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Official Review by Richard Smith, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) is a very successful college basketball conference. A couple of former conference teams took the league into the spotlight of college basketball's biggest stage. The George Mason Patriots' appearance in the 2006 Final Four shocked many sports fans. When Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) did the same in 2011, the mid-major dam was broken (along with a great two-year run by Butler of the then-Horizon League).
The CAA has also had great success in other sports, especially football, where Delaware, James Madison, Richmond and Villanova have won the Football Championship Subdivision in recent years, while Towson recently lost in the 2014 championship game. (Richmond and Villanova were football-only members of the conference at this time). Unfortunately, VCU and George Mason (and Richmond for basketball) have since left the CAA for the bigger waters of the Atlantic 10.
Richmond has been the location of the CAA Tournament since 1990. The CAA has their offices located in Richmond, but with the conference losing both VCU and Richmond, they decided to open the bidding to a new city. Baltimore, which is more centrally located between all the teams of the conference, won the bidding and will be the home for at least one additional year.
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 food selection is underwhelming. The arena staff works very hard to keep the arena a viable choice for events, but the next place they need to work on is the food options. The best value is the chicken tenders with fries meal for $10. $4.75 for hot dogs and $7 for a brat seem to be in the normal price range for these events. This is the same with the $4.75/$5.75 soda prices. Concession stands exist on the nearly unused upper concourse as well, but they were not used for this event. I think only sold out concerts get their usage, as I cannot even remember a time when I saw them open. Beer is not available at the usual food stands for this college event, although they should cover it up on their menus. A temporary sports bar called the CAA Sports Zone is located under the 100 section. It seemed to do a good business, but beer sales were limited to that area only. The pizza stand under the north seats offers a 9-inch pizza for $8.50, which is a fair value. They have a full pizza oven, so it is not a bad choice. In years past, the arena had a name brand pizza stand here, but now it is a generic pizza brand.
Unfortunately, the arena does not offer items from the Royal Farms Convenience Store chain which is its main sponsor. A chicken box from Royal Farms would make a great addition to the offerings.
The Royal Farms Arena's main tenant is the Baltimore Blast of the Major Indoor Soccer League. That team does a good job of making the best out of the unique setup of the arena. But it has always seemed that the venue works best as a basketball facility. The arena has been open since 1962, and the basketball history of the Baltimore Arena and the Baltimore Bullets is pretty interesting. They have played host to greats of the time, including hometown legend Wes Unseld. Even after moving to the Washington area, the Bullets used to play a few home games a year back here. This practice only ended when the team, now known as the Wizards, moved into DC proper. There are still the strange corner sections where seats face each other, not the floor. And some seats towards the corner are a bit far from the floor. But being a pretty small arena makes the place seem smaller than it is, and crowd noise enhances the atmosphere.
The Royal Farms Arena is right in the heart of downtown Baltimore, with its numerous entertainment and food options close by. But the arena is a few blocks from the more touristy sections of town. And those few blocks can make a difference. I am not saying it is unsafe, as talk like that is far overblown in the city. Just use caution and watch your surroundings.
If you do have some time before the game (or after), a visit to the Pratt Street Ale House is only about a block away. They have good brews and food. Try the crab pretzel for a serious Maryland food experience. Venturing further away from the Royal Farms Arena, one of my favorites is the Abbey Burger Bar, right near the Cross Street Market. The beer selection is good and they offer a dizzying array of burger choices, all that are likely to satisfy. For slightly more upscale cuisine, a visit to the 1100-1200 blocks of North Charles Street is essential, where The Brewers Art and Sammy's Trattoria offer good food at decent prices.
Baltimore is home to many touristy attractions, such as Harborplace, Fells Point and Fort McHenry. The American Visionary Art Museum on Key Highway is located on the way to Fort McHenry and should not be missed, although its unique collection will not be for everyone.
Tournaments will have varying fan bases, so it may change from game to game. But with Baltimore being a more central location than Richmond, there is more of a likelihood of good fan attendance. I still imagine the extremely-located schools, such as College of Charleston and Northeastern, may have trouble filling the stands. James Madison, Delaware, Hoftra and William & Mary have some of the most vocal supporters. If you witness a Delaware game, look for the surfing skit from the Delaware mascot, YoUDee, as it is pretty fun to watch.
The Royal Farms Arena is located in downtown Baltimore, about a block from the Baltimore Convention Center and two blocks from Camden Yards. It is close to I-95, with only a couple of turns from the arena putting you on the highway home. Parking garages can be found in all directions from the arena. One garage is even physically attached to the arena, and can offer direct access without going outside. Look for parking deals to come with some event tickets. Street parking is not a great option. Also, look for night event specials at many of the local underground garages. I found one for $10 directly across from the arena, although $12 to $15 is also likely to be seen. Parking is very tight at some of these, so drive a small car if you plan on using these garages. The Baltimore Light Rail is also located right on the Howard Street side of the arena. I don't recommend using it for late-night games, as security could be an issue. Light rail is also a very slow ride getting to the north suburbs.
Student tickets were available for $7. Individual session tickets went from $20 to $50. Packages for the entire series ranged from $80 to $200. Numerous Championship Hospitality Packages were available for varying prices, which could have also included the stage VIP section and food. The prices seemed fair, Street ticket sales were also in evidence, although I would be careful participating in some of these sales.
The arena seems small. But it does offer many rooms and spaces for both spectators and participants alike. Things like the temporary sports bar and many spaces for team cheerleaders and other functions are plentiful in this facility.
The Royal Farms Arena is old, no doubt about it. But the facility holds up well with this kind of usage. It seemed like a success. And it has two more years to take hold. Like most events at the Baltimore Arena, the facility will not "wow" you, but you will come out enjoying the event.
Member Review by collegiatestdms on Mar 13, 2012
The Colonial Athletic Conference (CAA) hosts their basketball tournament at the Richmond Coliseum. The Coliseum is just a few blocks from the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) campus. The Coliseum is 41-years-old and is a bit worn, but works well for hosting the CAA tournament, something it has done for 15 years.
Member Review by Richard Smith on Mar 13, 2014
The Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) is one of those mid-major conferences that gets mentioned every year during college basketball tournament time. The CAA’s George Mason Patriots appearance in the 2006 Final Four shocked many sports fans. When Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) did the same in 2011, the mid-major dam was broken (along with a great two-year run by Butler of the then-Horizon League). The CAA has also had great success in other sports, especially football, where Delaware, James Madison, Richmond and Villanova have won the Football Championship Subdivision in recent years, while Towson recently lost in the 2014 championship game. (Richmond and Villanova are football-only members of the conference at this time).
Unfortunately VCU and George Mason (and Richmond for basketball) have since left the CAA for the bigger waters of the Atlantic 10.
Richmond has been the location of the CAA Tournament since 1990. The CAA has their offices located in Richmond, but with the conference losing both VCU and Richmond, they decided to open the bidding to a new city. Baltimore, which is more centrally located between all the teams of the conference, won the bidding and will be the home for at least two additional years.
21 N Eutaw St
Baltimore, MD 21201
2 N Charles St
Baltimore, MD 21201
1106 N Charles St
Baltimore, MD 21201
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