Malibu is known more for its beautiful scenery and being home of many of entertainment's biggest stars, but it is also home to possibly the most beautiful campus in all of college basketball.
Pepperdine University sits atop a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean and California Route 1, with green trees and grass surrounding it year round. Firestone Fieldhouse became the home of the Men's basketball program on November 30, 1973. The venue was not formally dedicated until 1975 when President Gerald R. Ford did the honors.
While we hear that the effect of home court advantage is diminishing in sports, it doesn't appear to be the case at Firestone Fieldhouse as the basketball and volleyball programs have won more than 70 percent of contests held there.
While the official capacity is listed 3,104, it often feels like much more due to the rowdy student section. The university manages to squeeze more fans into the Fieldhouse for the big events; the largest crowd on record was in 1976 when 4,500 fans watched Pepperdine upset #3 ranked UNLV.
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 small venue only allows for a single concession stand, and it tends to back up quickly. Some of the options include hot dog ($3.50), dibbs ice cream and frozen lemonade ($3), popcorn ($2.25), cracker jacks ($1), assorted chips ($1.25), cookies ($1.50), candy bars ($1.25), fruit cup ($2.50), assorted sandwiches ($3), bratwurst ($4), uncrustable ($1), and fresh fruit ($1; options include apples oranges, and bananas). There are also several vending machines on site.
Beverage options include Dasani bottled water ($1.75), coke products ($1.50 small, $1.75 medium), or coffee/hot chocolate ($1.50).
Considering the location and beauty of the campus, I really expected much higher prices. While the selection probably does not warrant more than a 1/5, the prices were more than reasonable. Fans could probably stop by a nearby gas station and pay twice these prices for any item.
The small size of the venue coupled with the consistently full venue really creates one of the more memorable atmospheres for college basketball. The contest started off with the introduction of the players, to the familiar tune made popular in Chicago, "Sirius" by the Alan Parsons Project.
My favorite part of the crowd interaction was Pepperdine's version of the familiar "Ole" chant. If you've been living in a closet for the last 10 years, jog your memory with the song here. The student section took this familiar chant and changed the "Ole" to "Go Waves." It was rather entertaining to witness the fans seamlessly incorporate their school spirit into the song!
Other crowd chants included "here we go Waves, here we go," the typical "de-fense," chant and the now familiar fake shot clock countdown. At one point during the game, the cheer squad held up the "Let's Go Waves" signs, provoking at least 87% crowd participation.
During free throws, the fans made "waves" with their hands and let out a "Whoosh" after a made free throw. The drums would then beat four times and the crowd would yell out "Waves!"
The cheer squad set up at the north end of the fieldhouse and the Pepperdine mascot, Willie the Wave could easily be spotted throughout the venue. His light blue color stuck out like a sore thumb (pardon the cliche;) among the sea of orange.
Some of the fan interactions included "Dress Like a Wave," which pitted two children against one another trying to dress in collegiate apparel and make a layup. They also showcased a bowling challenge which I'm pretty sure could be won by anyone with one foot in the grave.
Unfortunately the venue did not have seats behind the backboards and the only means of distracting opposing free-throw attempts was an off-center 1980's scoreboard displaying the words "miss" or "brick."
I really can't imagine a university with a more beautiful neighborhood than the one that Pepperdine offers. Set on the coast, it offers magnificent surrounding views of the Pacific Ocean and nearby bluffs.
If you have some down time before a game, you may want to check out the Getty Villa (the second and lesser known location of the J. Paul Getty Museum) or do some horseback riding in the Malibu Mountains at Park Place Stable.
Seemingly one of the most popular spots is Duke's Malibu. With a view that practically sits over the ocean, you might even spot some dolphins. Stop in after 4 PM for Aloha Hour, where they offer different drink specials every night. Some of their signature items include the king crab legs, Hawaiian burger, fish tacos, or sweet potato fries with spicy banana ketchup.
Coogies Beach Cafe; offers great decor and ambiance, but unfortunately is not on the beach. Nevertheless, it offers a great breakfast until 3:00 PM daily and I'd recommend the blueberry pancakes. It is a dog-friendly restaurant so your pet can be at your side while you try the pecan-crusted Salmon, Filet Mignon chili, zucchini muffins, avocado roll or any of their other specialties. If you're looking for more of a true cafe atmosphere, try the Marmalade Cafe, just down the street.
The Malibu Kitchen and Gourmet County Market offers some phenomenal dishes, including their meatloaf and pulled pork. Everything here is homemade and fresh, but please be cognizant of the menu before ordering because you may get some soup Nazi treatment!
Other popular spots include Howdy's Taqueria (Mexican food offering some of the best tacos around) or Taverna Tony's (Greek food and live music).
Lastly, take some time to stop by the Malibu Pier. You'll find shopping, fishing, cruises, surfing, and kayaking all available from here. This is also where you'll find the popular Beachcomber Cafe, complete with Tiki Bar. They offer a variety of shellfish, sandwiches, and my favorite, the blackened swordfish tacos!
The fans are right up there with the scenery. As I approached the arena more than one hour prior to tipoff, dozens of fans were already outside barbequing and getting ready for the game.
Most notable about the fans however was that 95% of them were wearing the blue and orange, before they received a free t-shirt!
What I found to be most hysterical was when the public address announcer gave a lengthy message regarding sportsmanship. Moments later as the opposing team took the floor, an immediate chorus of "boos" rung out.
As the opposing players were being introduced, a good 50 percent of the student section had their newspapers out; ignoring the opponents.
After the first timeout, the band played the school's fight song, and most of the crowd sang along cheerfully. Throughout the game, chants rang out both to support the Waves and jeer the opposing team.
A few extra points in the fan's favor occurred as I was taking some photos from the steps of the Fieldhouse. Not one, not two, but three separate fans stopped and inquired if it was my first time at the University and gave me some fun facts about the campus, including that I could view Catalina Island from the top of the steps.
This was the toughest category to rate on the FANFARE scale and I had to error on the side of the lower score because of two prevailing points: 1) the venue is pretty much only accessible from CA Route 1 and 2) the seating is extremely cramped.
As previously mentioned, the campus is located immediately off of California Route 1, which in all likelihood will be one of the most beautiful drives fans will ever take to a game. The scenery unfortunately causes as many problems as positives with all of the drivers straining their necks and trying to take photos from the road. The setting sun often blinds drivers and the slightest fender-bender can back traffic up for hours. Rarely is the traffic moving very swiftly, so fans should leave plenty of time to make it to the game.
Once the fans do arrive, they'll be greeted by free parking, but I did notice that the lot quickly filled and fans had to get more creative with their spaces.
Once inside the arena, a small section greets fans before the gym itself. This is where fans find the concessions and restrooms. Upon entering the playing arena, fans will be greeted by staff members combing over tickets to ensure fans are in the right place.
The lower levels are made up entirely of wooden bleacher seating along both sides of the court. The student section and band sit opposite the players. Behind the player benches there is bench seating for all other fans, but the center section offers some comfy blue pads. While these seats are closer to the action, unfortunately they offer very little legroom and have no place to put your beverage.
The upper sections are divided into five smaller sections and all have bucket seats. These seats offer a better perspective of the action, but unfortunately are very dark and some seats have some obstructed views.
Lastly, the Fieldhouse offers 18 baseline floor seats on the south end and 36 courtside seats opposite the player benches.
The venue offers a scoreboard at each end of the court. The north end has a scoreboard displaying the time, score, timeouts, and fouls. Below this is also a small board with dot lights that displays messages such as "go Waves." The scoreboard on south end simply shows score and time. The scoreboards show the age of the arena more than anything and are in need of an upgrade.
The restrooms were a bit hidden, but once I found them, I experienced no problems with lines or cleanliness.
I do believe that the scenery itself is worth the investment, but the crowd interaction and atmosphere make this one of the best investments in college hoops.
If you are the die-hard Pepperdine fan, you can pick up season tickets. Courtside runs at $448, lower reserved at $168, and upper reserved strangely at the same price of $168, showing that the value of the seat is more a matter of the fan's preference rather than proximity to the court.
Single game prices are $50 for courtside, $15 for lower reserved, and the same $15 for upper reserved. The premium games (Gonzaga or cross-town rival) will run fans an additional $10.
General admission seats go for $12, or $5 if you have children under 8 years of age.
The price of admission is about as all-inclusive as they come. Parking is free, fans receive a free t-shirt, and concessions are the most reasonably priced in Southern California.
When fans approach the arena, they will notice a substantial fig tree just outside the main entrance. While it's not as big as the one in Santa Barbara, it's an impressive site nonetheless.
Just before fans enter the playing area, they will see a plaque, offering a tribute to Robert "Duck" Dowell. There is a photo and commentary of Dowell's contributions to the program.
Immediately inside the entrance is a display reading "National Championship Waves." Here, fans can browse all of the accomplishments that the University has achieved over the years in their athletics. If there were a national championship for campus beauty, Pepperdine would be in the finals each year.
The parking lot was probably my favorite part of the venue. Not only is the parking free, but there are multiple basketball court designs on the lot. So fans will find the normal parking space lines as well as center court, free throw line, and three point line.
All fans in attendance seem to receive free t-shirts at every game. The first thing I heard upon walking to the entrance was a fan stating, "I've received over a dozen shirts coming to these games." When I stepped inside fans were receiving bright orange shirts of all sizes with a novel design. This is positive for the fan experience, but also for comradery of the fans all wearing a common color.
The south end of the Fieldhouse has banners hanging to designate the many conference championship banners and post season appearances. The school now has 13 NCAA tournament appearances.
Pepperdine was one of my most anticipated reviews of the past season and it certainly did not disappoint. The seating and food options definitely left something to be desired, but the atmosphere and fans more than made up for it.
The visit was definitely one of those "yin and yang experiences." Hours prior to the game I walked the campus and sat down to watch the sun set on Malibu and the Pacific Ocean; an unbelievably calming/serene experience. Just a short time later, I was in a fieldhouse packed full of orange and there was so much excitement that you quickly forget the beauty of the nature outside.
Follow Drew's journeys through Southern California on twitter @Big10Drew.
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21150 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu, CA 90265
3894 Cross Creek Rd
Malibu, CA 90265
3900 Cross Creek Rd
Malibu, CA 90265
17985 Pacific Coast Hwy
Malibu, CA 90265
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