In April 2011 the Sacramento Kings played what was expected to be the final game in its history. At that time, it looked like the franchise would move to Anaheim, California, with NBA approval a mere formality to take place in the off-season. The Kings lost an overtime heartbreaker to the Los Angeles Lakers and afterward, the fans hung around the court hoping to convince the powers that be to keep their team in the California’s capital.
With help from Sacramento Mayor and former NBA All-Star Kevin Johnson, not to mention the fans themselves, the NBA surprisingly decided not to allow the relocation to proceed, and the Kings remained in Sacramento for the 2011-12 season.
However, rumors of a move to Virginia Beach and then Seattle kept fans in limbo over the next couple of years. Johnson and the fans maintained the pressure and the NBA did not allow the Maloof family, who had owned the team since 1998, to follow through on any sale that would result in relocation. Eventually forcing them to sell the team to Vivek Ranadivé, who promised to keep the team in Sacramento and build a new downtown arena by the 2017 as part of his proposal.
Fast-forward to 2016 and the opening of Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento, a year earlier than promised. Naming rights were purchased by a local credit union, which is fitting as the final cost will exceed half a billion dollars, with half of that coming from city coffers. It is money well spent though, as the finished stadium is certainly a sparkling addition to the NBA and should keep the team in the city for generations to come.
So how does the Golden 1 Center stack up? Very well, indeed.
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".
Variety is the name of the game here, with many of the concession stands having only one location, so you'll want to take a thorough look around before choosing your meal. Many of the providers are local restaurants, and much of the food is sourced from the area.
Block Butcher Bar, an eatery in nearby Midtown, whose stadium stand boasts the 916 Meatball Sandwich (named after the local area code) that runs $14, while a Turkey Bacon Club Panini is $13. If you want something healthy, a mixed green salad with rotisserie chicken and goat cheese is $12.
Café Bernardo is another tempting choice. This small chain with five locations offers grass-fed hamburgers and cheeseburgers for $12, while a habanero bacon burger is $14. Selland's has pepperoni or margherita pizza for $9, and a romaine salad with bacon and blue cheese for $7.
Star Ginger is an Asian food stand where you can choose from a grilled chicken bowl, Thai Chicken Banh Mi, or Tofu Veggie Bowl, each $12. Tandoori Palace has both spicy lamb curry and chicken tikka masala, served with naan and rice, also $12 apiece. A smaller stand has the same items without the extras for $10. There are many more specialty options here, but to list them all would take up the rest of the review. Have a look at the arena's full list if you want to know more.
Of course, your typical stadium fare is also available, with hot dogs going for $7, pretzels for $6, and nachos for $7. King-sized candy can be found at most stands and is $5. There is also a small Raley's, a local supermarket (which has the naming rights to the Sacramento River Cats stadium) that offers prepackaged food such as wraps and salads, as well as juices that are not found elsewhere.
Beer is plentiful but rather expensive with tall boys in many varieties coming in at $13, while a pour into a souvenir will cost $2 more. One interesting addition is a beer that is custom brewed for the arena by Sierra Nevada.
As Sacramento is close to the Napa Valley, it is no surprise that wine is widely available. What is surprising is that you can buy an entire bottle, either at Raley's or many of the concession stands. As glassware is not recommended in the seating bowl, the contents are poured into a shatterproof decanter and you are given similarly designed cups to make things a bit safer for you and those around you.
Coca-Cola products are the soft drink option here, with bottles costing $5, which is the same for a bottle of water. There is a designated driver program, but only the first 50 fans receive a coupon for a free soda, so get there early if you want to participate.
Approaching the arena on foot, you will notice the exterior silver panels, each of which features a digitized Sacramento Live Oak leaf. If you step back far enough, you can see what appears to be a forest, an interesting effect.
The majestic Grand Entrance at the northwest corner of the building features five large hangar doors that remain open during the game, allowing the Delta Breeze to cool the arena naturally. You'll also find a sculpture here by Jeff Koons, one of many art pieces that can be found both inside and outside the venue.
Getting through security and into the building is very easy as the large entrance facilitates several lanes of foot traffic, allowing for expedient entry. Other stadiums could take note, as lineups are an increasing problem at many venues with limited access points. Make sure to use to the main entrance rather than the one closer to L Street though, as that one does seem to back up.
Inside the Grand Entrance is a large plaza that feeds into the lower concourse, as well as a standing area behind one end of the court that many fans use during the game. Throughout the lower bowl you will find other standing areas, which are open to all fans and are good spots to watch the action. With concession stands against the exterior walls, the entire lower concourse has a view of the court. The concourse is not typically oval as in old-style arenas, rather there are more angles and openings along the way that make it a bit more interesting to navigate.
The upper bowl does not encircle the arena; rather there is an opening above the plaza that contains the Sierra Nevada Draught House, a bar area that is great place to watch other sports on TV and hang out with friends. This is a perfect spot for casual fans who prefer to socialize at games.
This is a growing trend in sports, where the game is seen as a social event rather than a sporting event. Many baseball teams have created separate areas to cater to these fans, whose behavior (getting up during the action, talking constantly, etc.) often distracts others in nearby seats who are there to watch the game. Indoor arenas usually don't have the luxury of space to create such an area, but the Kings have managed to do it perfectly..
The scoreboard, which is shaped like a Japanese torii (temple gate) with the legs showing team stats during the game, is the world's largest indoor video board. At 84 feet long, it is just 10 feet shorter than the court itself. It is a 4K Ultra HD board that is rather impressive enough that you might just forget you are at the game and starting watching the video instead.
The scoreboard is just one of many technical attractions here; the arena dubs itself the most technically advanced in the world. One impressive claim is that there is a 200-gigabit connection to the internet, while the team provides its own app that should be downloaded before you visit as it adds to the overall game experience.
There are two suite levels between the lower and upper bowls but even then, the upper deck seats are actually reasonably close to the action, especially the first two rows, which are separated from the rest of the sections.
The pregame show was rather understated compared to what some NBA teams put out there. Of course, there was a laser show as the place darkened for player introductions, but the highlight might be the large cowbell on the floor, which is rung to get fans, many of which have brought their own cowbells, into the mood.
Golden 1 Center is located on two city blocks in downtown Sacramento and is the centerpiece of a new district known as Downtown Commons, DoCo for short. Eventually the area will be filled with bars, restaurants, a shopping mall and entertainment complex, a hotel, and residential buildings. At the moment, a lot of work still needs to be done. By next season, there will be a much more energetic vibe surrounding the arena.
California's State Capitol is just a few blocks east on L Street and is worth a look as it doubles as a museum. Try to find the official portrait of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Governator-it's on a 3rd floor stairwell.
On the other side of I-5, just west of the arena, is Old Sacramento State Historic Park, a tourist attraction with restaurants and shops in buildings that mostly date from the 19th century. At the other end of town is Sutter's Fort, another State Historic Park on the site of Sacramento's first settlement. The Crocker Art Museum is a few blocks away for those who enjoy a more cultural experience.
In terms of bars and restaurants, the area around 16th and L Streets is worth visiting. The Firestone Public House and de Vere's Irish Pub are next to each other and should provide most visitors with good options for before or after the game. There are many other bars in and around here, with the Federalist Public House at 20th and Matsui Alley garnering excellent reviews.
The game we attended was sold out, though there were some empty seats, likely because so many fans choose to stand or spend time at the Draught House. Those around me were smart and knew their team well. One of the traditions is standing for tip off , but during the game, they stayed in their seats and watched the action rather than getting up and disrupting the view of fans behind them.
But the real reason the fanbase get full marks is for the effort they put forth over the past few years in keeping their team in Sacramento. They really made a difference and are now being rewarded with a beautiful new venue.
The stadium is very close to I-5 and easy to get to with an exit taking you to J Street, just a block away from the Grand Entrance. . However, parking is not free on weeknights and is enforced until 10 p.m. If you want to park for free, you'll have to drive to the other side of 16th Street, where parking is only enforced until 8 p.m. and there are spots without meters. There are several parking garages right next to the stadium charging $15 per vehicle.
Sacramento has a light rail system and there are stops very close to the arena. A one-way fare is $2.75. If you are traveling with four, you can get an event pass for $14, but then you might as well park.
Inside, there are no problems getting around. There are escalators and staircases that connect the two levels and are wide enough to handle the fans without any major jams. The upper concourse is narrow in spots, but that did not impact me during my pregame tour. Legroom is sufficient and the upper bowl is quite steep, so you should have a clear view regardless of who sits in front of you. I did not notice any problems with restroom lineups, and was able to exit the arena quickly through the Grand Entrance.
As is the norm these days, tickets vary in price depending on the opponent. There are over a dozen price points for any game, ranging from $23 for the last row in the upper deck to $235 for a seat close to the action. These are the prices for a lower quality visitor such as Phoenix; when the Warriors come to town, prices rise three or four times and an upper deck seat is suddenly $150. So you might want to choose a game where the visiting team isn't so popular or very good.
Still, the variable pricing and high cost of food and limited parking can make this a costly night out, though definitely worth at least one visit to see the newest addition to the NBA stadium scene.
There are a number of interesting features scattered about Golden 1 Center. Most intriguing are the six neon signs representing companies that have ties to the city, including Tower Records, which started in Sacramento.
There is wonderful display of the various Kings jerseys from their time in Sacramento, which dates from 1985. The Kings are the oldest franchise in the NBA (beginning in Rochester in 1923) and there is also the 1951 championship banner on display. The team's former home Sleep Train Arena is also honored for its 28 years as the Kings court.
The arena is probably the most eco-friendly venue in the country. It is 100% solar-powered, with 85% coming from a solar farm 40 miles away while the rest is captured from solar panels on the roof.
The downloadable app offers fans the power to manage their experience with real-time information about lines at food stands and restrooms, exclusive in-arena camera and replay angles, on-demand food delivery and even experience upgrades.
Golden 1 Center is the future of sports venues and it has done pretty much everything right, both inside and out. It serves its purpose perfectly; it is not too loud or ostentatious and offers something for every type of fan. The owner has clearly put a lot of thought into the overall fan experience, the price of food and the lack of franchise history on display are minor concerns. As the area around the stadium develops and the team improves in the standings, Golden 1 Center will become a top basketball destination, but even now, any hoops fan would appreciate a visit to see the Kings hold court.
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