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Official Review by Rob Campion, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
The Leicester Riders compete in the British Basketball League (BBL), the top level competition in the United Kingdom, and are the oldest professional basketball team in the country. The club were founded in 1967 by students and lecturers at Loughborough University and were originally known as Loughborough All Stars. In 1981 they moved to nearby Leicester and with sponsorship from the Leicester City Bus company, the nickname Riders came about. The club have previously called home at four different venues across Leicester and Loughborough: Victory Hall, Loughborough (1967-1981); Granby Halls, Leicester (1981-2000); Sir David Wallace Sports Hall, Loughborough (2000-2004 & 2014-2016); and John Sandford Centre, Leicester (2004-2014).
In 2016 the club moved back to Leicester at a brand new purpose built venue, the Leicester Community Sports Arena which is the first basketball only facility to be built in the UK. The venue is also home to the Riders women’s basketball team who compete in the WBBL and the Leicester Cobras wheelchair basketball team.
On the court, the team were never one of the big hitters in the sport, but this has changed since the club appointed Rob Paternostro as head coach in 2008. They won three of the four trophies available in 2013, and as of writing in April 2016, they have won the BBL’s Trophy completion and currently lead the league standings with a few games to play.
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 food and beverage items offered are basic, but absolutely adequate for the size of venue and crowds the Riders get. There are two food stands, and both are at the far end of the venue. One sells hot food and drinks and the other sells snacks, sweets, and soft drinks. The food options are nachos, burgers, hot dogs (£3), and pies (£2.50) with hot drinks selling for £1. Even with this solitary stand queues never built up, even during the halftime interval. For anyone wanting alcohol there are several bars - one beneath each stand and one in the Kevin Routledge suite on the upper level.
Note that cash is the only payment accepted at the concession stalls.
You enter the arena through the main entrance and this leads you to the reception area, which is where you can collect and purchase tickets. There are two entrances to the seating area - the first one is for the Granby Stand and is also where the club sets up their merchandise stall. The second is along the corridor to the Victory Stand and the concession stands. The toilets, changing rooms and lockers are located along the corridor as well. All of the seating is reserved and apart from the ones behind the far end, they are of the fold up type. The ones in the lower levels are padded and these cost more than the standard plastic ones. A plus point is that there is plenty of leg room, helpful when anyone is over six foot.
There are two big screens behind both baskets but these do not show any in-game replays etc, only the score and other video footage. Located between the two benches are the scorers and PA announcer, and this is very clear throughout the venue helped by excellent acoustics. The announcer does a good job in explaining what is going on through the game, and with music being played at the correct times, this is a plus on the club's part.
The fans do know when to raise the volume when needed, and even though the chants are only "defence" and "riders," these reverberate around the venue.
The venue is located on a small industrial estate on the northern edge of the city centre and there is nothing in the immediate vicinity. The main shopping area (the Highcross) is only a fifteen minute walk away, either going down Belgrave Gate or Burleys Way. Here you will find a large range of the usual chain stores that are common throughout the UK. There is also a selection of eating establishments that cover all tastes, a cinema, and casino. If you look a bit off the beaten track in the numerous arcades you will find plenty of independent shops.
Leicester is not a city that immediately comes to mind when looking at somewhere to visit. In 2015 the city received a lot of attention due to the reburial of the remains of King Richard III, and there is a new visitor centre next to the cathedral. Inside the cathedral visitors can see the new tomb, though no flash photography is permitted. Leicester is also an old Roman city that is located along the Fosse Way - a Roman road that ran diagonally across the country, and artefacts from this period can be viewed in the Jewry Wall Museum. The National Space Centre is the main visitor attraction in the city and is located 1 ½ miles away in a northerly direction.
If you have the time, then head outside of the city as the county is worth taking the time to explore. There are pleasant market towns like Melton Mowbray and Market Harborough, and numerous visitor attractions like the ruined castles at Kirby Muxloe and Ashby-de-la-Zouch, the Great Central Railway, Foxton Locks and the battlefield site at Market Bosworth.
A complete mix of people attend the Riders games with a good proportion being made up of families. With the team moving back to the city you also get a mix of the hard core support that have been watching the team for years, relative newbies who have only been into the sport for a few years, and complete novices. Supporters of visiting teams can mix freely within the venue and there is no segregation or designated seating sections.
With the venue being located on an industrial estate, there is no actual onsite parking, but there are plenty within a short walk away. If you get there early enough then you can use the industrial estate itself, or there are a number of car parks nearby. An example being the Highcross John Lewis which takes no more than fifteen minutes and only costs £2.50 between 5pm and 6am. With a lot of the Riders games being played in the evenings this is ideal.
For anyone using public transport the main bus station (St. Margaret's) is a 10 minute walk, while the railway station is on the other side of the city centre and will take around 20 minutes.
The club operate three ticket price categories for home games and this depends on where you want to sit, and also the type of seat. Ticket prices are also cheaper if bought in advance as the price rises if purchased on the day. An example of the advance adult prices are VIP (£35), sideline rows A-N (£14), sideline rows P-U and the ends (£11). There are also discounted seats for concessions and children, as well as family ticket deals.
It is an excellent value for the money for the product on offer. Every seat gives a decent view of the on court action, and given the size of the arena you are not that far away, even if on the back row of the sideline.
Also you can buy tickets well in advance and unlike a lot of other teams and companies, you do not need to create an account beforehand.
The club offer a number of extras for the supporters. Firstly the club issue a programme which retails at £3. They also have a merchandise stall which sells mainly clothing. Examples being polo shirts (£12), replica jerseys (£45) and baseball caps (£20). Both cash and debit/credit cards are accepted forms of payment.
The club have teamed up with pogoseat which allows fans to enhance or upgrade their experience ahead of their visit. Examples being signed jerseys (£50), signed balls (£65) and seat upgrades and VIP lounge access (£20). Another service that they offer is for fans to receive a birthday cake at halftime with a photo with a player of their choice, and this costs £45 and has to be booked in advance via the club itself.
Finally at halftime, the club allow children to have a shot at the basket, and during the game 50/50 raffle tickets are sold with the winner announced during a time out in the fourth quarter.
You may not get the quality of the NBA or Euro League, but the quality is certainly improving, and clubs are allowed to have three non-EU passport holders on their roster and these tend to be Americans. An evening out watching the Riders, taking into account admission, food, drink and programme provides excellent value for the money compared to other spectator sports.
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156-160 St Nicholas Cir
Leicester, England LE1 4LB
+44 116 225 4971
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