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Official Review by Jason Bartel, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The 2013-14 season was the first year the Grand Canyon University Antelopes played any sports at the Division 1 level. GCU Arena opened in 2011, and in 2012, the university announced that they would begin the transition to D1 in all sports. With the transition, they became just the fourth school in the state of Arizona to play Division 1 NCAA sports.
In 2014, GCU Arena’s capacity was expanded from 4,500 to 7,000 thanks to more permanent seating in the lower level, and a new upper level of seats. This expansion hasn’t changed the incredible atmosphere that the school has created surrounding its basketball games since beginning the transition into D-1 and the WAC.
Behind the success is head coach Dan Majerle. He, along with some other people that came to the school from the Phoenix Suns organization, have turned Grand Canyon into a legit competitor with Arizona State in the Phoenix region, and have put the people at ASU on notice. While it will still be a couple years before the Antelopes are eligible for postseason play, there’s no doubt that when that day comes, Majerle and the rest of the athletics department will be ready to capitalize.
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".
GCU Arena offers the typical arena food, but all for a very reasonable price. The most expensive thing is a chicken fingers and fries combo that goes for $6. Everything else is $5 or less.
Hot dogs are $2.50, Coca-Cola products are $2.50 or $3.50, and various other products like nachos, candy, chicken sandwiches and popcorn all range from $2-$4.
There are concession stands in each corner of the arena, with the biggest one being in the northeast corner behind section 107. The lines at the concession stands actually get kind of long, causing a little bit of a traffic issue during the game. The look and feel of the concourse and concession stands are very reminiscent of a movie theater.
Everyone enters the arena through the north end. The doors are clearly marked general public and student entrances. The doors open one hour before tipoff, and take you into the lower level concourse. You can either take one of the two escalators to the top level or enter the arena through the upper corner entrances. There is a small team shop near the entrance in the northeast corner of the lower concourse.
The energy in the building is pretty amazing. From about 15 minutes before the game, the fans are going nuts the entire time. Having a small arena for a continuously growing university helps get the noise levels up, as well as having half the arena filled with students. The sound system does its part too. The bass is so loud that the court actually shakes at times.
The GCU logo on center court faces towards the west sections (111-114, 211-214). Before the game, the Lopes enter the court from the northwest corner, and their bench is also in that corner. The visitors sit in the southwest corner. The visiting fans also sit here (section 114).
The seats are very comfortable, and they all have cup holders. They're also purple, which adds to the experience of attending a GCU game. As is the case with most basketball arenas now, the first row of seats is almost on the court. With the size of the arena, there really isn't a bad place to sit. The upper level also has a standing room area with rails along the very top.
There is one main video board, located in the southeast corner. The video board shows live game video, as well as replays throughout the game, and is used for entertainment during media timeouts. At the southwest corner are a couple of digital screens that keep all the stats of the players on the floor. Two more scoreboards span the entire length of the north and south ends. These only show time, score, and fouls.
During pregame intros, the Antelopes' mascot, Thunder, is very much involved in the team being announced. He's even part of the pregame huddle. During media timeouts throughout the game, there are giveaways for all the fans.
Overall, it's a very comfortable place to see a game, and a very energetic place to see a game.
The worst part about going to a GCU game is the neighborhood that the campus is located in. It's definitely not the cleanest or safest part of the Phoenix area.
One thing that GCU has done to counteract this is to provide a tailgate area on "The Quad," which is located just north of the arena. Before the game, there is food available as well as live music and other festivities that occur for the students and general public to take part in. GCU tries to treat each basketball game like most schools treat their football games, and the tailgate is definitely a part of turning the games into an event instead of just a game.
The downtown Phoenix area is not too far away if you are looking for something to do before or after the game. It's about a 10 or 15 minute drive from the campus to downtown.
I wouldn't recommend walking to GCU from any of the surrounding areas, but once you park on campus, it is a very nice place to be, and has plenty of entertainment before games for fans.
GCU is unique in that it has secured a very loyal fan base right from the start of this Division 1 transition. The arena, even now with the expansion, is sold out for most of the games. The basketball program definitely benefits from the school not having a football team. The ability to have tailgating before basketball games certainly attracts more fans than just a game would.
The students and the "Thundering Heard" pep band sit in the south end, as well as all the various cheerleaders and dancers.
During free throws for the Lopes, the student section yells "Lopes Up," and holds their hands up in the air with the official school hand signal for an antelope.
Grand Canyon U is a Christian school, and there is a pregame prayer.
GCU Arena is located on the campus of GCU in the central part of Phoenix. The campus is easily accessible from I-17. On Camelback Rd., it's only about a mile and a half west of the interstate. Parking for GCU basketball games is free. There is a garage located at Camelback and 33rd Avenue that everyone can park in, and it's right next to the arena, so it is very convenient. With the arena expansion, getting in and out of the garage has become a little more time consuming though.
Once in the arena, getting around is somewhat easy. Everyone enters through the north doors, and you can either go to the upper level on one of two escalators / staircases, or you can enter on the floor.
The concourses are all very wide, and have a very modern feel with plenty of bathrooms and plenty of walking space throughout the entire main concourse. There are elevators in each corner of the north end for handicap access to the upper concourse.
The problem with the access is the lines at the concession stands. The corners of the arena get a little congested at all times during the game. Also, walking around the top level can be difficult if there are a lot of people standing in one particular area because the walkway is narrow.
To start with, parking is free, and most concession items cost less than $4. Next, general public seats for single games are just $5. Basketball games, both men and women, are the only athletic events at GCU that cost money to attend. I challenge you to find a Division 1 atmosphere that GCU has that is so cheap to visit. It may take a few years to get the quality of basketball to a high level, but take advantage of how affordable it is to go to these games.
The first extra goes to the fans. I'm going to admit, I was skeptical about the GCU student body showing up and making an impact at Division 1 basketball games. But they definitely turn out, and they have their presence felt.
Another extra goes to the concession prices. To keep the fans coming back, you have to keep everything about the game affordable, and the food prices being so low definitely fit the bill.
GCU Arena also has free WiFi. You can either connect to the "Arena" WiFi or the "Lopes" WiFi. There aren't any real issues with it going out or anything during a sold out game in the expanded arena.
A new extra in 2014 is the unique vantage point you get from watching a game at the top of the upper level. The way the seating is built, it still feels like you're right on top of the court, which is pretty cool.
The last extra to the hospitality of everyone associated with Grand Canyon University and their basketball program. From the parking lot attendants, to the ticket sales people, all the way up through the entire program, everyone is very welcoming and very helpful with anything and everything on game day.
Yes, Grand Canyon University is in the infancy stages of being a Division 1 school, but there is a lot to be excited about for Lopes fans. The arena that they've built for this team has turned out incredible, and has become the best basketball experience in the Phoenix area.
GCU is definitely doing it the right way. Out of the four different Arizona schools, GCU is easily the most fan friendly. Look forward to seeing this program growing and doing some big things in the future. The university's master plan to grow the student body and become a force in Division 1 is definitely interesting, and could give Arizona sports fans one more place to check out great games in the future.
If you're looking for quotes from head coach Dan Majerle and a couple of the players on the transition to Division 1 and the atmosphere at GCU Arena, check out our story on the Lopes' home opener in 2013.
If you're in Arizona and have Cox cable, GCU games are broadcast on Cox 7, another big part of trying to grow the program.
Member Review by JasonBartel on Nov 19, 2013
The Grand Canyon University Antelopes began Division I play in the 2013-14 season. GCU Arena opened in 2011, and in 2012, the university announced that they would begin the transition to D1 in all sports. With the transition, they became just the fourth school in the state of Arizona to play Division 1 NCAA sports.
Along with the new arena, the Lopes are heading into Division 1 under the guidance of Phoenix Suns legend Dan Majerle as the head coach. A few other Suns personnel including Jerry Colangelo and Rex Chapman are also involved at the university as a special advisor to the president and color commentator respectively.
The transition isn’t over though, as GCU Arena will be expanded following the 2013-14 season to include more permanent seating, and a new upper level of seats. But the university is definitely off to a good start with the transition into D-1 sports.
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