It’s sometimes hard to believe that EnergySolutions Arena is in its 20th plus season as home of the Utah Jazz. That’s because, for the most part, it doesn’t look or feel 20 years old. Rather, ESA has stood the test of time and remains one of the NBA’s marquee venues.
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".
Your eating options here have remained consistent for years, though I noticed a slight uptick in prices from my last Stadium Journey visit several years ago.
Fast Break features most of stadium staples: hot dogs (reg. $3.50, jumbo $4.25), nachos ($5), soft pretzels ($4.50), candy ($3.75), churros ($3.75), chips ($2), and popcorn (reg. $5.25, bucket $6.25).
Grill Works is the next-tier stand with chicken tender baskets ($7.25), pastrami cheeseburgers ($7.25), Philly cheesesteaks ($6.75), hot pastrami sandwiches ($6.75), cheeseburgers ($6), brats ($6), and fries ($3.75, add 50 cents for cheese and/or garlic).
Your other entrée choices are Papa John's pizza ($6.75; $9 for a pizza/soda combo), hot sandwiches at The Carving Station ($7, add 75 cents for a combo w/ chips), and Mexican from Café Olé.
Drinks include Coke products (reg. $3.50, large $4), Vitamin Water/Smart Water ($4.25), Powerade ($3.75), Monster ($4.50), and Dasani water ($3.75). Beer kiosks are scattered throughout the concourse, with 20 oz. draft microbrews for $7.50 and 24 oz. domestic drafts for $7.75.
Sweet treats include Dippin' Dots ($4, $6, or $8), and the always great Russell's Ice Cream ($6 for a cone/bowl, $3.25 for a kid's cone).
One of ESA's latest culinary additions is also one of its finest. Farr's Fresh-located on the upper concourse-takes your standard ice cream/frozen yogurt/frozen custard shop and gives it a do-it-yourself twist. You fill your own cup with one (or more) of several frozen varieties and add your own toppings (including fruit, sprinkles, candy bars and my favorite: mini cheesecake bites). What you pay is based on how much your creation weighs. The rate is a reasonable 49 cents per ounce. I'll share more about Farr's Fresh later on.
The defining characteristic of ESA is volume. Jazz fans consistently rank among the loudest in the NBA, even during "down" years. If you have sensitive hearing (or want to prevent having it), earplugs are always available at guest services. Otherwise, be prepared to soak in (or bring) the noise.
You'll also find reminders of ESA's Olympic legacy. The 2002 Winter Games held its figure skating and short-track speed skating events here. You won't find too many Olympic venues in the U.S., so this adds some depth to your experience here.
The only thing that keeps me from a full 5 in this category is the lack of a modern, high-definition scoreboard. When a new sound system was installed in 2008, hopes were high that new video board would soon follow, but no plans appear to be in place.
This is up a point from my last visit-thanks almost entirely to City Creek Center, a decade-in-the-making upscale shopping center that opened in late March 2012. Just a 10-minute walk away from ESA, City Creek Center is home to more than 90 stores and restaurants, breathtaking architecture, and a comfortable pedestrian atmosphere.
Yes, CCC is high-end, but you can still find good eats at reasonable prices. Bocata is an exceptional artisan sandwich shop with good variety. I recommend the "Drunken Chicken" sandwich for $7.49: beer-marinated chicken breast, house BBQ sauce, cheddar and shallots. If you like Mexican food, you'll love Taste of Red Iguana, a fast-service iteration of one of Salt Lake's most popular restaurants. If you're in a sharing mood, go for the "Killer Nachos" with chorizo for $8.99. If not, I really like the Enchiladas Suizas (chicken and avocado topped with mole sauce) for $8.59. Each day also brings a new special, if you're feeling frugal.
Even with CCC drawing crowds, The Gateway outdoor mall across the street from ESA is still a great pre-game destination and has something even City Creek doesn't: a bona fide sports bar. 'Bout Time Pub and Grub is a great place to get pumped up for the game and has a more extensive menu than you might expect, including breakfast all day. Try the Scotch Eggs: hard-boiled eggs surrounded by sausage, breaded, and deep-fried.
Though ESA may not sell out every night like it did during the Stockton-to-Malone era, it comes pretty darn close. The energy of the fans (late-arriving though they may be) makes it feel like a much larger crowd than the 19,000-or-so average.
The game I attended was a Jazz blowout win against the Nuggets, but the crowd's noise gave the game a playoff-like atmosphere. This was especially true during an electric 18-1 Jazz run in the 3rd quarter that put the game away. Multiple unsolicited standing ovations were showered upon the home team for its effort.
Things went mostly the Jazz's way that night, but the fans turn things up a notch when they don't. No wonder ESA often tops polls of the most intimidating NBA venues.
There are plenty of parking options ranging from $5 a few blocks away to $20 right across the street. My wife and I paid $8 for a spot in a secure, fenced-in lot just a couple of blocks away. The TRAX light-rail system also has a stop within ESA's feet, if you're fine with public transportation.
Restrooms are clean and somewhat spacious. Concourse congestion isn't much different from similar venues.
Jazz games are among the best values in the NBA. Most everything is reasonably priced, game programs are free, and the atmosphere and fans bring a special kind of electricity when the Jazz play well.
One point for the Jazz's Hall-of-Fame mascot, Bear. From his brazen motorcycle ride during pre-game introductions to doing a one-handed handstand atop a nearly 50- foot ladder at center court, there is never a dull moment with Bear in the house.
One point for bonus condiments. Wanting something extra on your burger or dog besides the usual ketchup, mustard, relish and onions? Utah is famous for fry sauce (blended ketchup and mayo). You'll find cups of it at certain stops on the concourse, along with other toppings that are popular, yet scarcely found in my arena trips: ranch dressing, barbecue sauce, extra tomatoes, honey mustard, etc.
One point for the aforementioned Farr's Fresh. An original idea (especially for an arena) executed well has become wildly popular. Don't be discouraged by what looks like long lines; they move quickly. Your sweet tooth (and your wallet) will thank you.
One point for ease of navigation thanks to directional signage. I mentioned this when I visited ESA during a Utah Blaze AFL game, but it bears repeating here. As you walk around the concourse, TV screens appear every so often displaying what concessions, restrooms and other key locations are nearby, even if it's behind you. Efficient and extremely helpful, especially if it's your first time at ESA.
For 20 plus years now, EnergySolutions Arena has been a crown jewel of both downtown Salt Lake City and the NBA. If the pattern of consistent quality and as-needed improvements continue, there's no reason to doubt the ESA experience will dwindle, even 20 years from now.
My pilgrimage to EnergySolutions Arena has been an annual event for as long as I can remember. Those joining me have changed (from my dad and brother to my roommates and now my wife), as has the name of the building (formerly the Delta Center), but the arena itself has essentially remained the same.
The 2010 edition of my ESA trip took place Mar. 6, when the Jazz took on the Chris Paul-less Hornets. My wife and I sat near the top of the upper bowl with tickets we bought on eBay for $18 apiece (Face Value: $17).
162 South 400 West
Salt Lake City, UT 84101
28 South State St # 110
Salt Lake City, UT 84111
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