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Official Review by Marcus Traxler, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Visitors to the Summit League basketball tournament in Sioux Falls were allowed to pinch themselves when they attended the four-day basketball festival in 2015. Because walking into the new Denny Sanford Premier Center, it might be hard to believe that this was the same tournament that had become so popular in the Sioux Falls Arena, which was quaint but also old and cramped.
No, the Summit League has moved up in class for the home of the conference tournament with the $115 million, 12,000-seat facility. A bigger building meant more amenities and bigger crowds than ever before. The inaugural year at the new arena brought out more than 60,000 fans for the combined men’s and women’s tournaments, breaking the previous record by more than 15,000. The figure includes 10,153 people for an in-state men’s semifinal between South Dakota State and South Dakota, which is the largest crowd to ever see a college basketball game in the state.
While the tournament is technically open for bid by other cities in the conference’s footprint, it doesn’t appear that the Summit League and Sioux Falls are going to be breaking up anytime soon.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
If you're inclined to try new things while visiting the concession stands, the Denny has some great options. One of the most interesting items is the waffle burger ($11), which has two waffles with syrup for buns and then a beef patty, bacon and cheese in the middle. A little messy but fun to eat. If you're looking for a South Dakota delicacy, look no further than the chislic ($12), which are small pieces of cubed steak that are usually deep fried and served on a stick or with a toothpick.
Almost all of the hot dogs or hamburgers are served with seasoned chips. For example, the hot dog basket comes with chips for $6 and a bratwurst is $6.50. BBQ nachos, Philly cheesesteaks and pulled pork sandwiches are available at kiosks in the concourse. Papa John's is the pizza provider, Pepsi products are sold in the arena and a bucket of popcorn goes for $5.
Beer starts at $5 for 16 ounces of Budweiser, Bud Light, Coors Light and Miller Lite and $7 for 24 ounces. The arena boasts 165 craft beer taps but I think that's probably a little high. Leinenkugels, Boulevard lead the way with those options.
The Sioux Falls Arena had a way of holding the noise in a little better and so 6,500 fans screaming was a pretty special experience that made the arena deafening at times. Unfortunately, the new building doesn't hold the sound in the same way and that's really the only knock against the new facility. It's definitely better but something like those noise levels had to be sacrificed.
At the Denny, there's not really any bad seats especially in the lower bowl, which has about 60 percent of the building's overall seats. In addition to the seats near mid court, there're some great vantage points from the corners. During the tournament, the second level is opened up for certain sessions based on demand.
Because the tournament has more room in the bigger building, there's space for a hangout area for fans between games called the Summit League Lounge. Located on the ground floor, concessions and beverages are sold and it allows fans to have a place to spend time between games and watch the tournament action.
There's one thing that is holding back the Premier Center and that's what's around it. There is hope that development will take off near the arena complex but for now, it's pretty dry.
A chain Buffalo Wild Wings is located about a block away (909 N. West Ave.) and contains the usual fare. Otherwise, the area is hurting for restaurants and bars. There are more choices located near I-29 at Louise Avenue and 41st Street, where a lot of Sioux Falls' shopping is available. If you're looking for a sports bar, I recommend Rookies (2616 S. Louise Ave.), which has some terrific burgers.
The tournament has earned a great reputation for supporting women's basketball, something that doesn't happen at every conference tournament. Part of that is because the local women's squads -- South Dakota State and South Dakota -- are perennially strong and the local fans have backed the squads' dominance. When the two teams played in 2015 for the women's title, they drew almost 7,000 fans, which is pretty good for a Tuesday afternoon title game. Since coming to Sioux Falls, the Summit tournament has always had a Saturday to Tuesday schedule for TV purposes, meaning the biggest games are usually during odd time slots but the fans have always supported the event well.
The strong crowds are there for the men's tournament, as well, with SDSU leading the way. Because of the proximity of SDSU and USD fans, those are the two largest groups of fans to show up for the tournament. The downside (one that's common to every conference tournament) is if those teams go out early, there's not many fans to stick around for the tournament. The exciting thing about the tournament is that there's room to grow and truly fill the building to the rafters and with Omaha joining the fray in 2016, they might be inclined to bring some fans to Sioux Falls.
Because the primary arena in the complex is now almost twice the size, Sioux Falls did a good job of upgrading the streets around the arena.
The arena complex is near the intersection of I-90 and I-29 and the access is good from both interstates. The Premier Center is located just off Russell Street in the north central part of the city. Exit 81 (Russell Street) is your best bet if you're coming in on I-29. Take Russell east and go south at North Western Avenue. Exit 399 is your stop from I-90 and follow the signs for the Arena/Airport. Turn south at the Sheraton on the corner of West Ave. and Russell Street (The West Avenue and Western Avenue thing could be confusing if you're from out of town but the arena is between the two, thankfully).
Parking is free but there's not a ton of it. It might take a while to find a spot once you get close to the arena and that's probably something that will be improved upon in the years ahead.
The Summit League is a pretty competitive conference, even if it's all over the map and full of acronyms. The best ticket plan is to buy all-session tickets for the tournament, which started at $115 in 2015. That's a pretty good deal for eight sessions of basketball and 14 games. Otherwise, single session tickets start around $15. The concession prices are probably a little higher than what they were at the Sioux Falls Arena but that's the part of a new facility, too.
One point for the lighting in the Denny, which kind of makes you wonder how they got by for almost 60 years at the Sioux Falls Arena.
Another point goes to the large, center-hung scoreboard, which is not only top-of-the line but also a large improvement compared to the Sioux Falls Arena. It's another sign that Sioux Falls now has a first class facility that is competitive around the region and across the nation.
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2616 S Louise Av
Sioux Falls, SD 57106
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