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Official Review by Lloyd Brown, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
In an area known for its leadership in the technology field, aeronautical design and cutting-edge medical facilities, KeyArena is somewhat of an anomaly for the professional sports facilities found in the Emerald City. Built as the Washington State Pavilion for the 1962 Century 21 Exposition / World’s Fair, the arena is the oldest sports arena in the country still hosting professional basketball. It has already lost two professional franchises (the Seattle SuperSonics to Oklahoma City in 2008 and the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL to the Kent Showare Center in 2008), and has lost the corporate sponsorship of Key Bank naming rights (the name will remain on the arena until a new sponsor can be recruited). The arena holds 17,072 for basketball and 17,459 for concerts.
Despite these challenges, KeyArena has provided a good home for the Seattle Storm of the WNBA. The Storm has played at the facility since 2000 and is one of the more successful franchises in the league, as it has won two league championships (2004 and 2010) and has made the WNBA playoffs in eleven of the sixteen years the team has existed. The team has drawn well attendance-wise, and has a bright future, with players such as Jewell Lloyd, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Breanna Stewart - all top-five draft picks.
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 concessions at KeyArena are located in four sites around the concourse of the facility. Grill 206 provides craft burgers ($10), chicken sandwiches ($12), premium hot dogs ($6) and chicken tenders ($9). World's Fare offers chicken tenders ($9), nachos ($5), popcorn ($7) and chili cheese fries ($9). Uptown Kitchen has a more seafood-oriented menu, as it offers salmon sliders ($10), clam chowder bread bowls ($8), and fish and chips ($7). Seven Hills Grill rounds out the concession offerings with a more health-conscious/natural menu of flatbread pizzas ($8), artesan sausages ($10) and veggie burgers ($10). All concession stands have standard pricing on their beverages. These include bottled water ($5); Coca-Cola brand sodas ($5) and domestic ($9) and premium ($10) beers.
If these prices seem extremely high, there is a reason. KeyArena is owned by the City of Seattle. It is the first publicly-supported arena in the area, and is mandated to be fully supported by earned income from the building. My suggestion is that you visit the Seattle Center Armory located just to the east of KeyArena before the game. It offers more than 50 different food options (SkyCity, Blue Water Taco and Cantina, and Premier Meat Pies) at much more reasonable prices.
The ownership and management team of the Seattle Storm do a fantastic job of entertaining the fans. First, and most important, they put a quality product on the court. When there is a stop in the basketball action, there is always either a performance by the Storm's all-kid dance troupe (they could win America's Got Talent, folks!), a number of fan involvement competitions, or shots of the crowd dancing to some great music.
The team really "gets" Seattle. The team colors feature the yellow-and-green palette of its former sister team, the SuperSonics. The Storm name was chosen because of Seattle's proclivity for inclement weather, and they do a wonderful job of incorporating weather-themed subjects into the game experience. The team mascot is named Doppler, the theme song for the team as it enters the court is AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" and the Thunderstick noisemakers are known as "storm sticks." In addition, the team really is involved in the community. Each home game spotlights a group that serves the community, and program recipients form the cheer line as the team enters the arena. A majority of the announcements on the arena scoreboard salute the fans or community organizations, rather than corporate sponsor ads. This is very unique and refreshing.
KeyArena is just one of the many facilities incorporated into Seattle Center, the downtown area's major gathering place and tourist mecca. While some attractions date back to 1962 (the Space Needle, the monorail and KeyArena), other attractions have been added in just the last few years. These include the ELP Museum, which salutes pop culture and the music scene of Seattle (think Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana), Chihuly's Garden and Glass (a major exhibit by Seattle glassmaking legend Dale Chihuly), and the Pacific Science Museum.
There are countless dining options and hotels surrounding Seattle Center, and it is a very safe area in one of the US's major cities. It also offers easy public transit to all the other major public attractions in town, including Pioneer Square, the Pike Public Market and Safeco and CenturyLink Fields. There is some sort of festival or celebration going every weekend, so there is always something new to do.
Seattle fans are legendarily supportive of their local teams. The Seahawks have their "12s," the Sounders' crowds rival any soccer stadium in Europe in their fervor, and the Mariners are the "baseball team for the Pacific Northwest." The same is true of the Storm's fan base. They are near the top of the WNBA in attendance, they are very loud and they are not embarrassed to wear green and yellow clothes. The team heavily markets to youth teams and the large LGBT community in Seattle, and they return this effort with great turnouts and a feeling of being a part of the Storm family.
Getting to the KeyArena and a Storm game can be easy and economical -- as long as you do not bring your car. The city of Seattle is nearly as hilly as San Francisco, making the streets hard to navigate and the building of the parking decks very expensive. Along with that, the city is located between two bodies of water and has one major interstate (I-5) passing through town, meaning the result is traffic gridlock. Finally the KeyArena is located in the most-visited area of town by tourists.
So what is the solution? SoundTransit. Seattle has one of the best public transit systems in the country, and it is very reasonably priced. The system consists of both buses and a brand new light rail system. The light rail system runs from SeaTac Airport on the southside of the city to the University of Washington and the northern suburbs. To access the KeyArena, simply take the light rail to the Westlake Center Station ($3 one-way/$6 round-trip fare). You then board Seattle's iconic monorail ($4.50 roundtrip) across the street, which delivers you directly to Seattle Center and the arena. Bringing your car into town during rush hour or on weekends means gridlock, and you can expect a $20 minimum at Seattle Center parking lots.
Once at the arena, access can be difficult if you are not prepared. Due to its age and the topography of the area, the arena is actually sunken below ground level. A majority of the gates into the arena are lower than the surrounding area, and there are steps to navigate. There are ramped or ground-level entrances at certain points, so it is a good idea to check out the KeyArena website before coming to the game for the location of the accessible entrances. Once inside the arena, the concourses are wide and easy to navigate. The seating, however, is not. There is little or no leg room, and the seats are much narrower than most arenas.
In summary, high marks for accessibility by public transit, and low marks for building accessibility and seating.
There are several variables that can affect your return on investment in attending a Storm game. Ticket prices start as low as $10, and can rise to $59. Hotels (Quality Inn and Suites, Hyatt House or Hampton Inn Downtown) and parking in the immediate area around Seattle Center can reach over $250 a night for a hotel room plus parking charges or $20-plus if you drive to the game and use an area parking lot. Public transit can dramatically lower your lodging costs (there is no shortage of lodging options in the suburbs that are immediately adjacent to light rail). Another cost saver can be eating at one of the restaurants in the Armory facility at Seattle Center, as opposed to paying the extremely high concession prices within the arena. Follow these suggestions and you will get a much better return on your investment.
While KeyArena has passed its time as a state-of-the-art athletic facility, it has excellent acoustics and is the primary venue for all major concerts of any genre in the Seattle area. Among the acts that have played KeyArena are the Beatles, Metallica, Depeche Mode, Macklemore, U2, Madonna, Simon and Garfunkel, Pearl Jam and Garth Brooks.
The Seattle Center that surrounds the KeyArena offers a wide variety of entertainment options, including the Space Needle, the Pacific Science Center, the EMP Museum and Chihuly Garden and Glass. You really can spend a day on the Seattle Center campus and still not see everything.
Seattle is trying very hard to regain a spot in the NBA and also be considered for an NHL franchise. For this to happen, a new arena must be built. There is discussion of building a new facility next to the other existing stadiums (Safeco Field and CenturyLink Field), which are located at the south end of downtown near the very popular Pioneer Square and Waterfront Districts. It remains to be seen if financing can be arranged to underwrite such a venture.
Member Review by profan9 on Aug 29, 2012
The Seattle Supersonics left town for Oklahoma City, but basketball did not leave the Emerald City. Amid the ashes of Seattle basketball, Force 10 Hoops, an all female ownership group, made a play for the Storm, and purchased the team, with the intent on continued play in Seattle and the KeyArena. This commitment has been rewarded by commitment from the fans who have steadfastly supported the team. As a result, the Storm have become one of the model franchises of the WNBA, winning the WNBA title in 2004 and 2010.
At the very least, the fans of Seattle are showing that they are serious fans, deserving of another shot at NBA basketball. At the most, the fans of Seattle are showing the world that the WNBA and the Storm are a decent product, well worth your time and money. Either way, there seems to be a Storm brewing in Seattle!
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