If you think about businesses that have survived the test of time, it is often a result of attributes that set them apart from the competition. These businesses survive because they find ways to evolve by thinking outside of the box and challenging the norm. For whatever reason, sports franchises are held to a different standard and fans expect their model to be very specific. Thankfully you have Stadium Journey and can peer into some of these unique business models.
Since the inception of the D-League, 14 teams were defunct as of 2012, so sustainability has been a challenge as the league gains acceptance. The JAM could easily be number 15, but some innovation has allowed basketball to continue in Bakersfield.
Prior to the Jam Events Center, which eventually opened in 2009, the JAM played at Rabobank Arena, current home to the Cal State Bakersfield Roadrunners basketball program and the Bakersfield Condors of the ECHL. The modern facility presents a stark contrast to the community's minor league baseball stadium (home of the Bakersfield Blaze), which is over 70 years old.
The team was on the brink of extinction in 2007 when owner Stan Ellis had one of those "ah-ha moments." He was already building a practice facility for the team, so why not also make it a more intimate home court that the most consistent fans could enjoy? Sure, it would be risky catering only to corporate clientele, but he could save over half a million a season by avoiding lease and marketing costs.
Unfortunately due to this model, most individuals cannot attend a Bakersfield JAM game. Single game tickets are not available at the door and while the JAM does provide tickets to the community, most of the audience consists of partners that pay a handsome sum up front.
The current capacity can seat up to 750 in a variety of ways; namely courtside chairs, tables and the lofts at one end of the court. With such a small capacity, it almost seems like an exclusive club and I would liken it to the local country club.
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 venue gets a high score because with admission, a free pre-game meal is served. The meal is notably better than free ones with admission at Dodger Stadium. During this evening's contest, I was treated to burgers with all of the toppings (including mushrooms and bacon), broccoli salad, coleslaw, french fries (w/ chili and cheese), mac 'n cheese, and baked beans. All of it was markedly better than what you'll find in most restaurants, so I cannot even question the quality.
Beverages did come at a cost, with soda (Pepsi products), water, coffee, and Gatorade for $3. The traditional selection of beers ran from $5-$6 and wine/mixed drinks were between $7 and $9. Four female servers can also bring drinks to fans during the game.
Lastly, if the pregame meal was not filling enough, ice cream ($6), Kettle Korn ($6), popcorn and candy ($3) are also available. It appeared that they have a tradition of serving a dessert at halftime and freshly baked cookies were available to all fans in attendance.
For me, attending a JAM game was a completely unique experience. I've been to a game in 30 NBA arenas and multiple NCAA venues, but never did one experience stand out from the others so much. Sitting on the sidelines, fans are very likely to have a ball fly your way or a player hoisting up a three just inches from your feet. The noise of the players' shoes, listening to their conversations with their teammates and referees was just an entirely more interesting experience than as a normal observer.
Of course, it did contain some of the "norms" that are found at basketball games. Hip-hop music was played over the PA system during the game. During timeouts and stoppages in play, many promotions occurred including a big-wheel race, tic-tac-toe race, golf, and "Guess the Final Score" competitions.
During the pre-game introductions, all players were announced (not just the starters). As the JAM was announced, I was taken back to my childhood as the theme song from the movie Space Jam was played.
The pace did seem much faster than that of contests I've experienced elsewhere, but would slow down when chants of "D-Fense" rung from the crowd and the JAM attempted to slow down an opponent. When a player from the home team would get above the rim for a slam dunk, the announcer would yell out the player's name and say, "For the Bakersfield JAM."
As I drove around the neighborhood surrounding the Jam Events Center, I noticed quite a bit of family-owned restaurants.
The popular place that was seemingly footsteps from the facility was known as the Knotty Pine Cafe. An hour before the game, all of the parking spots surrounding were full. Keep in mind that the Knotty Pine Cafe is only open for breakfast and lunch.
Hodel's Country Dining. Magoo's Pizza, Si Senor Grill, Rusty's Pizza Parlor, Old Hacienda Restaurant, and the Airport Drive In are all nearby.
Being that Bakersfield is rather easy to get around, I'd also recommend traveling a bit away from the arena and trying out some of the other local favorites such as Padre Hotel. Beyond observing the beauty of this historic hotel, there are food options for everyone. The Belvedere is clearly for the upscale customers while Brimstone offers hardwood floors, billiards, music, televisions and pub food. The Prairie Fire, which is a second floor rooftop bar, has fire pits, cabanas, and a warm breeze for patrons to enjoy. Also on site is a coffee shop known as Farmacy and a lounge called Prospect, offering small plates and great drinks.
Another popular spot is the Wool Growers Restaurant, one of the many places to get Basque food in Bakersfield. Here, you'll start with the bottomless soup, beans, and salsa before getting treated to some of the favorites including the oxtail stew or beef tongue.
KC Steakhouse is another local favorite for the carnivores, offering live jazz and blues music while you enjoy your meal.
Despite a crowd that probably wasn't much larger than a high school basketball game, it felt like a full arena. Certainly, their noise level wouldn't match that of a 20,000 seat arena, but I must admit that the fans definitely made it exciting!
I made a few stops at the bar area to check scores of the day's football games and also in the cigar room, but found both empty as most fans were truly immersed in the action. Most fans, especially the young ones, were given Thunderstix and were using them to produce quite a bit of noise.
Many fans who jeer the referees do it from the safety of several rows from the playing surface and are rather ambiguous among several others. I was rather impressed that several of the fans here still rather audibly questioned the referee's calls, even while the official was just a few feet away.
The Jam Events Center is just minutes off of Route 99 and is located next to the Meadows Field Airport. Fans from all over California can access the 99 via the well-known Interstate 5.
When I arrived at the facility, I pulled into a gated area where parking was free of charge and plentiful.
Once inside the arena, the area surrounding the court was rather tight as this was originally constructed as a practice facility, but the bar area allows fans to take in the entire arena and stretch out from a single vantage point.
The bathrooms reminded me of something found in a luxury hotel; it may have been the cleanest restroom I've ever witnessed at a sporting event. The walls, dividers, and tiled floors have a beautiful color scheme.
This is the trickiest part of the venue to review as most fans cannot decide on a whim to attend a game. While rates are not published, Chris Tommason's article for AOL News notes that single seats go for $4,000 apiece, a table of six above the courtside seats for $20,000 or a loft seating 12 for $40,000. Of course, any fan interested in purchasing a package should contact the Jam Ticket Central.
Once you've made your purchase or received tickets via another means, you can't go wrong with a night at the Jam Events Center. 80% of your food and beverage is already covered before you walk in the door and with free parking, it could turn out to be quite the evening.
Often overlooked with the D-League is that with 30 NBA teams with roughly 15 players per roster, all of the players at this level are still within the top 700 players in the country and the top 1% in the world!
The first thing I noticed upon stepping inside the venue was that all of the chairs had Final Four logos on them. It appears that the team purchased chairs from the 2009 Final Four that was played at Detroit's Ford Field (winner: North Carolina).
As I explored the arena, I came across the cigar room on the second level. The room was enclosed from the balance of the arena, had several leather chairs, cigar-inspired artwork, and televisions for watching the action while you want to step away for a smoke.
The JAM has been a stepping stone for many players to appear in the NBA. Their current graduates include Kosta Perovic, Patrick O'Bryant, DeMarcus Nelson, Richard Hendrix, Devin Ebanks, Kevinn Pinkney, Brian Butch, and Trey Johnson.
Many of the critics of JAM business model call this "elitist" and argue that it prevents average fans from attending games. Unfortunately the alternative for these average fans is simply to not have a team. Even as the League gains more of a following; it will always have instability on the roster preventing the team from marketing specific players as the parent league does make it more difficult to earn a profit.
The owner of the JAM recognized an opportunity to keep the team in the community with an innovative approach and has clearly taken advantage of it. Even if its only a select group that gets to witness the games (and keep in mind that the team still does provide tickets to the local teams and other members of the community), it proves to be a very entertaining experience for them.
Follow Drew's Travel's Through Southern California on Twitter @Big10Drew@Big10Drew.
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1530 Norris Road
Bakersfield, CA 93308
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