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Official Review by Andy Mantsch, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
You wouldn’t know it by recent history and reputation around the NBA, but the Sacramento Kings organization is one of the oldest and most storied organizations in basketball history. Established in 1923 as the Rochester Seagrams, the franchise has played games in Cincinnati, Omaha and Kansas City as the Seagrams, Royals and Kings. Boasting NBA legends in their history like Nate Archibald, Maurice Stokes and the great Oscar Robertson, as well as a league championship in 1951, you’d think this team wouldn’t be forgotten as often as it seems like it is in today’s NBA. But since moving to Sacramento in 1985, the Kings have been mired in sub-mediocrity with one brief run at NBA elite status that was snubbed out by the Los Angeles Lakers (or the officials depending on who you’re talking to).
After years of rumors of relocation fueled by owners the Maloof brothers, the Kings were sold to a group led by nearby Bay Area entrepreneur Vivek Ranadive. This group has made their intention of staying in Sacramento clear, fighting off bids from multiple cities to relocate the Kings. Plans for a new arena are well underway with an anticipated opening prior to 2016, meaning the Kings are likely Sacramento residents for the foreseeable future.
In the meantime, the Kings call Sleep Train Arena home. Opened in 1988, the arena was better known as Arco Arena in the famous days of the Kings run to the Western Conference Finals against the Lakers. The smallest arena in the NBA with a capacity of 17,317, Sleep Train Arena staff boasts constantly through games that it is the loudest arena in the NBA. The arena has hosted many major Sacramento events over the years, from professional wrestling to bull riding. While the future of basketball at Sleep Train Arena may be short, it has served the Sacramento area well for decades.
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".
Sleep Train Arena is full of excellent dining choices, including numerous local options for the travelling palette. The clear favorite here is the Capital Cut Carvery. California Harris Ranch tri-tip sandwiches are carved up and served fresh for any craving the west coast delicacy. Porchetta sandwiches, turkey legs, cauliflower gratin, sweet pepper creamed corn and triple chocolate bread pudding are among the other unique options as well. Priced at $12.50, it's within reason for the fine foods you're enjoying. Other unique dining options around the concourse include Jimboy's Tacos, Sweetshop Creamery, K Street Deli, Basketbowls Asian food and Original Garlic Fries. The standard concession options also include some cool hot dog varieties for $5-$7. Fountain drinks run from $4.75 to $6.25 for a souvenir cup.
There are a variety of alcohol options around the stadium to meet just about anyone's preference. Standard beer options are available from $7-$9.25 at any concession stand. For the craft beer lover, the California Craft House offers a variety of local beers for a slight bump up in price. Top Cellar sells local wines for the connoisseur in you if you're so inclined. Overall, there are 9 unique alcohol vendors around the arena, not including the sales at standard concessions. For both food and beverage, variety in type and price are abundant around the arena.
Don't let first glance fool you, this is as intimate and passionate NBA atmosphere as you'll find. Yes, the arena is old and outdated. The narrow concourses and dull design testify to this. And the wooden bleachers around the lower deck may even make you question if you're in an NBA arena at all. The plastic seats are old and actually feel like they may collapse. But once the game starts and the Sacramento crowd starts rocking, the age of the arena turns from strange nuance to charming hometown like-ability.
The fans are loud and passionate about their team, despite recent history. The announcer is loud and crazy for Kings basketball. The staff loves what they do and it's impressive that the ushers know all of the regulars in the seats. It all culminates in a hometown pride that tends to be more college basketball passion than the glitz and glamour of most NBA venues.
A glance up into the old looking rafters reminds you of the history of the team. Rochester banners are mixed in with Sacramento Kings banners, giving hope that someday the Kings will rise to NBA prominence again. One can only hope that the move to their new arena will add a spectacular venue while maintaining the hometown feel.
Neighborhood is really the right word to describe the area around Sleep Train Arena. A short drive northwest of downtown Sacramento, the venue stands alone amongst a residential strip with only small businesses and strip malls around it. Don't expect to find a walkable strip full of sports bars and restaurants anywhere near. Instead you'll have to settle for fast food options and chains. BJ's Brewhouse is the closest you'll find to a sports bar in the immediate area.
Downtown Sacramento is only a short drive down 99, and that's your best bet for nightlife and food. River City Brewing Company is in a large shopping area right downtown, and provides a lot of the local shopping, food and drink that you'd need before a night game. The Kitchen is a popular (and extremely pricey) area restaurant as well. Some other recommendations include The Waterboy, Tower Café and Frank Fat's.
Hotels can be found just one exit north on 99 and include Homewood Suites, Four Points by Sheraton and Hampton Inn. If you're looking to stay closer to downtown, you'll find hotels in abundance along I-5 to the south.
Fans still pack Sleep Train Arena, although not as consistently as during the winning days of the early 2000's. It is the smallest arena in the NBA, so when the fans do show up it is definitely loud. There is a pretty significant section of the arena that is packed with die hard fans who seem to attend every game. You can tell this by their familiarity when talking about the players and their friendliness with their favorite ushers. The experience really can feel more like a passionate college crowd, which is worth commending in today's NBA arena experiences of flashing light and blaring music.
With the new arena in store and a recommitment to the city of Sacramento, it seems there is a bit of a reawakening for Kings fans. It will be very interesting to see what momentum carries into the new arena.
You'll approach the Kings arena on 99 from either north or south. While easy to see from the interstate with minimal traffic, there is a bit of a choke point arriving to parking. There seem to be only a couple good entrances to stadium parking, so expect to be stuck in a line of cars for a few minutes once you turn off the main strip. Parking is $10 and is pretty easy as the lots are more than large enough to accommodate. For those looking for free parking, it appears several people park in the surrounding businesses and hike a longer distance to the game. I can't speak for the wisdom or enforcement of this, but the number of fans doing it leads me to believe that your car won't be towed before you return.
Foot traffic flows fairly easily into the stadium, although a pretty intense security scan slows it a bit. Once inside you'll find a narrow concourse that still moves along pretty well. This is because Sleep Train Arena does something that far more arenas should do. The concessions are recessed into the back wall of the concourse as opposed to extending out from it. This means that lines begin and usually end in these recessions, keeping the concourse completely clear for foot traffic.
Navigating the stadium is easy, but I'd strongly suggest you make a note of your parking area and point of entry into the arena. This is because the stadium exits and lots look virtually the same on all sides, so it's easy to exit the stadium into the wrong lot and not even realize it.
I've heard that Kings tickets can often be purchased relatively inexpensively. This was not the case for me. My observation is that tickets are currently running $45 and up. Anything lower deck will run at least $75. While not unheard of, the product on the floor and outdated venue make it a questionable price point. But fans still seem to show up, so it's hard to completely hold higher prices against the organization.
Parking is $10 and food prices range from $4-$12.50. That's pretty average for an NBA arena, so it's hard to complain about it. Overall, for a northern California venue, Sleep Train Arena is quite reasonable for an NBA experience.
I loved the ties to the tradition of the team in both the rafters and the gift shop. Who wouldn't want to buy a Rochester Royals shirt? The local feel of the venue is also particularly cool. The Kings organization seems to go out of their way to not deliver the sterile big city feel of other NBA venues. We can only hope that remains the case in the new venue.
Sleep Train Arena is worth checking out if you're in the Sacramento area by the end of the season. While it won't blow you away in any way, it does feel a bit like the end of an old-fashioned era in professional basketball that we won't likely see in an NBA venue anytime in the future. It's charm is likely to turn into a beautiful-yet-run-of-the-mill downtown NBA arena that will make higher marks, but never be quite the same for longtime fans of the Kings.
Member Review by rtocalino on Apr 04, 2010
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.
Member Review by ryannorris on Dec 30, 2012
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.
Member Review by okstate on Apr 30, 2014
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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