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Official Review by Andrew Kulyk, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Since starting play back in 1992, the Buffalo Bandits have been one of the signature franchises in what is now named the National Lacrosse League. Sharing a home with the NHL Buffalo Sabres at the First Niagara Center, the Bandits have claimed bragging rights as one of the top organizations during their run, winning four league titles, numerous appearances in the championship game and they boast the top rank in terms of attendance and season ticket support .
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 menu presentation at First Niagara Center is top notch, concession stands have been given a fresh new look in terms of lighting and canopies, and food items have been expanded. The signature carved Buffalo "Beef on Weck" sandwich is a Buffalo treat not to be missed. Bar areas including the Blue Zone and Pour Man's Aud Club on the main level, and the Harbour Club on the 200 level, provide full bar service.
The 100 level Harbour Club, which is a members only fine dining club at Sabres games, is open for a pregame buffet prior to Bandits games. Fans can buy a combo game and buffet ticket which gets soft drinks and a pizza and wing spread.
Where to begin? Buffalo Bandits fans are so loud and so passionate. Many come dressed in costume, faces painted black and orange, with all sorts of zany attire. The game presentation is truly over the top. The cheerleaders rock with a pregame montage, but the marker for crazy public address announcers can be found right here at Bandits games. Chris Swenson, better known as "Swennie" has been with the team since day one. His unique chants, play calls and riling up the crowd come across as over the top to some, but mostly the fans eat it up. The players have appreciated his passion over the years, even inviting Swennie to join the team in the championship photo when the team last won it all in 2008.
One of the signature chants is a fan driven one, going back to the team's earliest years. Whenever an opposing player heads to the penalty box, the guys sitting behind the box begin the chant "B-O-X, B-O-X, to the Box! to the Box!... to the Box to the Box, to the Box!". The entire building joins in and the slogan blares on the ribbon boards. It is a uniquely Bandits thing.
Along with the clap along music bumps, the "win the jersey if the team scores in the next minute" contest, and other timeout entertainment, a night at a Bandits game is all great fun.
The best way to describe the neighborhood around First Niagara Center is "emerging". After a long period of delay and inertia, momentum is developing for the adjoining Canalside neighborhood at the foot of Main Street. Original old streets have been unearthed and cobbled, waterways and canals from a by gone era are being dug. Private investment is on its way.
There are a number of pre and post game hangouts worth mentioning – Morrissey's, Benchwarmers and the new Lagerhaus 95 bistros line Mississippi Street.
Pearl Street Brewery is always a good bet for food and drink. Swannie House down on Michigan has been around forever, and lots of old grain elevator pics and other old time Buffalo memorabilia line their walls.
The spaghetti parm at Chef's Restaurant on Seneca, just a short drive, is to die for.
Cobblestone Bar is a bit seedy, but for what it's worth, is the "official" post game party hangout. We like Washington Square Lounge, a 70s era tavern where the beer is cold and the wings are cheap.
Buffalo Bandits fans get the highest marks. They lead the league in attendance. And true story – in the old days of the Major Indoor Lacrosse League, home field advantage was awarded based on paid attendance. In 1992, the inaugural season for the team, the Bandits lost by a nose to their then arch rival Philadelphia Wings, and the championship game took place down in Philly. The following year, the Bandits sold out each home game at the old Aud, nosing out the Wings by some 500 a game. That gave Buffalo the rights to host the championship game. Oh, Buffalo won both contests. Yes they won league championships in their first two seasons, and in fact, had a perfect season in 1993. Their bond and love affair with the community has been cemented ever since.
First Niagara Center is relatively easy to find, exit off the I-190 at Elm Street or Church Street and follow the traffic. Surface lots near the arena abound. Street parking is free nights and weekends so grab a space if you can. The Metrorail runs from the UB South Campus right to the front door of the First Niagara Center and the fare is $1.75. Or park anywhere downtown and ride for free as the downtown portion of the line is a fare free zone.
Single ticket prices run from $25-$35 each for 100 level seats, $35 for the clubs and $25 for the balcony. But look out for bargains. The team offers a 4 pack for $89, which includes 4 balcony tickets and meals at a national fast food chain. Student surge tickets are also available day of game for as low as $10. Aggressive ticket promotions is how they manage to fill the house on many a game night. Concession prices are reasonable and parking free/cheap. What's not to like?
We're liking the layout of the team's four championship banners and their two retired numbers hanging up high – Darris Kilgour and Rich Kilgour, mainstays of the powerhouse teams of the 90s and both remain with the team as coaches. John Tavares, who holds every individual record there is to be had in box lacrosse, will have his banner raised up to the rafters the day after he steps down. Now in his 21st season in the game, who knows when that will be for the "Ageless Wonder".
Also props to the players, all of who have full time jobs outside of the sport. They do a victory lap after wins, they engage with the fans, they take part in autograph sessions and fan fests. These guys truly know how to bond with fans and sell their product to the people.
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