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Official Review by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The National Lacrosse League (NLL) is known as the fastest game on two feet. An indoor lacrosse game is a great, family friendly experience that can be matched by few other experiences. Possibly the best experience in the entire league is that of the Buffalo Bandits at First Niagara Center, also home of the Buffalo Sabres.
The Bandits are the longest tenured team in the entire league beginning their membership in 1992, before the NLL was even the NLL. Starting their playing days in the old Buffalo Auditorium, the Bandits currently share a home and ownership with the Sabres of the NHL. The county-owned First Niagara Center offers a fantastic atmosphere in a prime location that does the City of Buffalo proud. The Bandits are owned by Terry Pegula, who also owns the Sabres and the Buffalo Bills. They are one of the bedrock franchises of the NLL and have become an important part, as tenants of the First Niagara Center, of the redevelopment of Buffalo's downtown and waterfront. What make the Bandits such a great experience might just be the unprecedented fan participation in Buffalo. Many teams feature fan participation, but nothing quite like what you find in Buffalo, a pioneer in this kind of fan involvement.
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 First Niagara Center is most definitely a major league facility. With most major league facilities come major league concessions. Buffalo is no exception.
The Bandits fan can find a wide variety of high quality food options when hitting the lacrosse game. Of the many food stands in the arena some of the best include Lakefront Burgers, Buffalo Red Hots, El Rey's Mexican, Blue Line Fryer, Kids Cove Creamery, and Dippin Dots. As with many major league facilities for National Lacrosse League games, at times you may find some stands that are not open due to the smaller lacrosse attendance.
First Niagara Center offers a huge variety of beverages. For those youngsters and designated drivers, Coca-Cola products are featured in the arena. For those interested in a good brew, you are in luck. The variety of beer available at the Bandits game is excellent. Budweiser, Bud Light, Molson Canadian, Stella Artois, Labatt Blue Light, Michelob Ultra, Shock Top, Rolling Rock, Blue Moon, Leinenkugel, Goose Island, and Hoegarten are just some of the variety of mainstream and craft beers available.
If you are not sure what to get at the game, consider something with a Buffalo flair. Two recommendations would include the Buffalo Fingers Sub, or even better, the Beef on Weck.
The Buffalo Bandits offer what is arguably the best atmosphere in the entire National Lacrosse League.
From the outside, the First Niagara Center looks like some sort of flying saucer spacecraft. It is not aesthetically unpleasant, but doesn't blow the fan away either. With the major growth that is happening around the arena, especially with the raising of HarborCenter, the fan can't see the arena from very far away, anyway. There is one main entrance to the First Niagara Center which leads to the large atrium complete with the ticket windows on the east side and the Sabres-dominated team store on the west side. Between the main staircases to the concourse level and the team store you will find the Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame. Here you can find neat artifacts from all levels of sport in Buffalo. Upon entering the seating area, the fan will find two levels of gently sloped seating bowls with a suite level in between. At centre ice (turf), a more than adequate scoreboard and video board hang above the floor. High above the floor you will also find the retired numbers of Darris Kilgour and Rich Kilgour as well as banners honouring the Champions' Cup teams from 1992, 1993, 1996, and 2008. Unfortunately, there are featured sponsor banners above the floor also.
The in-game experience in the NLL is fantastic. In Buffalo, the game begins with a piper blasting away as he enters the playing surface through the stands. This is followed by the more traditional entrance video and introductions, but the piper is a wonderful, unique way to kick off the evening. During the game and introductions, the Bandits' mascot Rax and the dance team, the Bandettes, play the usual roles.
Once the play begins, the typical NLL action with music during the play is augmented with public address announcer Chris Swenson prodding the crowd to participate more in the game. Swenson offers a needed balance, prodding the crowd just enough without being annoying. There is a little play-by-play, but the big chant that Swenson leads for the crowd is when a big save is made by the Bandits, Swenson belts out "What's He Got?!?"
If it is important for you to see the Bandits centre logo correctly, then you need to make sure you are sitting on the side with sections 114 to 120. The value for a Bandits game is excellent, so any seat in the upper half of the lower bowl will be a good one.
Downtown Buffalo is a pretty good place to spend your evening, and it seems to be getting better.
There are a number of great local establishments that you may want to take in before or after a Bandits game. A city with its own local cuisine, you don't have to be a foodie to know that you probably need to try some authentic Buffalo Wings when you are in the city. There are a number of great establishments including Washington Square, Buffalo Iron Works, and 716. My recommendation would be a fantastic mix of food and drink at Pearl Street Grille. An order of chicken wings with a Blueberry Blond beer is perfect.
There are a number of other professional and amateur sports very close to the First Niagara Center. The arena is shared with the Buffalo Sabres of the NHL. Just up the road at Coca-Cola Field you will find the Buffalo Bisons of the International League. You can even catch Canisius Golden Griffins hockey in the brand new HarborCenter right across the street.
If you need even more excitement, Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino is just up the road from First Niagara Center.
If you are looking for a place to stay that is nice and close to First Niagara Center, the new Courtyard Buffalo Downtown might be a good option for you.
There may not be better lacrosse fans anywhere.
The Buffalo Bandits consistently bring in crowds that are among the largest in the entire league. Since 2012, the Bandits have averaged between 14,300 and just under 16,000. Every single year the Bandits have had either the best or second best attendance in the league. This is the definition of fan support.
Bandits fans are smart, loud, and totally engaged in the game. When the PA announcer yells out, the crowd yells back. "What's He Got?" is met with a HUGE, "NOTHING!!" The crowd yells out an unprovoked chant when the visiting team gets a penalty. Overall, it is the fan participation that makes the Bandits a special experience.
The First Niagara Center is very accessible from both inside and outside the arena.
Public transit is pretty decent near the arena. The best bet is to take the Buffalo light rail, which is free when it is above ground and has a station just to the west of the arena. Buses are also available right along Perry Street. Check out the NFTA site for public transit details.
The arena is located just east of the Buffalo Skyway and south of I-190. There is plenty of parking in the surrounding lots which can be found for a decent price. You can prepay for parking on sites like Parking Panda or buy a spot in the parking garage through the team website.
The main atrium is also the main entry to the arena. It can get pretty crowded just before the game begins. The concourse level is also up a flight of stairs or an escalator. There are a number of ticket windows on the west side of the atrium.
Getting around the arena is not too difficult. The concourses are fairly wide, although a little more crowded around the bends. There are also ample washroom facilities.
It is difficult to find better value for your sporting dollar than a Buffalo Bandits game.
Ticket prices for the Bandits run a very affordable range from $20 up to $39. This gives the average fan access to fantastic seats at a price that you just can't get from major league sports in similar arenas. Parking can be found between $7 and $15 depending, of course, on how willing you are to walk. Concession prices are major league and a little on the high side, but you don't feel that you are getting fleeced as the consumer and the quality is quite high. Overall, you get a great product, in a great atmosphere, for a great price.
An extra mark for the Bandits superfan. Awesome!
An extra mark for the fan interaction at a Bandits game.
Two extra marks for being the team that has been around the longest in the NLL. There are a lot of reasons for this longevity. They all mean that the big winners are fans.
There are a ton of reasons to catch a National Lacrosse League game. The price is right. The scoring is high. The experience is awesome. When you make the decision to see some indoor lacrosse, the top of the bucket list has to be the Buffalo Bandits. What's He Got? ... One great day!!
Follow all of Dave's sporting adventures on Twitter and Instagram @profan9.
Member Review by akulyk on Feb 01, 2012
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 .
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