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Official Review by Sean MacDonald, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
The ASEAN Basketball League is unique among sports circuits in that it features six teams from six different countries in Southeast Asia (ASEAN stands for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations). Pedantic readers might argue that the Champions League in Europe has teams from 30 or more countries, but that is not a true league, rather a misnamed tournament.
Established in 2009, the ABL is still seeking a foothold in many of their markets, including Jakarta, the chaotic capital of Indonesia. The local team is the Indonesia Warriors, who are entering their second season, having won the championship in their inaugural campaign. The Warriors replaced the SM BritAma club, who contested the first two seasons of the ABL. Despite the change in moniker, the club still plays in the venue that is named for the original sponsor, the BritAma Arena Sports Mall at Mahaka Square. In reality, the arena is a small gym located in a shopping complex (the Sports Mall) that includes a supermarket, a bakery, travel agents, and many other stores. It is a surreal experience to witness a sporting event here, where you can spend halftime getting some shopping done.
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".
Within the seating area, your food options are limited to slices of pizza taken from the pizza parlor on the first floor, known as Papa Ron's. With Indonesian food standards being comparatively low, this choice could be risky if your stomach has not adjusted to the local conditions. I had a look at the pizza stored in a rotating display case in the restaurant itself and can say that you will not be enticed by its appearance.
The only reason I am giving this category a single star is the supermarket located on the first floor of the venue. If you have time, you should visit before the game and pick up some packaged snacks and a bottle of Coke or water. With games lasting just under 2 hours, that should be enough until you can return to your hotel and find a more suitable restaurant.
The upper section of the complex was closed off by black tarp, forcing the crowd into the lower section, which even then was only 3/4 full. There was an announcer who tried to get fans into the game, shouting "Let's Go Warriors" and "De-Fence!" and a few cheerleaders throwing shirts and mini-basketballs into the stands, but in general, there was little in the way of entertainment outside the game, which itself was terribly one-sided, likely damaging the atmosphere further. In general, this is what you should come to expect at venues in this region, hence the average score for this category.
Jakarta is a thriving metropolis, but not much of a tourist destination, particularly if you are not used to the vagaries of the infrastructure in emerging economies, where holes in the sidewalk are commonplace and the streets are choked with traffic. The arena is located in the northeastern portion of the city in an area known as Kelapa Gading, which is described as a food lover's destination. I did not see much in the way of eateries while zooming by in my taxi. There are several large shopping malls in the area, but none of them are within walking distance of the venue; in fact, walking in Jakarta is not advisable due to the heat and poor pedestrian access. Most likely, you will take a taxi to the arena and then try to flag one down on the street afterwards, choosing to spend your evening in a centrally located area with more vibrant nightlife.
There were perhaps 1,000 fans at the Friday night game I attended, somewhat of a disappointment considering that it was the last game of the season and the city holds a population of 10 million. Those that were there were in good spirits, as their team dominated from start to finish, but there wasn't much else to distinguish them from any other crowd.
Getting here requires the use of a taxi, which is where the real fun begins. No taxi driver seemed to understand the terms Mahaka Square or BritAma Arena, so use Google Maps to plan your route in advance. The arena is about 12 km from the city center (marked by the National Monument known as Monas), and traffic can be a serious problem, particularly if your taxi driver decides to take the highway rather than the surface streets. Insist on the shortest route as the roundabout highway will see you stuck in traffic, take an extra 45 minutes, and cost you nearly double by the end of it (although that means $10 rather than $5 as Jakarta taxis are very cheap).
Once you arrive and buy your ticket, take the escalator up to the 2nd level and enter through any of the open doors, from where you can find a seat easily enough. The "concourses" are really just large halls that are part of the shopping mall, which is pretty empty since most of its stores have closed for the day.
Getting home requires you to stand on the street to flag a taxi, which doesn't take very long. Jakarta does have a relatively decent bus system. but it doesn't go out this far, so don't bother trying.
With the upper section closed off, there wasn't a bad seat in the place. The cheapest ticket is Rp100,000 ($10 US), but you could sit anywhere once inside as there are no ushers or numbered seats. Even then, the quality of basketball can be quite low, and once the novelty of seeing a game in Indonesia has worn off, you might actually pay attention to the game, which could be painful. With the venue itself being very limited in scope, you are not getting much value for money when you consider how cheap Jakarta is for other forms of entertainment.
It is a stretch to find anything here worth mentioning. There is a Philadelphia 76ers banner, as the owner of the Indonesia Warriors also has a small share in the NBA club, along with Will Smith and others.
There are two large scoreboards that show every player on the roster, but one of them was malfunctioning, so no bonus points for those.
It speaks volumes when a defending champion can't get a decent crowd on a Friday night. Whether it is poor marketing, an indifferent populace, a lousy venue, or a pedestrian product, there is nothing here that would encourage one to make a special visit. In fact, the only reason for a stadium traveler to visit a Warriors game is to check off the "Indonesia" box on your list of countries in which you have watched a sporting event. But if that is your goal, a soccer match might be a more intriguing destination.
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