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Official Review by Paul Hilchen, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
2014 was the inaugural season for the AFL’s Portland Thunder. They are the 3rd major league sports team in Portland, the other 2 being the NBA’s Trailblazersand MLS’ Timbers. The Thunder is the 2nd AFL team to call Portland home. From 1997 – 1999, the Portland Forest Dragons called the Moda Center, then the Rose Garden, home. The Moda Center and Memorial Coliseum (home of the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks), sit proudly in the Rose Quarter, overlooking the Willamette River.
An AFL game is a high intensity, exciting, family-friendly experience. If you crave a fast-paced, high scoring experience, take in an AFL game.
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 Moda Center has enlisted the services of local restaurants as well as the corporate catering that graces most stadiums and arenas. Just some of what's available:
Guaco Taco - Carne Asada Taco - $10
Seven Rivers Smokehouse BBQ - Pulled Pork/Pulled Chicken Sandwich - $9.75
Crafters Grill - Hot Dogs - $5.50, Polish Dogs - $6.50. Sodas $5.50 & $6.50, Souvenir Cups $9.00
Beer and wine, being staples in the NW, also have various options: Widmer Fan Haus & Pyramid Tap Room - Well drinks - $8, Wine - $8 and beer $8-9.
As the Thunder continues to establish themselves and grow their fan base, there are more options that may become available.
The players enter the arena to AC/DC's "Thunderstruck". Lights and smoke accompany the players as well. It's an exciting spectacle. As the team establishes themselves in the fabric of Portland, the atmosphere at the games can only improve. Being that the building is the home of the Blazers, the only signs of the Thunder is the fan shop.
There are a few places of interest close to the arena, however most are downtown. Dr. Jack's, a tribute to former Trailblazer coach Dr. Jack Ramsay, is right across the commons. It is basketball fans hangout before and after Blazer games. The Sting Ray Café is within a block or two and features hot pastrami. Downtown, Voodoo Doughnut is a must see attraction. Even though the lines there are usually long, they go fairly quickly and the doughnuts are worth the wait. The Lan Su Chinese Garden is also downtown and is great for taking a relaxing stroll while observing Chinese art and architecture.
It's not reasonable to expect a brand new team to have a big following, but the crowd is an involved crowd. Portland is a great sports town, and the fans get behind whatever sport they are watching. There is little of the "just wanted to do something different tonight" crowd. For the size of the crowd, approx. 30-35% full, the building was loud and engaged despite the team's record, 2-7 at the time.
If you are driving to a Thunder game, there are a few parking garages near the arena. There are also businesses that will allow you to park in their lot for a fee.
Public transportation is the most hassle-free way to get to the Moda Center. Tri-Met's MAX (light rail), stops on the south and west side of the Rose Quarter. The Portland Streetcar, stops on the north side.
Inside the arena, there are wide concourses making it easy to get around, even if there are a lot of people. Physically challenged attendees also have an easy time getting around. There are 20 sections for handicapped fans, some of which are in the 300 level, which was blocked off at the game I attended.
Tickets range from $15 - $200. The $200 seats are right up against the field, which puts you literally up close and personal to the game. Generally, a few fans in the lower sections come away with a game used ball be it from an errant pass, or a player tossing one into the crowd after a turnover. The fan shops have t-shirts, hats and jerseys. You may also purchase official footballs. Overall, a Thunder game is a good value for your money.
The team employs "The Uni-piper" - a bag piper that shoots fire out of the ends of his pipes. It's quite a sight. Thor is the team's mascot. They definitely cater to the kids. I was fortunate enough to attend on Military Appreciation Night. There was a ceremony to enlist 23 individuals to the Oregon Army National Guard at halftime. Thunder Snacks are available - 100% Buffalo jerky & sticks. A bag of sticks will run $10, a half pound of the jerky, $20, and one pound $40. A little spendy, but very tasty.
It is difficult to review an arena for a first year team that plays in a building that is so dominated by its main tenant. With that being said, the Moda Center, along with the Thunder, provides an enjoyable experience for their fans. They are off to a good start and the sky's the limit as far as the experience that is provided.
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240 N Broadway
Portland, OR 97227
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