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Official Review by Jason Bullock, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Heading to a concert, circus, Disney show or high school graduation in Northern Virginia? Then there is a likely chance you are going to the Patriot Center in Fairfax. However, those are all temporary tenants of the nearly two-decade-old arena that is the permanent home of the George Mason Patriots basketball team. A charter member of the Colonial Athletic Association, the Patriots joined the Atlantic-10 conference in 2013, following VCU and Richmond, who were fellow CAA members.
The Patriot Center is the first arena located on a college campus to be managed by a private company - Monumental Entertainment, which also owns the Washington Wizards, Capitals and Mystics, along with the Verizon Center. It is not often a week goes by throughout the year without something happening at the 10,000-seat Patriot Center, making it one of the most attended arenas in the country for its size.
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".
First, the good news. You cannot possibly go hungry at a game at the Patriot Center. There are multiple concession stands that have some great options, so before making a decision, take some time to walk around the concourse to make sure you don't miss something better than what you got. You will find all of the normal game day foods along with a variety you won't see in many of the local college arenas. The majority of stands take credit cards, but there is an ATM on-site, in case you need cash.
Barbecue (pork, chicken or beef) sandwiches, chicken burritos, your choice of turkey, roast beef or veggie wraps and black bean burgers all come with a side of chips. Steak and cheese sandwiches, Italian sausage, beef sliders and fried shrimp all come with an order of fries. There is something for everybody. I had the turkey and cheese melt on a pretzel roll, and while it was tasty, it was not exactly a 'melt,' as it was mostly cold and didn't quite meet my expectations. Local pizzeria Paisano's has pizza for $5 a slice and Chick-fil-A has a stand with their signature sandwich for $5.50 Fountain sodas are provided by Coca-Cola and are $5 for a large and $4 for a medium. Bottled water, Powerade and Monster energy drinks are also available for purchase. Need some dessert to top it off? Ice cream is available for $5 in a cake cone or a cup, $6 in a waffle cone or bowl.
With all of this, what possible bad news could I have? I found the prices to be a little high for the quality of food I received. Most of the sandwich platters listed above run $9-$11, and even though they come with fries or chips, there is not an option to buy without. If you are looking for a single item, hot dogs and corn dogs are $6 and mozzarella sticks are $8.
Eating at the Patriot Center could be an expensive addition to your game day experience. For the money spent here, you could go and have a nice meal at my restaurant recommendation below.
Your first impression upon approaching the Patriot Center from the outside is that it doesn't appear to be anything special. Once inside, you will find a few distinguishing features that should come to mind anytime someone mentions the home of George Mason.
If you are purchasing tickets or heading to Will Call, you will need to use the box office at the west entrance. If you already have tickets in hand, you can use any entrance. After you get your ticket scanned through, you will find the section numbers are located above each portal in the main concourse, and finding your section is pretty easy. A tip that may help you find your seat quicker is that seat numbers run low to high from right to left if you are sitting down.
Where is the best place to sit? Students sit in 123 and 124 in one end zone, so anything in surrounding sections will have you close to them. The band is in section 109, and while I normally recommend putting some distance between yourself and the school band, this is one arena where you need to seat yourself as close as possible.
The Green Machine is the school pep band, and is an integral part of the entertainment at any home game. Led by Doc Nix, the 'Machine' plays a variety of music that reaches beyond the typical songs you hear at a college basketball game. Do a search on YouTube and you will see what I'm talking about. While the band is great on its own, Doc Nix brings some extra flair with his costumes and style of conducting that has made him and the band a fan favorite. The school sells bobbleheads of his likeness in the concourse during the game and he has a sandwich named after him at a local restaurant. Even if you aren't a basketball fan, this group is fun to watch and listen to.
Back to seating, you will find every seat in the arena is either gold or green, the school colors. While I understand the relevance, I found the color scheme made the arena feel old and boring to me as a fan, taking a little away from the atmosphere. All seats are of the fold-down variety and I found them also to be a little narrow and uncomfortable.
There is a scoreboard that hangs over center court that displays all of the normal game information, along with points and fouls for each of the players on the floor. There are also LED screens in each corner of the arena, but those are mostly used for photos of Patriot players and for ads. You will not find a live/replay video screen either, so be sure to pay attention to what is going on in front of you, as there are no second chances to see a play. There are also video screens in the concourse that only show ads and upcoming game information. It would be great if those showed live game play while fans are waiting for food or heading to the restroom. While you are out in the concourse, be sure to take note of moments throughout Patriot history that are displayed at the top of the outer walls celebrating the success of the program.
Cheerleaders and dance squad are present throughout the game and the promotions department does a good job of weaving entertainment into the breaks in play without overdoing it.
Lastly, you will find the Final Four banner from the 2005-06 season hanging proudly in the rafters of the Patriot Center. There are other banners honoring conference titles and tournament appearances, but it adds an aura to the arena having that special one on display.
There is not much to do in the immediate area of the campus of George Mason. Downtown Fairfax is about a mile away, but I would not consider it an area attractive to tourists. A restaurant recommendation that is close by at University Mall is Brion's Grille. One look at the walls inside shows they are great supporters of the Patriots and local community. If you go, try a Doc Nix crab cake sandwich - it's served on an English muffin and is delicious!
If you need accommodations, The Mason Inn is a great option, as it is located on campus and is within walking distance. If you're looking for shopping, Fair Lakes Mall is 15 minutes west and Tyson's Corner is 20 minutes east. Both will meet your shopping needs, but Tyson's is a little more upscale in its offerings and has a better selection of eating establishments.
If you're willing to venture a little further, you can be in downtown Washington, D.C. in about 45 minutes during non-rush hour traffic. There are plenty of sights to see and things to do in our nation's capital - many of them free (or almost) - so if you're going to visit, plan your time to get the most out of your experience.
George Mason has a solid fan base that are into the Patriots and represent the school well. The game I most recently attended had a good mix of students, alumni and local residents there to support the home team. I was surprised at the number of empty seats in the lower level, as those sections were sold out and the Patriots were playing a local school (George Washington) that is competitive. While I didn't notice any particular chants or cheers that would be a signature of the home crowd, the fans are vocal for the home team and are appreciative of good play.
With the center being located on campus and in a pretty heavy traffic area, I recommend leaving early and being prepared for delays if being in your seat for opening tip is important to you. The entrance off of Braddock Road is the most common and gets you to the parking lot very easily. Parking is free, abundant and located very close to the arena.
Getting through the gate is easy enough, as your ticket is scanned in and once inside, you will find a decent size concourse that never appears to be overcrowded. Restrooms are located throughout the concourse and while you may note lines during halftime, you will not find a wait that will make you miss the start of the second half.
Whether you purchase a ticket close to the floor or all the way at the top of the arena, the price is the same - $20 for adults and $11 for youth (18 & under). That price is good if you purchase them in person at the box office before the day of the game. Waiting until game day will increase the price $2, a potential 15% increase for a family of four. If you wish to purchase online, you will be directed to Ticketmaster where fees add at least $5 to the cost of each ticket. These additional fees can have a serious drain on your entertainment budget over time.
Parking is free, but with higher than average food prices and the extra fees that make a spur of the moment decision to attend a game more expensive, there is an average return on investment on a game at the Patriot Center.
Free programs are available in the main concourse each game day and are a welcome bonus for any fan.
Although Doc Nix and the Green Machine were noted earlier, they both deserve a point and a mention here. The energy and enthusiasm they bring to the arena is a definite asset to the home team and is appreciated as a fan.
The Patriots have built a solid basketball program that the school can be proud of and play good competition in the A-10. While they haven't recreated that Final Four magic from almost a decade ago, between the play on the court and the energy of the Green Machine you can't go wrong taking in a game at the Patriot Center.
Member Review by gtcrawley on Feb 27, 2012
The Patriot Center in Fairfax, VA, is home to the George Mason University Men’s Basketball team. This mid-major arena for this mid-major team in a mid-major city delivers a mid-major experience.
Member Review by senorr on Dec 17, 2013
The arena is kind of bland. The students are sort of into the game but the rest of the fans aren't really. The arena is a little too big. Tickets cost about $20 but then there are also Ticketmaster fees. I'd recommend George Washington which is a much better experience for less.
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