New Orleans has a long, if not illustrious, history of professional basketball. In 1947 the Professional Basketball League of America placed the Hurricanes in the Crescent City. After playing only eight games, the league folded. The following year saw the Sports of the Southern Basketball League come to town. The Sports went a sparkling 7-24, and saw this league fold after one season.
In 1967, the American Basketball Association placed the Buccaneers in New Orleans. The team made the league finals in their first year, but after three seasons, relocated to Memphis. Four years later, the National Basketball Association placed the expansion Jazz in the city. Despite having local legend "Pistol" Pete Maravich on the roster, the Jazz lasted only five seasons before moving to Utah. Even women's pro hoops, in the form of WPB'’s Pride, was unable to gain a foothold, lasting only two years from 1979-1981.
In 2002 the Charlotte Hornets were lured by the newly built New Orleans Arena. Hurricane Katrina forced the team to play in Oklahoma City for two seasons from 2005-2007 while the city of New Orleans rebuilt, even though the arena suffered only slight damage. Rumors abounded at this time that the Hornets were on the move to OKC at this time.
The team, looking to forge a local identity, changed their name to the Pelicans in 2013. The Hornets/Pelicans have yet to experience a whole lot of success, winning only one division title and one playoff series during their time in Louisiana.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The Smoothie King Center offers all your standard stadium fare mixed in with a healthy sampling of local flavor, which makes for a great variety of concession options for visiting Pelican fans.
A mix of permanent and portable stands offer arena standards such as hot dogs, sausage sandwiches, burgers, cheesesteaks, pizza, nachos, french fries, pretzels and popcorn. For those fans who want to kick up their culinary experience a bit, many of these items can be upgraded. Instead of a regular hot dog, try a BBQ hot dog, topped with pulled pork and BBQ sauce. Instead of plain nachos, head over to Nola Nachos and top your nachos with seafood, or over to Dixie BBQ to top your nachos with pulled pork or beef. Waffle fries can come plain, or loaded with a variety of toppings.
For fans who just can't get enough of the local Cajun flavor, many items at the Smoothie King Center reflect the diverse local cuisine. Among the many items you may only find here in New Orleans include local favorites red beans and rice, fried shrimp, jambalaya, beignets, po boys, and catfish. Of course, a basketball game may not be your first choice when looking for some local flavor, but the Smoothie King Center certainly offers a diverse menu.
Pepsi products are featured here at the Smoothie King Center, with the greatest value coming in a refillable souvenir cup that costs seven dollars. Fans looking for an adult beverage will undoubtedly be pleased to find several bars scattered throughout both the upper and lower concourses, some of which offer views of the action.
The atmosphere at a New Orleans Pelicans game will depend entirely on the day of the week you visit the Smoothie King Center, as well as the opponent visiting on any particular evening. Crowds vary greatly depending on these factors.
Before the game be sure to check out Pelican Fest, located on Girod Street in between the Superdome and Smoothie King Center. Pelican Fest features live music, games for the kids, and appearances by the team's mascot and dance team. It's a good way to get pumped up for the action taking place inside.
The Pelicans do put on a good show that is similar to many across the NBA. The team's mascot, Pierre T. Pelican, interacts with the fans and the dance team to keep the energy in the arena at high levels. There are your standard t-shirt tosses and sponsor giveaways throughout play stoppages, as well as interactive contests through social media. Music is played throughout the game, which can be distracting or come off as bush league to traditional hoops fans, but which does not seem to bother most fans today.
There is a large video board hanging at center court, which plays highlights, shows crowd shots and is well utilized in the game day presentation. Located in each of the arena's four corners are smaller video boards which display game and player statistics.
The Smoothie King Center is located in the Central Business District of New Orleans, about a mile from the world famous French Quarter and Bourbon Street. While the area immediately surrounding the Smoothie King Center cannot be described as bustling, there are a few places in the area favored by locals. Walk Ons pub was named as the best sports bar in the nation in 2015 by ESPN, and features a standard pub style menu, an extensive beer list and numerous televisions through the facility. Reginelli's is a favorite pizza spot.
If visiting from out of town, you will undoubtedly be visiting the French Quarter and Bourbon Street. With the basketball season stretching from October to May, it overlaps with New Orleans' most famous event, Mardi Gras. If visiting the city during this time, a Pelicans game may provide you with a break from the festivities happening elsewhere throughout New Orleans.
There is no shortage of places to stay, eat or visit in New Orleans. If spending any length of time in New Orleans, be sure to check out the World War 2 Museum, one of the best museums in the nation. Architecture junkies will want to tour the Garden District, home to one of the largest collections of historic mansions in the southern United States. Of course, New Orleans is best known for its party and music scenes. The list of things to do and places to go here are endless.
The crowd on any given night at the Smoothie King Center is going to vary greatly depending on the day of the week, time of year and opponent on the day of your visit.
Overall, the Pelicans are averaging 15,500 fans per game about a third of the way through the 2016-17 season, placing the team in the bottom third of the NBA rankings. While weekend games are usually sold out, weekday games can be quite sparsely attended. The team's recent struggles on the court have a lot to do with the decline in attendance recently.
While the Pelicans have struggled to carve out an identity in the New Orleans sports scene, the fans who regularly come to the Smoothie King Center are passionate and knowledgeable about their team.
The Smoothie King Center is located literally in the shadow of the Mercedes Benz Superdome. The arena's location in the Central Business District of New Orleans is a plus, as the numerous parking lots and garages that surround the facility, built for crowds of 70,000, are more than adequate for the smaller basketball crowd. Located at the junction of Interstate 10 and Route 90, Smoothie King Center is easy to get to, keeping in mind that weekday traffic in the area can be difficult to deal with. For detailed directions to the arena and parking, check the Smoothie King Center website.
Fans utilizing public transportation will be pleased to learn that there are bus stops on nearby Poydras Street, just on the other side of the Superdome. Streetcars stop on nearby Loyola Avenue. New Orleans' Amtrak station and Greyhound depot are within a short walking distance of the Smoothie King Center.
Fans will enter the arena either at street level into a large atrium which houses the pro shop and ticket booths, or on the 100 level concourse if coming from the parking structure next door. Escalators lead from ground level up to the 100 and 300 level concourses. Before heading up to your seats, be sure to check out the exhibits on New Orleans pro basketball history and the display of every high school basketball jersey in the state of Louisiana.
The 100 level concourse is very wide and easy to get around. Numerous concession stands are located around the outer rim of the concourse, as are numerous portable stands. Areas where fans can sit and enjoy their food are mixed in. The 300 level concourse, while not as spacious, is still easily navigated. Rest rooms are clean and plentiful enough to handle the typical Pelicans crowd, although lines do form at halftime.
The seating bowl consists of individual folding stadium seats which are comfortable and offer excellent sight lines from all areas.
The Pelicans offer the second most affordable game day experience in the NBA, according to the annual team marketing report of 2015. While prices have increased a bit across the board since this report, attending a game at the Smoothie King Center remains one of the most affordable in the league.
The Pelicans utilize variable pricing for their home games, so a little research is required to narrow down exact ticket pricing. For many games, tickets can be found for as little as $15, and lower bowl seats can be found for as little as $20. Check the team website for particulars.
The Pelicans offer several package deals to help make a night at a Pelicans game even more affordable. Pierre's Party Packs feature tickets, combo meals and an on-court free throw contest with the team's mascot for as little as $48, while the Guy's Night Out package includes tickets, collectible pint glasses, and free drinks starting at $50.
Parking in the many garages and surface lots around the Smoothie King Center will cost $20. With concession prices below the average for an NBA facility, attending a New Orleans Pelicans game will not break the bank.
Extra points are awarded for the history of professional basketball in New Orleans exhibit and the LSHAA "State of Basketball" exhibit located behind the pro shop. The historic jerseys are worth a look for any basketball fan.
Be sure to arrive early to take in the Pelicans Fest. Live music, games for the kids, and photo opportunities with Pierre T. Pelican and the Pelicans Dance Team get the party atmosphere started before you even enter the arena.
A final extra point is awarded for what may be the best host city in the country. Whether your team wins or loses, you will be sure to go home with some great memories of your visit to New Orleans.
The Smoothie King Center was built in 1999 for the singular purpose of luring an NBA team to New Orleans. Just three years later, the Hornets arrived. Unfortunately, even after a decade and a half in New Orleans, the Pelicans are still struggling to carve out their niche in the city. Make no mistake, this town belongs to the Saints. Even finding Pelicans gear in the shops around town is next to impossible. Still, the Smoothie King Center is a solid facility, and offers a great compliment to the other activities going on elsewhere in the city. Hopefully when the Pelicans improve on the court, the fans will return.
Follow Paul Baker's stadium journeys on Twitter @PuckmanRI.
The New Orleans Arena seats up to 18,000 depending on the event. Regardless of the type and nature of the event, there are no seats that should be considered as "bad" seats. The sight lines are excellent, regardless of where you sit. The primary differences between the most expensive and least expensive seats are your proximity to the action in the event and the amount of leg and hip room in the seat. The New Orleans Arena provides a first-class experience and is definitely worthy of a visit. If only the team was better. Maybe next year.
The New Orleans Arena was opened in October of 1999 adjacent to the Superdome in the Central Business District (CBD) of New Orleans. Though the arena was built as a multi-purpose facility capable of hosting the many various events from sporting to entertainment that frequent the New Orleans area, there’s little doubt that the venue’s sole purpose of construction was to entice the NBA to locate (or relocate) a franchise there. New Orleans had been without basketball since the Jazz left the city and their home venue of the Superdome after only five years in 1979 for Utah. Though the arena would open in 1999 as host to minor league hockey featuring the now defunct New Orleans Brass of the ECHL, the city and venue would secure the relocation of the Charlotte Hornets in 2002.
With the Jazz heading to Utah, New Orleans lost a nickname which identified closely with the city and region and Utah gained a name which didn’t fit at all. Brand development often creates these strange nickname-city misfits when franchises relocate. A leading reason for the fan-support struggle is thought to be that the nickname “Hornets” just doesn’t fit in with the New Orleans culture and will always feel like Charlotte’s team is temporarily in town. For that reason, it was announced in 2013 that the Hornets would be renamed as the Pelicans.
Regardless of the name, New Orleans’ NBA franchise will continue to call the decade-old and counting New Orleans Arena home. The arena’s construction cost about $114 million and developed a facility which sits atop 17,000 square feet and 70 feet tall. For NBA games, the listed capacity is approximately 18,500.
The 2014 season saw the NBA All-Star Game take place in New Orleans. Less than a month before the festivities, local beverage maker Smoothie King, realizing the potential for some nationwide exposure during one of the most popular sporting events on the calendar, negotiated the naming rights to the basketball venue and the rather dully dubbed New Orleans Arena was suddenly the Smoothie King Center. This was not the only recent change in New Orleans, as the Hornets became the Pelicans during the off-season, leading to some raised eyebrows in other NBA cities. Well, the brown pelican is the state bird of Louisiana, so the new moniker made sense to the locals, who generally don’t care about the opinions of outsiders much anyway.
There were also some physical changes made to the arena, with the first phase of a $50 million renovation program having been completed in time for the 2013-2014 season. Most of the changes affected the club spaces, but there were also additions of a Party Perch, loge seating, as well as larger locker rooms.
So would a new team name, a new corporate sponsor for the venue, and enhanced seating options change the overall experience in New Orleans? We went there to find out.
Not the nicest arena to catch a game. It's kind of dirty inside. the atmosphere isn't great and there aren't to many extras. The location isn't bad. The food is ok but nothing special. Prices aren't bad. A great young team and I hope they improve ext year so more people come to the games. Hopefully prices stay low so people come.
A trip to the Smoothie King Center for a New Orleans Pelicans game has almost everything a traveling fan could ask for: an elite NBA player in action (Anthony Davis), non-stopped area entertainment, excellent concessions, a variety of drink options, and the perfect host city: New Orleans. The Pelican experience extends far beyond simply taking in on-court NBA action. There are endless opportunities for great food and entertainment before and after the game.
Though the Smoothie King Center certainly sits in the shadow of its next door neighbor, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, “The Nest” has quickly developed into a staple in the New Orleans Central Business District (CBD) by also serving as home to various concerts, events, and the AFL’s Voodoo.
If you are a fan of the NBA or visiting New Orleans, catching a Pelicans game during Mardi Gras season (typically between late January through February) is a can’t miss opportunity. You’ll get to see the city at her best, catch a few Mardi Gras beads, and enjoy elite NBA action all in the same neighborhood.
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