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Official Review by Jim Folsom, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
The Jacksonville Sharks are in their third season of Arena Football. The AFL might be struggling to regain lost momentum of a few seasons ago, but it seems to be alive and well in Jacksonville. The Sharks are the defending Arena Bowl Champions and are making their push for the playoffs for the third straight season in 2012. The people in Jacksonville love it. While it may be far from ideal for college basketball, the Veterans Memorial Arena is the place to be when the Sharks are in a feeding frenzy. One thing is for sure, they really don’t like Chris Leak.
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".
You name it, they got it. I had club seats which got me access into the Arena Club where they had bars set up. You could get anything you wanted in there. The prices were high, but no more so than any other stadium or arena. The Club was a bit different than say, the Amway Center where club tickets run about $300 but all the food and drinks are included.
Then on the regular concourse they have the typical sporting events food. They have the nachos, popcorn, burgers, dogs, chicken fingers, beer, soda, etc. Definitely no shortage of things to eat and drink and the lines move very quickly.
The Arena was full. It was loud. People were having a great time. They were into the game. They were taunting and booing the visitors. What more could you want? The Sharks did an excellent job getting the crowd into a frenzy, making jokes about Orlando, even throwing Dwight Howard under the bus which made even the Orlando Predators fans who came laugh. Nearly every fan was wearing red and black. Some had foam Shark fin hats. If you didn't know any better you would have thought the Arena Football League was the next big thing.
The Arena is right next to the Baseball Grounds (home of the Jacksonville Suns) which is right next to EverBank Field (home of the Jacksonville Jaguars). With all of the nearby stadiums there is no problem parking. For $7 you can park in the EverBank Parking lot. There are a couple of nice sports pubs right next to the arena. Before the game there was a party going on outside with the pubs having live music and fans mingling, almost like a tailgate party.
Step too far away though and you can wind up in one of the sorriest looking neighborhoods in Florida. So have an idea where you are headed and don't get lost. GPS is your friend.
Like I said, they showed up all dressed in their Sharks gear and they came to yell. And the place was just about slammed full of them. I was pulling for the other team and nobody looked at me cross-eyed or gave me the finger. They made it a fun night. There's nothing worse than going to watch football in an empty venue with a crowd that looks bored. These folks did Jacksonville proud.
If you know how to get to the Gator Bowl, aka EverBank Field, then you know how to get to Veterans Arena. You take Interstate 95, peel off the exit after you see the football stadium, which you can see from the interstate. Then you go over the bridge with the blue girders holding it up which takes you down to the stadium. Simple. But beware, because if you wanted to stop and eat or something like that on the way, do it before you get to your exit, because that neighborhood has nothing. That is unless of course, you go to "The Landing". But The Landing is more for a Jaguars or Gator Bowl game. It's not just a zip in, zip out kind of place. So if you are looking for a gas station or a fast food joint, you are better off to do that at an earlier exit.
I paid $50 for two club seats off of a scalper. I sat about three rows from the tunnels in the end zone, just past the goal line. So with parking, some food, gas to get there, I'd guess I spent around $100 for me and my son. I saw a great game. I took some pictures in the Florida-Georgia Hall of Fame. I'd say that's a pretty good return on my investment.
Had I wanted to, I could have gotten some upper level seats for around $25 per pair. I don't think you can beat that. The only thing that would have made it better would have been some sort of give-away since it was Fan Appreciation Night, such as t-shirts or hats for the fans. But it was a really good experience for the money.
They had motorcycles before the game. They had dancing girls, much like in basketball; they had people throwing the t-shirts into the crowd. They had one of the bosses (I guess) thank the crowd for being the best in the AFL a couple of times. They did the contests with fans during the time outs. The concourse level in this arena was very good. Unlike the old Orlando Arena that had a very narrow concourse level, this place has a roomy one. It even has enough room for the Florida-Georgia Hall of Fame in it. For a diehard Florida fan like me, that was worth going to see.
I don't know of too many things the Sharks can do to make their product any better. They have no control over the neighborhood or the access. The things they can control, they do very well, including putting a great team on the field. They play good football. Their arena may not be the Taj Mahal like Orlando's is, but that's not a bad thing. I think Amway might be too pretty for the AFL. This place is just about right. If they keep it clean and don't let it get run down, they will be in good shape as long as the league itself stays afloat.
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