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Official Review by Bradlee Ross, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The Jack Stephens Center is home to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Trojans of the Sun Belt conference. It opened on November 22, 2005 and seats 5,600 people. The arena cost $25 million at the time of construction.
It was named for billionaire philanthropist Jackson T. Stephens, who died at the age of 81, before he could see the arena open. Stephens earned his fortune in Little Rock and donated about 80 percent of the funds needed to build the Jack Stephens Center.
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 selection of food at this venue is pretty average. There are a few concession stands around the concourse above the arena seating. One of these has a much better selection than the others, and it is located at the end of the arena. These stands have your standard concession foodstuffs, with the larger one having more foods like pizza.
A couple of very small food carts are also at your disposal. One sells pretzels and Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream, while the other is the only place in the arena where you can buy beer.
The service at all of these places is very good, and the concession stands themselves were worked by various groups as fundraisers. Unfortunately, the concessions do not accept debit cards, but there is an ATM there if you need it. All in all, the food part of this arena experience is pretty good.
The atmosphere at the Jack Stephens Center is better than that of other small college basketball venues similar in size. The arena certainly has a fun feel that translates to almost every part of the experience.
The PA announcer does a great job of keeping things interesting, and there are also contests during timeouts for fans (one during my visit consisted of a fan getting one three-point shot for $1,000). The school's pep band also provides a great collegiate feel. Their video board and scoreboard at each end of the arena are top notch.
The University of Arkansas at Little Rock campus is a pretty one, but it can also be a nightmare to navigate, particularly at night. It is a bit out of the way of the city, nestled into a nice little spot that makes you forget you aren't in the country.
The area surrounding the campus is not great. There is very little to do nearby, and one would have to travel pretty far to find any decent restaurants that are not fast-food chains.
The crowd size was not all that big during my most recent visit in early 2013; the arena was less than half full. The fans that were there were pretty loud, but they certainly were not the most engaged crowd you will encounter. This place in some ways seemed like more of a social place than a sporting event. Some arenas can pull that off well, but I am not sure that this one does.
The fans were pretty loud considering how many of them were actually there. However, they were only loud when good things were happening for their team. If the game slowed down or went the other way, the crowd got disinterested fast.
The campus is not easy to navigate. I turned in at the wrong spot originally and had to circle back a couple of miles in order to get back to where I was actually supposed to turn in. There is more than enough parking nearby, as there are two or three huge lots right behind the arena. However, you will have to pay for it (around $5).
Most of the arena seating is pretty comfortable, but avoid sitting at either end if you want to have a chairback. It is also very easy to get around the arena once you get in, and the facilities here are top notch. The restrooms are clean and very up-to-date, but they are also way too small for an arena of this size.
For the cost of a ticket (no more than $10), this venue experience is well worth it. The Jack Stephens Center is not very old, and it still looks brand-new in many respects. The facility is beautiful on the outside with its huge windowed entrance, and it looks just as good on the inside. This venue is perfect for people who just want to watch small-time college basketball in a comfortable setting with a fairly passionate fan base.
I'll give one extra point to the Jack Stephens Center for having the pep band there to perform. Having a band at a basketball game seems to infuse the experience with so much more energy, and helps to make college basketball special.
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