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Official Review by Chris Green, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The Real Monarchs may play in the USL, but the product on the field is no less exciting than MLS soccer played on the same pitch. The Monarchs may not draw as big of a crowd as Real Salt Lake, but their fans are also no less passionate.
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".
For having almost half of the stadium cut off to fans, Real Monarchs games have a wide range of food options. The main concourse is sparse with just a few small vendors, but on the main level towards the south end zone, one can find several big concession stands.
The highlight is the RioT Family Combo, which comes with a beer-cheese brat, popcorn, and water for $12. A beer-cheese brat by itself runs just $8, while hot dogs go for $4 (gluten-free hot dogs are $5 and jumbos are $7). Other assorted options include popcorn, nachos, candy, pretzels, and more.
Drinks run anywhere from $4 for a water and $4.75 for a soda all the way to $10.25 for beer in a souvenir cup.
Hot chocolate, coffee, and Starbucks iced coffee are also available for $4.25 to $5.
Rio Tinto Stadium oozes soccer-specific glory. Small and intimate, any seat offers that on-top-of-the-action feel you want from a soccer stadium.
At night, the lights brilliantly light the pitch and the game seemingly comes alive.
The fans are not enough to fill the stadium, but the acoustics more than make up for lack of bodies in seats. Every yell, cheer, and screaming complaint towards the referees is heard with clarity, adding to the energy.
During the game, the team's mascot wanders the stands and interacts with fans, sometimes brandishing a large drum to get the beat going for various chants from the home fans.
A DJ also stands at the top of the lower bowl seats along the end zone concourse, spinning tracks during the halftime and pregame periods, while keeping the fans entertained throughout the game.
Rio Tinto is on the southern end of Salt Lake City, about 20-30 minutes removed from the downtown center, give or take with traffic. Immediately surrounding the stadium is not too much in the way of thriving shopping and dining, but rather houses and small businesses. Regardless, there isn't anything to suggest that this is the shady side of town, if such a thing exists in mild and meek Salt Lake City. Hotels are scarce immediately surrounding the stadium, but there are a few for you to pick from. Plenty of options exist just a short drive away, as well, should you be willing to travel a short distance during your stay.
The fans are passionate as most minor league or lower-tier sports fans are. The struggle here is the amount of fans who show up. Granted, the draw is inherently not as big as MLS, but nonetheless, there is over half of the stadium that will not be filled on game day, regardless of who is playing.
The fans can also sometimes stray into the obscenities when it comes to complaints to the refs, though this is something many view as standard practice in soccer stadiums. Either way, there is definitely a youth aspect to the fan base, as lots of families bring their kids, ushering forward a sense of a building and growing fan base that will emerge as they get older. A Real Monarchs game lends itself to be family friendly, and a big part of that is how many kids are at the game watching as fans themselves.
Getting to Rio Tinto Stadium is not hard, as the stadium rises up above the surrounding low-rise landscape of homes and single-level businesses, sticking out with its modern design. That said, its location next to the highway makes passing the side streets a breeze, as well. The downside here is parking. While not as in demand as other games held at the stadium, the small parking lot outside of the main entrance fills up fast. Thankfully parking on site is just $5, which means it is very affordable to take a car-full of friends for the evening to watch professional soccer.
The game day experience at Rio Tinto doesn't stand out as anything other than simplistic and enjoyable, and it doesn't have to. The Real Monarchs do a good job at putting a quality show on for fans while making it as easy to understand for both die-hards and newcomers to the sport alike. Its comfortable stadium seating and ease of navigation means you won't feel overwhelmed and lost, and the low price for tickets and parking means you won't have to pay a pretty penny just to watch professional sports.
The Monarchs hold various giveaways during the game as far as t-shirt tosses go, making for fans who are eager to grab a freebie as it flies over their head.
Another bonus is the informative signs around the concourse that overlook the surrounding area. Looking out over the mountains and the valley in which the stadium is located provides beautiful, sweeping views, and these signs will help you understand what you're looking at and why it is of note.
Finally, being that the site is also host to the MLS Real Salt Lake team, soccer history is on display throughout the stadium. Hall of fame soccer members can be seen on different displays around the concourses, and banners hang to commemorate various championships.
The Real Monarchs are a solid option if you want MLS-type action at a USL-type budget. You get some quality product in professional soccer in a stadium that is both family friendly and intimate in its setting. Without much for a bad seat in the house, it is easy to see why going to a game at Rio Tinto is a popular choice among Salt Lake City residents.
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