Springs Switchbacks
5.  Des Moines Menace
6.  Halifax (Nickname)
7.  Hershey Wildcats
8.  Long Island RoughRiders
9.  Ottawa Fury
10.  Phoenix Rising
11.  Reno 1868
12.  Saskatoon (Nickname)
13.  Tulsa Roughnecks
14.  Western Michigan Bucks
15.  Wilmington Hammerheads
16.  Winnepeg (Nickname)

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Will this ever happen? No. Is it fun to dream it? Yes.

Posted in Soccer | 3 Comments »

2016-2017 Basketball Arena Updates

Posted by Sean Rowland on December 2, 2016

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In the world of basketball this season, years of anxiety have finally disappeared in Sacramento as the Kings move in to their new digs, ensuring that they will remain in Sactown for years to come. The arena formerly known as Arco has given way to the Golden1 Center, a facility right in the middle of downtown. This new arena continues the trend for California stadiums to lead the way in technological design, both inside and out. By all accounts, it seems like AECOM did a terrific job as the first few months have been received well, though a couple people falling on the stairs in the upper deck is not good. With the Kings now in Golden1, it looks like the days of functional arenas built in the 70s and 80s is just about over as Milwaukee and Detroit are soon to depart as well. Moving down to the D-League, more NBA affiliations come on board as the Long Island Nets and Windy City Bulls debut this season. If you read this site enough, you’ll know how much I loathe those moves. The Bulls at least will be at the Sears Center in Hoffman Estates, while the Nets will probably play in front of 137 people at Barclays. A little better is the arrival of the Greensboro Swarm and even though the colors/nickname have nothing to do with Greensboro and everything to do with the Hornets, at least they are in another city. The Swarm will play in the Greensboro Coliseum. A couple of team moves: Utah’s affiliate in Idaho has gone to team headquarters as they set-up shop in the Salt Lake City area, specifically the 5,000-seat arena at the Community College in Taylorsville. Lastly, a relocation I do like is the one that involves Bakersfield as the Jam (who played in what looked like a YMCA gym) have gone to Prescott Valley and a legit minor-league arena. The name could use work: Northern Arizona Suns. Argh, why is it only baseball that embraces local community!

In College Basketball…Well, Hello Dakotas! The two new arenas opening this year come to us from the Northern Plains and both are significant upgrades. In Fargo, North Dakota State University moves in to a new basketball home for the Bison: The Scheels Center (not to be confused with the city’s main indoor facility: Scheels Arena, where the Fargo Force plays). It’s nice, but it does feature telescopic seating. Pictures seem to indicate that the new Sanford Coyote Sports Center at the University of South Dakota has a nicer interior as there is plenty of red school color with the permanent seating in what looks like an intimate seating design close to the court. There were some arena renovations this year as well, most notable is a place that is an icon in the sport: Indiana’s Assembly Hall. A $40 million gift from Cindy Simon Skjodt led to needed renovations and designers did a terrific job of focus efforts on maintaining the remarkable atmosphere and seating, while still producing upgrades. Their focus on that preservation is evident, while their upgrades include a beautiful new lobby/atrium that highlights Hoosier history. Great job treating one of the special and unique places in the sport with care. Other renovations debuting this season occur at Florida’s O’Connell Center and at the Cajundome down at Louisiana-Lafayette.

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