Sleep Train Arena; it still feels strange calling it that. From 1988 to 2011 the home of the Sacramento Kings was known at ARCO Arena, a staple of the Northern California entertainment scene.
The Kings' and the arena's finest hour came in 2002 when they squared off in the Western Conference Finals with the Los Angeles Lakers. The series went to seven games and many fans will remind you that Tim Donaghy had some interesting things to say about.
After a few more years of successful playoff seasons the team, and by extension, the facility in which they play has been mired in mediocrity. George, Joe and Gavin Maloof have subjected the fans to a series of mismanagement, carelessness and deceit in attempts to build a new arena for their franchise elsewhere. Many people hypothesize that it is related to the poor business decisions at their Palms resort in Las Vegas.
In February 2012, the city of Sacramento and their mayor, former NBA player Kevin Johnson, reached a deal with the Maloofs to keep the Kings in Sacramento in an estimated $387 million arena near the rail yards in downtown Sacramento. The Maloofs would pay $75 million up front and the arena could open by 2015. the Maloofs backed out of the deal in April 2012.
In August 2012, the Maloofs met with Virginia Beach, VA officials to discuss a possible move.
In September 2012, Seattle threw its name into the list of suitors.
All of this while the Kings flounder in Sacramento and cautious fans are uncertain of how to spend their hard-earned money.
The Sacramento Monarchs of the WNBA also called the arena home from 1997 to 2009 and won the WNBA title in 2005.
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The signature "Kings Dog" is available alongside all the other traditional fare such as nachos, chicken strips, popcorn, etc.
They have several specialty stands such as Jimboy's Taco's, Pizza Guys, Banh Mi sandwiches and rice bowls, and a carving station. They also have a seemingly out of place, large wine stand with wood finishing. It was closed during my visit.
I would have loved to see more craft beer options as it is located in the hotbed that is California. I did track down a 20 ounce Sierra Nevada in the $9 range, a few bucks cheaper than the same item at Oracle Arena.
The have two main restaurant venues on site. The Skyline restaurant and The Cantina are both upstairs with views of the court. They were pretty much empty during the game but they might be good spots for before tipoff.
One can recall the heyday of the Kings and how the rambunctious crowd compensated for the lacking facility. That is no longer the case.
The scratched wooden stairs, flimsy plastic seats and out of date video board are all eyesores. In fact, it's hard to believe that this arena was ever state of the art. The video board is covered with sponsorships. Though, the surrounding area has plenty of stats that seem to be lost on newer ones.
An oddity is that there are two different colors for seats in Sleep Train Arena. Since opening, the first half of the lower level seats have been red, while every other seat is blue. It's a little awkward now that the team has been wearing purple for many years and with a less than full crowd, it's quite noticeable.
One of my favorite features was that the upper concourse, beyond the last seats in the second level, encircled the entire arena is completely exposed. That means, as you make your way to the restroom or to get refreshments, you won't miss any of the action.
The PA person was quite energetic throughout but often referred to players by their nicknames when announcing who scored or who was entering or leaving the game. Admittedly, this could be either a positive or negative depending on your perspective but to me, hearing that "Big Cuz" was coming into the game, seemed unprofessional.
Slamson the Lion holds court as the mascot for the Kings, working alongside the Sacramento Kings Dancers to pump up the crowd.
Sleep Train Arena is located in the Natomas neighborhood in the northwest corner of Sacramento. Slow to develop, the then ARCO Arena was the centerpiece of new residential expansion in the late 1980s and 90s.
Now the arena is surrounded by some tract housing and strip malls, nothing terribly exciting. There isn't a sense of excitement in the area leading up to the venue. It's just a sleepy residential neighborhood.
If hungry before the event you can find some grub from chain restaurants nearby but there isn't an exciting, eclectic selection. You can stop at the popular California fast food chain In-N-Out Burger, or other staples like BJ's Brewhouse and Wingstop.
If you have the time, I'd recommend checking out Midtown or Old Town for restaurants and bars.
The Kings do have some diehard fans that truly support and love their team, but they are few and far between.
It seems that they appeared overnight in the late 1990's and disappeared just as quickly. At their peak, the fans were some of the loudest and wackiest in all of sports, creating a chaotic and unique environment. They were a flash in the pan. A loud, energetic flash, but a flash nonetheless.
Of course this isn't entirely their fault. The Kings are the first and only major professional franchise in Sacramento and fans were slow to respond as they had already attached themselves to many of the Bay Area teams. Like many instances, fans arrived with an exciting, good, charismatic team. They arrived in droves. The next step would be to foster this newfound love with solid ownership, and the Maloofs have not held up their end of the bargain. The Giants, I believe, have the perfect combination of world-class venue, charismatic and successful team, and an ownership group that makes fans feel important. The Maloofs have tried to move three times in one calendar year.
On a night that pitted the Kings against their Northern California rival, the arena was less than 70% full.
Sleep Train Arena is located right off of I-5 and just a few miles from I-80. The roads leading up to the arena are flat and wide, with plenty of lanes to funnel traffic to the many entrances. Since there are several parking lots, all equally convenient, be sure to make a note of which lot you parked in. It's easier to figure out how to get around as the lots are well-marked.
Traffic flows nicely inside the arena. At first I thought this had a lot to do with how few fans were there but in retrospect, the concession stands are farther back from the main walking areas so that the lines don't back up into foot traffic. There are plenty of restrooms. If you're near the top of the upper level, I'd recommend using the top concourse to catch all the action. It's also less traveled than the main one.
Though Sacramento has a light rail train through the more dense areas of the city, it does not service the neighborhood surrounding Sleep Train Arena. There is an Amtrak station in Old Sacramento, but that is about 10 miles from the arena.
Tickets start at just $10 and you can't beat that for NBA basketball. You can often find tickets on resale websites for lower level seats for less than $30.
Parking is $10, half the price it is for Warriors games. Comparable food and drink items are also less expensive. Overall, you receive a solid return on your investment in that though you're not getting a five star experience, you're also not paying for it. If basketball is what you're after, a Kings game is a great value.
The Kings have several retired numbers on display in the rafters: 1-Nate Archibald, 2-Mitch Richmond, 4-Chris Webber, 11-Bob Davies, 12-Maurice Stokes, 14-Oscar Robertson, 21-Vlade Divac, 27-Jack Twyman, and 44-Sam Lacey. They are also one of the teams that retired 6 for the "sixth man," though now it looks kind of sad. All of the retired numbers, with the exception of 6, hang cross-court from their two division championship banners and the WNBA championship banner of the now defunct, Sacramento Monarchs.
It seems that the Kings are a franchise in transition and their venue and vibes within it, are evidence. California's capital city deserves better than current ownership and with a little nurturing, the Kings can once again thrive in the city.
This is not going to be pretty. By almost every measure Arco Arena is a soul-diminishing place. Not just a miserable basketball venue-now that they're finally playing something that resembles basketball on the court-but not a particularly enjoyable place to be, regardless what's on the floor. It's so bad that the NCAA, which has hosted previous March Madness rounds in Arco, rejected a return through 2013. So bad that even Sacramento Mayor (and former NBA star) Kevin Johnson is on record as saying "I'm not surprised by the rejection. I knew this day would come. Any sports fan who has visted ARCO Arena lately should have seen it coming."
This wasn't always the case. Back in the day, when the Kings could make a legitimate claim as Western Conference royalty, Arco was absolutely jumping. It was loud, Guinness World Record loud at 130 decibels. But while the team was winning on the court, the stadium wasn't getting any younger-and to be honest, it wasn't any great shakes to start with. When the Kings relocated from Kansas City, they played in Arco Arena I, a small box located in the still fledgling Natomas neighborhood north of Sacramento. After three seasons, they relocated to Arco II, which was built on the cheap and remains the smallest and oldest stadium in the NBA.
Hope is on the horizon. Johnson has led an aggressive push for a new stadium, and as of this writing the favored bid includes a downtown facility. Fingers crossed.
In the spring of 2011, the arena was renamed Power Balance Pavilion for its new sponsor, Power Balance, a manufacturer of sports wristbands.
Food & Beverage: Nothing special here
Atmospere: It feels like you're watching an NBA game in a college arena. With the arena being as old and out-dated as it is, there's no real reason to go watch a mediocre NBA team play here
Neighborhood: Nothing special about the neighborhood. There's a few chain restaurants nearby and a couple good bars in downtown Sacramento which is about 10 minutes south
Fans: The fans of the Kings resemble the people of Sacramento. They love their team even though they kind of suck. Usually the attendance will be pretty good at the beginning of the season when there's still hope. When the place sells out, it is the loudest in the NBA.
Access: Pretty much anywhere in Sacramento is easy to access. It's not a huge city
Return: Probably won't be going back unless it's to go watch another team. However, I am excited for the new arena downtown and will definitely attend plenty of games there
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