The Orlando Magic have been playing in the NBA since November of 1989. Their original home was known as the Orlando Arena and was built in 1988 for the new expansion team. I was a charter season ticket holder for the new team, so I was there when they opened up the new arena. The Magic’s first game was also my first NBA game. So when I went to that first game and walked inside, it was awesome. Everything was so big and beautiful. Chairs were new. Toilets were new. Sinks were new. The floor was new. And it was huge. I walked inside and stopped before going to find my seat and just looked around. You could almost hear the angel choir singing in the background, “AAAHH”!
My only basketball experiences up until then were attending high school games. So this place was amazing. It had a giant scoreboard with a video screen hanging over the court. It had the concourse level with all the food stands and beer stands. It had a shop where you could buy Magic gear. It was awesome. So when the Magic built a new arena, I was skeptical. What’s wrong with the one you have? It’s a great place to watch a game. But the new arena? WOW! Little did we know at the time, but a concourse level doesn’t have to be elbow to elbow all the way across. And long lines at the bathrooms are not just something that you have to put up with at a game. Who knew?
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Forget about it. Seriously? If you cannot find something to eat in this place, you just are not easy to please. You want Mexican? They have that. You want pizza? Papa John's has their own stand. You want Bar-B-Q? Got it. You want the standard ball park cuisine? They have that too. And this is on the second concourse level where all of us working class people sit. I never made my way downstairs, but then again, there was no need. They have beer stands. They have a bar. They even have an area called the "O Zone" where you can take your drinks and grab a table and sit. If you take a lap around the upper concourse level there must be six or eight concession stands. Prices are your normal arena high prices, but you can get one of those souvenir sodas for about $6.00 and refill it all you want. And the large popcorn, you will not finish.
This is tricky, because if having a gorgeous place to watch a game is why you come to the place, then it is outstanding. It is very upscale, even if you are in the cheap seats. The employees there are among the friendliest stadium workers in the business. They really go out of their way. They have something for everyone, including a play area for the little kids. Even outside the arena, walking in and going up the escalators to your seats is impressive. The streets are clean and the arena is lit up in Magic Blue lights. The lobby looks like something you'd find in an airport. For "WOW" it is hard to beat.
But, part of the atmosphere at a game is the noise level. This place doesn't have it. In the old Orlando Arena, that place was loud every night. Part of that could have been that the team was new and everything about it was new and exciting. Fans may have become jaded after the "Shaq" era and now watching the "Dwight" era unfold in much the same way. But part of it could also be that the new place is so upscale, that the fans sit there politely and watch the game. It's sort of like watching a game in a sports bar as opposed to a fancy restaurant. You are more likely to yell and cheer at the sports bar. So I'll have to deduct points.
The neighborhood cannot be beat. You can walk down to the Church Street Market Place before and after the game and choose from several restaurants and bars. You can sit outside in some of them or you can go inside. Many of them have live music. The one closest to the arena does a live pre-game show on the radio. Many radio stations are there with tents set up outside doing live remote broadcasts. If you don't want to go to the game, it's a place you can go for the party and have a good time anyway.
Like I said, they are pretty quiet. Part of that is probably that the team stinks this year (2012-2013). But they are solidly behind their team. The night I went most recently, they were playing the lowly Charlotte Bobcats, yet there was still a large crowd. Charlotte led most of the way so the crowd didn't have too many reasons to get loud. But at least they weren't booing which I can imagine fans would do at most arenas if their team was losing to Charlotte. Magic fans are among the best in sports. They have supported this team from day one. For their trouble they have been treated like garbage from their heroes like O'Neal and Howard. But they still show up. Maybe that's stupid, or maybe that's just loyalty. But Magic fans appreciate players who hustle and give it their all, even if they don't always produce results. I think the fans are enjoying this season more than the last few with Howard, even though there will be no playoffs. I would just like to see them get a little bit louder.
It would be impossible for easier access. If you are just truly opposed to walking to the game from your car, for $20.00 you can park at the Geico Garage, which has its own exit off of I-4, park the car, and walk through an indoor walkway, straight into the arena. If it's raining, you won't get wet. If it's cold outside, you will not notice.
If you want to save $10 you can drive to the next exit at Anderson Street and make your first left right into a $10 parking garage. From there you walk about two blocks to Church Street. That parking garage has spaces right in front of the elevators. When you leave, there is an exit to get back onto I-4 right from the third level. You don't even have to go all the way back down to where you came in.
These horrid economic times we live in and the fact that the team is not good does have its advantages. One of these is cheap tickets to Magic games. Right now, as of this writing (2013), there are several ticket buying sites with tickets to upcoming games as low as $3.00. The night before the Charlotte game, I bought two tickets and even after paying the service charges these sites hit you with, I paid $26.00 for the pair. How can you beat that? Even with parking, gas and food, I was able to take my son to the game for probably about $75. If you take your wife out to dinner and a movie you spend more than that.
The night I went they had t-shirts on every seat for the fans. They have a sketch artist where you can get a caricature drawn of your kid for free. The playground for the kids is free and they can stay in all night if they want to. They have escalators to take you up to the upper levels so you don't have to climb stairs if you choose not to. The bathrooms are very large and also clean. Also they have HD TVs all over the concourse level so you can go get food or go to the restroom at any time during the game and still not miss anything. I don't know what else they can do other than pay you to go to the game.
Orlando's official motto is "The City Beautiful," so with that type of billing emblazoned on City Hall, there's a certain expectation level that you would assume needs to be achieved. From the meticulously maintained Walt Disney World complex, which is actually in nearby Lake Buena Vista, to International Drive, almost everything seems to fit that billing, no matter how artificial. It's as though nothing less than perfection is allowed within metro Orlando, and for a city trying to bill itself as the family-friendly version of Las Vegas, I wouldn't expect any less.
Located about 8 blocks north of the new home, the old Amway Arena was the home of the Orlando Magic for the first 20 years of the franchise's existence and saw the near-coronation of the expansion team twice: 1995 and 2009, both years having made the NBA Finals. Great players have made their way through those doors - Shaq, Dwight Howard, Vince Carter, and Patrick Ewing, amongst numerous others - so, the closing of the Amway Arena was bittersweet for Magic fans. Does the successor building, having just opened on October 1, 2010, with all its flash and glamour, live up to being the worthy successor to "The O-Rena"?
125 W Church St
Orlando, FL 32801
110 W Church St
Orlando, FL 32801
Orlando, FL 32836
6000 Universal Blvd
Orlando, FL 32819
7004 Sea Harbor Dr
Orlando, FL 32821
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