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Official Review by Aaron S. Terry, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
J. S. Dorton Arena was built in 1952, and is located on the state fairgrounds in Raleigh, NC. The venue has a capacity of 7,610, and features a unique, elliptical design, which includes a saddle-shaped roof held up by suspension cables and concrete arches; the exterior looks a bit like a roller coaster.
The facility was originally known as State Fair Arena, but the name was changed to J. S. Dorton Arena in 1961, in recognition of a former manager of the State Fair. In the past, the venue was home to both hockey and basketball, and was even used for wrestling matches.
Today, the arena is home to the Carolina Rollergirls of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (roller derby), as well as the Triangle Torch of the Supreme Indoor Football League. J. S. Dorton Arena is also used for the commencement ceremonies of several local colleges, and various conventions (as well as the fair) use the venue as an exhibition space.
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".
For such a small venue, J. S. Dorton Arena has a surprising number of concessions items for sale, all at very reasonable prices. Main dishes include burgers, hot dogs, pizza, and barbecue sandwiches from Murphy House; these selections range from $3 to $5. Snack and dessert items for sale here include pretzels, potato wedges, nachos, chips, popcorn, candy bars, sno cones, and ice cream, as well as classic State Fair treats such as funnel cake and deep-fried Oreos; the cheapest items are the chips and candy bars at $1 and $1.50, respectively, while the most expensive are the chocolate-dipped waffle cone and the fruit-topped funnel cake for $6 and $7, respectively.
There is no alcohol for sale at J. S. Dorton Arena, unless you are in the "club" section next to the wall around the field, but the concessions stands do have the typical assortment of beverages, including soda, bottled water, Gatorade, juice, coffee, and fresh-squeezed lemonade. Drink prices range from $1.50 for the small coffee up to $5 for the large lemonade.
Raleigh has been trying to build interest in indoor football for nearly two decades, and progress has been slow to say the least. The city's first indoor football team, the Carolina Cobras, came to Raleigh in 2000, and played their home games at PNC Arena. Despite the team's best efforts, however, the Cobras only lasted for three seasons before moving to Charlotte, after which they soon folded operations for good. The second iteration, the Raleigh Rebels, played right here at J. S. Dorton Arena back in 2005-2006, but left after only two seasons (the Rebels spent their first year playing solely on the road).
Raleigh's third attempt at indoor football is the Triangle Torch, which was founded in 2016. The Torch started out as an expansion team of American Indoor Football, but joined the Supreme Indoor Football League in time for the 2017 season. The Torch are still struggling to build a solid fan base here, but are limited in terms of their budget, and that lack of budget is evident during games. For example, the turf the Torch play on has "Carolina Speed" painted in the end zones, almost as if it was purchased used or is being borrowed. In addition, the Torch's scoreboard is merely a projection on a plastic screen, which makes it a little hard to see, especially from the far corner, and they also play the National Anthem using an old record player. While J. S. Dorton Arena itself is a passable facility, the low-budget trappings detract a little from the experience.
On the plus side, fans are welcomed into J. S. Dorton Arena by the Torch mascot, and by cheerleaders waving poms-poms, which helps make you feel welcome and excited to be there. The mascot also has a cool costume, and she even rides an ATV around the field as the team comes on. The staff also tosses out t-shirts, as you have probably seen at sporting events the world over, and fans participate in the typical contests during breaks in the action, for example, tossing bean bags at bowling pins to win prizes. As with the other amenities, however, it is apparent that these contests are on a shoestring budget.
There is very little in the immediate vicinity of J. S. Dorton Arena, given its location on a mostly deserted state fairground (at least at this time of year). PNC Arena and N.C. State's Carter-Finley Stadium are both within walking distance, but are mostly surrounded by parking lots as you might expect, so there are very few restaurants in the area; the best option is probably Backyard Bistro, located just off the fairground. Backyard Bistro is your traditional American sports bar & grill, and features wings, ribs, barbecue, burgers, and many other items, as well as a wide variety of drink selections. There are also plenty of large TVs, so you can keep up with other sporting events going on around the same time.
Raleigh is a decent-sized town of about 450K, and provides a couple of attractions to enjoy if you want to come for a weekend. The most popular destinations are the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and the Museum of Art.
Very few fans show up for Triangle Torch games, although the few in attendance do deserve credit. A lot of the fans seem to be there to show support for specific local players, who come to the Torch seeking an opportunity for a shot at the pros. As such, most of the fans at J. S. Dorton Arena are very spirited, and constantly yell encouragement to the players on the field. The facility, however, has a very small capacity to begin with, so even if it got half full there wouldn't be too much energy.
See the inside of J. S. Dorton Arena during a Triangle Torch game, here:
Parking is free at J. S. Dorton Arena during Torch games, but tends to be a bit haphazard; there are few obvious "spaces" on the front (east) side of the arena, so people just park wherever they can, including on the grass right outside the front door, since no one seems to be checking. This makes it pretty easy to park close to the entrance, even if you don't get there early. There are formal parking lots on the west and south side, but note that the only entrance during Torch games is on the east side, and that is also where tickets are sold.
Once inside the venue, the concessions will be right in front of you, and bathrooms will be down the stairs to your left. There are no lines to speak of, since the crowd is so small, and you will have no trouble moving around the concourse, or getting to your seat.
Tickets to Triangle Torch games start at $14 for adults, which is a little on the high side for the experience offered. While parking is free, and the concessions are reasonable, the ticket prices seem a little steep given some of the low-budget amenities you will find inside, especially if you have a large group. Nevertheless, if your goal is to help support some local talent, which is the stated mission of the franchise, attending a football game here isn't a bad way to do that.
Game programs here are practically free at $1 each, and you can also buy team gear from tables set up near the concessions.
Credit the staff for having the cheerleaders welcome fans in, which is a really nice touch. It is also cool that the team exists (at least in part) to help showcase local talent, so by coming to a game here you are actually helping out the local community. The design of the arena is also really unique.
A small venue with an even smaller crowd, coming to a Triangle Torch football game at J. S. Dorton Arena won't provide anywhere near as much atmosphere as you will find at other local sports venues. Nevertheless, if you want to watch football in the summer this may be your only option, and this is also an opportunity to support some talented local players.
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11 West Jones Street
Raleigh, NC 27601
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