In the up and down history of the Arena Football League there are a few royalty franchises. They are franchises that have withstood the test of time and teams that push the needle. They are the heart and soul of the league. The War on I-4, between the Tampa Bay Storm and Orlando Predators comes to mind, although the Jacksonville Sharks are making some significant noise as well. The Chicago Rush once held that royalty position in the league, however ownership turmoil threatens to tear the Midwest franchise down.
Danny White, former head coach of the Arizona Rattlers, led the team to more success than he ever did as the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, and earned a place in the AFL Hall of Fame for it. As much a royalty franchise as any of these is the San Jose SaberCats.
Beginning as an expansion franchise in 1995, the SaberCats have won the Arena Bowl 3 times and sold more than 10,000 tickets for every game in the original incarnation of the Arena Football League. After the collapse of the league and subsequent reincarnation, the SaberCats have returned with a strong product on the field and a strong showing at the gate. In part, this is due to the strong ownership group which is made up of executives from Fry’s Electronics.
The SaberCats have called the newly minted SAP Center at San Jose home for their entire existence. The city-owned arena recently signed a new naming rights deal with SAP (June 2013).
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 SAP Center at San Jose is also home to the San Jose Sharks of the NHL. With the attendance at a much lower level than for a Sharks game, there are numerous food stands that are closed for the SaberCat games. As a result, it the food selection is reduced as well. All of the expected food items are available including hot dogs, nachos, popcorn, fries and ice cream. Pizza is available from Round Table Pizza and Pepsi products are the soda of choice.
Some items that are a bit more unique include pistachios, salads, churros, and garlic fries. The beer selection is quite significant including national brands like Budweiser and Bud Light, and imported and micro-brews including Gordon Biersch, Molson Golden, Heineken, and Lagunitas IPA.
Prices are what you would expect. A regular draught beer will go for $8.75 while and import will go for $12. A soda will run you $5.25. Although the selection is fairly decent, it is clear that the food bumps up a notch for a Sharks game.
The SAP Center is a two-level arena with a single concourse in the mould of The Palace of Auburn Hills. There is a full ribbon video board around the balcony and a crystal clear, giant video scoreboard above the floor. The SaberCats use all of this to their advantage. There is also free wi-fi available in the arena. The SaberCats are on top of technology and social media.
There is absolutely nothing quiet about a SaberCats game. The music is blasting. The PA announcer is loud. The pyrotechnics will blow you away. There are actually adults who wear earplugs. This all gives the game day experience a kick start that just adds to the excitement that you would normally find at an Arena Football game. The cheerleaders, or Saberkittens, do their thing and their unofficial mascot Saber, who is basically a biker wearing a green shirt, contribute to an opening sequence that does nothing short of get the patrons excited for the upcoming game. Unlike most mascots, Saber is just a guy on a motorcycle, and not someone in a giant plush suit who's focus is to get the kids involved.
The rafters sport banners honoring successful seasons of both the Sharks and SaberCats. The SaberCats banners hang in the West end and include the 3 Arena Bowl Champions banners from 2002, 2004 and 2007. The SaberCats have also retired the numbers of former players Sam Hernandez, Barry Wagner, and Mark Grieb.
The SAP Center is located in central San Jose. As a result there are a few spots you may want to check out before or after the game. If you head east on West Santa Clara, you will find quite a few options. Some of these include Los Cubanos, Los Gatos Brewing Co., O'Flaherty's Irish Pub, and the Old Spaghetti Factory.
SaberCats fans are loud and proud. It seems that the SaberCats fans are consistently attempting to out cheer the music and PA announcer. The fans are into every single play and are more than happy to let the officials know how to do their job properly. Cats fans love their cowbells and ring them throughout defensive series. With the reincarnation of the AFL the fan base has shrunk significantly. The SaberCats no longer draw more than 10,000 a game, but they do average over 9,000 which is just behind those other royalty franchises in Florida and Arizona.
Getting to the SAP Center is not too difficult. Most games are on Saturdays so typical weekday traffic is not an issue. The SAP Center is located just north of I-280 and west of California State Route 87. There is plenty of parking in the lot to the west of the arena. If public transit is your thing, then you will be happy to find the train station to the southwest.
The washrooms and concourses offer ample space for a SaberCats game, although the single concourse may be an issue for a capacity crowd. The design of the arena has created the need for a large number of stairs, including a flight of stairs as soon as you enter the building. If you come in the wrong gate, you may miss the team store entirely as it is on the ground level.
The majority of tickets for a SaberCats game can be found for $30 or less. Many of those seats are in the lower bowl. You can sit in the upper bowl on the sidelines for less than $20. The return on your investment for the excitement of an Arena Football game is very high. Parking is on the high side at $15, and concessions are a bit on the high side as well.
An extra mark for the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame which is displayed throughout the concourse and features bronze busts of the greatest athletes from the San Jose Area. Sports fans could spend an hour just walking the concourse and viewing the entrants. Some athletes include Bruce Jenner and Pat Tillman.
An extra mark for the fan friendliness of Arena Football. Getting to keep the game ball that ends up in the stands, free programs, and on field autograph sessions after the game are all standard procedure in the AFL.
An extra mark for the longevity the SaberCats have shown in a league where there are too many former teams to count.
Any opportunity to see one of the royalty franchises in the AFL is offering the opportunity to see what Arena Football is really all about. It is one of the most fan friendly experiences out there and offers non-stop excitement for a great price. If you get out to see the SaberCats you will not walk away disappointed.
For the entirety of their existence, the San Jose SaberCats have shared SAP Center with the San Jose Sharks of the NHL. They have secured 8 division titles and 3 Arena Bowl Championships in 2002, 2004, and 2007.
There are only a few small adjustments between a Sharks and SaberCats game. For SaberCats games, black curtains are drawn in the second level beyond the goal posts. This covers about five sections or so at both ends of the arena. Therefore only the sideline seating is available upstairs. All of the seating was available in the lower level.
The only other major adjustment is that only about half of the concession stands were open. This was no doubt due to the fact that there are less fans attending.
102 South Montgomery Street
San Jose, CA 95110
22 N Almaden Ave
San Jose, CA 95110
163 W Santa Clara St
San Jose, CA 95113
25 N San Pedro St
San Jose, CA 95110
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