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.
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 Smoothie King Center provides a wide-variety of quality concession options. The combination of quality and variety comes with a significant price tag, however. Though the price is steep, it's no more than you'd expect at other NBA arenas around the country. If you have a craving, chances are there's something to satisfy your appetite.
Your arena staples are on hand including hot dogs for $5.75 and popcorn for $5.50. Soda options are Pepsi brand products and run from $4.50 for a regular size to $6.75 for a souvenir cup. Bottled water is available for $4. It wouldn't be New Orleans if there wasn't plenty of alcohol available. Beer will run you about $6 for a regular to $9.50 for a large and you'll find a good sampling of local craft beer available. There's also several stands where you can get liquor and mixed drinks.
Outside of the staples, there are specialty stands including Triple B's Cajun Corner (offers several Cajun style dishes), Geaux Mac (a variety of mac and cheese dishes), Dixie BBQ, and much more. The Three Point Grill is a great stop for a family planning to do some sharing where you can pick up three gourmet items for just $20, with various specials every game.
If you are sitting in the lower tier along the sidelines, you'll have convenience of ordering directly from your seat. Attendants will pass through from time to time to take your order and return with your food. This allows you to experience concessions without the annoyance of missing extensive periods of the game standing in line.
History. Originally constructed in 1999, the Smoothie King Center (formerly named the New Orleans Arena) was constructed with the specific purpose to lure an NBA franchise to the city. The perfect opportunity arose when former Charlotte Hornets' owner Charles Shinn decided to relocate his franchise. The Hornets would later be purchased by the owner of the New Orleans Saints, Tom Benson. Soon after, the team would change to a more regionally inspired name, the Pelicans. Though the name initially brought plenty of moans and laughter, it seems as though the city is coming around. A strong criticism of the former Hornets franchise is that it never quite felt like the team belonged to New Orleans. It was Charlotte's team, and for a brief period after Hurricane Katrina, very nearly Oklahoma City's team. With local ownership and a new name, fans are getting more comfortable with the idea that the Pelicans are here to stay.
Arena Layout and Aesthetics. There seems to be an arms race in the NBA to see which arena can install the largest video boards. The Pelicans haven't joined in. Though such an expense certainly wouldn't be a cheap fix, enhancing the video boards in the Smoothie King Center would help to improve the overall experience. The current video boards get the job done, but don't provide a "wow" factor. Outside of improving the video board, the overall layout and aesthetics within the arena are excellent. When the crowd is in the game, the arena can be quite deafening.
Entertainment. As you approach the arena, you'll notice an interactive area between the Superdome and the Smoothie King Center on Girod Street during pre-game coined the Pelican Fest. Here you'll have the opportunity to get autographs from the Pelican Dance Team, take in the sounds of a local band, and participate in several games. Be sure to arrive early enough to check this party out. It significantly adds to the overall game day experience.
Inside the arena, entertainment is headlined by both Pierre T. Pelican and the Pelicans Dance Team. Though the promotions team is working hard to keep fans engaged throughout the breaks, something seems missing. The atmosphere, at times, can be pretty flat and uninspiring.
Immediate Area. One of the great strengths of the overall Pelican game-day experience is the location of the Smoothie King Center just about a mile away from the historic and entertainment packed French Quarter. Situated in New Orleans' Central Business District (CBD) adjacent to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the immediate area provides plenty of excellent restaurant and attractions which often do not get the same attention that their French Quarter neighbors do. Though you'll undoubtedly visit the world famous French Quarter and Bourbon Street during your stay, there are a few options in the CBD worth exploring as well for frequent visitors.
Where to Eat. In the CBD, there's countless quality restaurants within walking distance of the arena. Previously voted as one of the best sports-pubs in the nation, be sure to try Walk-Ons. The sports-themed restaurant boasts a great beer selection (including a dispenser right at your table!), pub-style food, an outdoor balcony, and televisions everywhere. Reginelli's is a good local spot for pizza. Both Manning's and Drago's (try the charbroiled oysters) are located near Harrah's casino which would be quite a walk, but both are worth the trip. If you drive, you can save on parking by finding a spot in the Harrah's parking garage, if you are planning to do a little gambling while in town. The casino offers to foot your parking bill if you gamble for at least an hour while inside (see casino for stipulations).
Attractions and Entertainment. New Orleans is well known as a travel destination so there's plenty to do. If you are into the party atmosphere, you could spend the entire stay on Bourbon Street alone and still not conquer the strip. The greater French Quarter area also provides must-stops like Jackson Square, the Saint Louis Cathedral, the French Market, and Frenchman Street (known for some of the better jazz clubs). Some of the more off-the-radar stops in the immediate area around the arena (CBD) include the World War II Museum, Harrah's Casino, and Fulton Street Square.
Where to Stay. As a major tourism city, it's hard not to find a quality hotel in the area. While there's plenty of hotels in the region, the price can be a bit steep as well. Just south of the CBD is the Garden District. It's not the French Quarter but that's part of the charm. It's a calmer and a bit safer area for an extended stay (if you aren't planning to spend the entire visit on Bourbon). I recommend staying at the Best Western off St. Charles. It will provide a comfortable stay that's within walking distance to Magazine Street and just a short drive to the Smoothie King Center.
While New Orleans is heralded as one of the most passionate and vocal NFL cities, something is still missing in its connection with the NBA. Some have argued that New Orleans doesn't have a large enough or wealthy enough population to support a second professional team, especially one that plays about 40 home games instead of 8 like the NFL. Even with some of the more affordable ticket prices in the league, the Smoothie King Center often has plenty of available seating. The average attendance is annual near the bottom five in the league.
Even on nights where the arena is at capacity, something is missing in the atmosphere. You just don't feel that same level of excitement or urgency as attending a Saints game. In defense of Pelican fans, the team hasn't given them much to be excited about over recent years, beyond a growing young superstar. If the Pelicans can put a solid playoff run together, New Orleans just might start to rally around this team.
Access around and into the Smoothie King Center isn't quite the nightmare you'd expect an arena located in the middle of a central business district to be. Though traffic on the major interstates and highways in the New Orleans area can become overly congested during rush hour, that's the norm in major cities. As you approach the arena, you'll find ample parking in the Superdome garage just across the street for about $15. From the lot, it's a very quick walk to the Smoothie King Center.
Recent upgrades to the arena have alleviated most of the headaches related to picking up or ordering tickets. Once you have your tickets, you'll breeze into the arena gates. For both levels of seating, there's a major set of escalators leading the way, which is a big convenience.
You'll find the concourses and aisles within the seating areas spacious enough to get around comfortably. You shouldn't encounter any lines in the restrooms.
The value of attending a Pelicans game is exceptionally high. Ticket prices start as low as $14 in the upper-deck end line seats and around $70+ for sideline lower-deck seats. It's really hard to beat these price ranges to watch a growing young superstar and great NBA competition. During the 2014-15 season, the Pelicans are offering several advantageous ticket packages. "Pierre's Party Pack" is a great deal for families. For as low as $48, you get three tickets, three combo meals and an on-court free throw experience with Pierre. There's also the "Guys Night Out 6-Pack" which provides two tickets, four beers and two Pelicans t-shirts for as low as $46. Both promotions are offered on a limited schedule, but provide even more value for fans looking to save a couple dollars.
Concessions are a bit outrageous, but that's unfortunately become a norm in the NBA. The $15 parking fee really isn't that bad, considering that you are parking in a major downtown area.
If you aren't getting your money's worth out of a Pelicans game, you aren't trying.
There are several unique factors to the Pelican fan experience at the Smoothie King Center. The pregame Pelican Fest serves as a party before you even step foot inside the arena. Depending whether or not you are into the band playing during the fest, the atmosphere could be worth the price of a cover charge (though there obviously isn't one). The fest is a treat especially for families. There's plenty of games for kids to participate in and they may even get to meet Pierre T. Pelican and the Pelicans Dance Team.
What other NBA team is hosted in the backyard of the French Quarter? Before and after the game, you're surrounded by one the best event host cities in the world. Even if your team loses, you'll have plenty of reasons and opportunities to celebrate.
The Pelicans franchise is devoid of a celebrated long history, there is currently an NBA legend in the making. Anthony Davis is a budding elite superstar. It's worth the price of admission just to see this guy fill-up the stat sheet and to get to tell your friends you saw him in action.
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.
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