On June 17, 1987 in front of over 12,000 fans at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena, the very first official Arena Football game took place with the Pittsburgh Gladiators claiming victory. Twenty-four years later, much has changed. The Gladiators have moved on to Tampa Bay, to become a cornerstone of the AFL and possibly its most successful franchise. The AFL has declared bankruptcy, gone away and returned. The Pittsburgh Civic Arena has gone dark and given way to the Consol Energy Center. Arena Football has returned to the city where it began, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, home of the Pittsburgh Power.
The Power is the latest expansion team in the latest incarnation of the Arena Football League. The Power include in their ownership group, Pittsburgh Steeler legend, Lynn Swan. It is this connection to the Pittsburgh sports scene, especially the Steelers, which aid the Power in cracking through the dense Pittsburgh sports market.
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".
The CEC offers a wide variety of food options. Arena staples are here of course, including hamburgers, hot dogs, popcorn and pretzels. There are also some major food chains present including Pizza Hut, Dairy Queen, and Tim Horton's. There is even a rather large sushi bar. Soft drinks are from the RC Cola chain. Budweiser and Labatt's Blue can be found on tap. If you come to any Pittsburgh venue however, you must get an authentic sandwich from Primanti Brothers. Although I would classify concessions in the mid to high price range, the wide variety of options ensures that everyone should be able to find something to satisfy their pallet.
Consol Energy Center is most definitely the home of the Pittsburgh Penguins first and foremost. There is evidence of the Penguins and hockey all over the building. There is very little evidence that the Power even exist. Therefore, extra effort is needed from the team to make the CEC home. They do a pretty good job.
The seating bowl offers great sightlines throughout, and choosing a seat for that perfect view is not difficult. The seats are wide and comfortable. Going with the view is the state of the art video board that is crystal clear and the two ribbon boards around the entire arena. The Power have done the wise thing and taken their place among the other Pittsburgh sports teams. They have donned the black and gold that is worn by the Penguins, Pirates, and the Steelers. This may be a little thing, but in Pittsburgh, any way you can embrace the Steelers will be to your benefit.
The Arena Football League is all about the fans. Upon entering the building, you are immediately greeted by an usher offering you a free program. Included in the program are not only the lineups for the game, and profiles on the coaches and ownership group, but the staples of the Arena Football fan experience. The Fans' Bill of Rights outlines how the team and the AFL are there to cater to the fan. Any football that ends up in the stands during the game becomes a souvenir for the lucky fan who caught it to keep. At least 7 of them ended up going home with fans this day. Also included in the program is a solid explanation of the Arena Football game and rules for those new to the sport. After the game, fans are invited on the field to get an autograph of their favorite player or cheerleader.
During the game the music is loud and the action is fast. The Power introduced their entire team, rather than just the starting lineup. They ended up with an offensive lineman, which has got to be a first. Also cute; when the visiting team was introduced, Dancing Queen by ABBA was the song of choice.
The neighborhood around Consol Energy Center is very hilly. Located near the campus of Duquesne University, there are ample places to find food and drink before or after the game. However, if you are walking, make sure that you have sufficient energy to make the hills. If you are looking for more variety, you are very close to the south shore downtown. Some places you may consider for your dining pleasure include the Red Ring and Tailgaters Bar.
With the reintroduction of the AFL came the need to start at the beginning. The traction that the league had gained over twenty plus years was lost with a year away and confusion of the league status led to casual fans jumping ship and attendance has become more of an issue. Combine that with an expansion effort in Pittsburgh and a portrait of the fan situation at Power games becomes clearer.
Although the 6,000 plus fans announced at the game is not breaking any attendance records, it is a respectable figure for this league. This game also marked the lowest attendance for a Power game this year. They are currently averaging almost 10,000 fans per game. That's good enough for fourth highest average in the league. On this night, the opportunity for an excellent doubleheader could have been available with the Pirates in town as well. Unfortunately, the Power and Pirates ended up competing with games at the same time, rather than having one afternoon game and one evening game. This could help explain the drop off in attendance.
Possibly the best situation for a fan is what was happening at Pittsburgh. A small group of fans that sounds like a large group of fans is the best of both worlds. There are fewer fans to fight with for parking and concession lineups, and there is enough energy in the building to make it exciting. The Power fans are pretty knowledgeable and very loud and excited. They went through the roof when the private box housing Hines Ward and James Harrison as well as other Steelers was shown on the video board.
The upper level center sections were very well attended, while the lower level center sections were fairly sparsely attended. This begs the question, are the price points for tickets in line? Something the Power will have to figure out in the future.
Driving in downtown Pittsburgh can be a major challenge. Rivers and hills make for numerous tunnels and bridges. Roads are not in that nice grid cross section that makes finding your way around in big cities easier. Even your GPS can have some troubles. With that said, however, the Consol Energy Center is located close to highway I579, which doesn't make it awful to get there. Smaller crowds also lead to less traffic. Parking was okay at $15 for a spot within two blocks of the arena.
With CEC being a brand new building, the washrooms are numerous and sparkling. The concourses are adequate for the crowd that was there for football.
Tickets range from $180 for the super-premium front row seats, to $15 for general admission in the upper bowl. My seats were of the $35 variety in the endzone. Although I think they need to adjust their price points at the higher end, there are plenty of good seats and reasonable prices. Parking was all right and concession prices were in the average to high range. What makes you feel as though you've got your money's worth is the thought that upon leaving that you've had fun. With the fast paced action you are guaranteed to see some scoring, and therefore guaranteed some excitement. The league bends over backwards to cater to fans offering what it can to enhance the experience. At the end of the day, a Pittsburgh Power game is a whole lot of fun for whatever group you are going with.
An extra point for the treatment of Make-A-Wish kid Mick Walsh. Mick was the kid who runs out to get the kicking tee, but they made him a part of the team. The held a press conference to announce his signing. Included a story about this signing on the team website. They dressed him up in nearly a full team uniform. He had a full profile in the program. Possibly the best part however, was when Mick was announced as part of the team "¦ before all of the other players. He got the biggest ovation of the group.
An extra point for the kid who had a two-sided sign that he made himself. On the back of the sign he wrote: "I hope this isn't in your way."
An extra point for the exciting game that saw the Power come back from a 14 point deficit to defeat the defending champion Spokane Shock in the last minute of the game.
The Arena Football League has withstood the test of time. It is still around after all of these years and showing new life. The Pittsburgh Power are evidence of that. I discovered the AFL over 10 years ago and have been a fan ever since. It's a great way to spend an evening and not get killed in the pocketbook. The Pittsburgh Power have set their foot in the Pittsburgh sports scene and are gaining some traction. Time will tell if this original Arena Football city can maintain a home in the league with their brand new facility. The Power are definitely worth a look the next time you're looking for something to do in Pittsburgh. You won't be disappointed.
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