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Official Review by Meg Minard, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
The 2015 season saw lots of upheaval in North America's minor league ice hockey systems with leagues closing and teams moving throughout and across the country. One of those teams was the Worchester Sharks (AHL - American Hockey League - affiliate of the San Jose Sharks) who moved from DCU Center in Massachusetts to the SAP Center in San Jose, California and became the San Jose Barracuda (sponsorship with Barracuda Networks - a security network firm in the Silicon Valley).
The Barracuda play in the SAP Center, the same facility as their parent club, the San Jose Sharks. The SAP Center is a fantastic venue in which to watch the NHL Sharks, but it falls a tad short when hosting its AHL team.
Nonetheless, the Sharks organization manages to have several Saturday doubleheaders throughout the hockey season so if traveling into San Jose, check both the Barracuda and Sharks schedules to see if two games can be visited in one trip.
The SAP Center in San Jose was previously known as the San Jose Arena, the Compaq Center, and the HP Pavilion and has earned the nickname 'Shark Tank' by locals and fans. It has welcomed a variety of other sports throughout the years including NLL (National League Lacrosse), ABL (American Basketball League), AFL (Arena Football League), tennis, roller hockey, and more. Many concerts and other entertainment shows are held at the SAP Center.
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".
As with most major league venues in North America, the SAP Center offers a pleasant variety of food and beverages at exceptionally high prices. However, only a third of the concessions are open for Barracuda games and prices are the same as attending an NHL game.
Near the venue entrances, healthy picks (four different salads: Asian Chicken, Thai Beef Noodle, Fruit, or Garden) are found at Classix for $9. Other options at Classix are polish sausages, nachos, and hot dogs (around $6 - $7.50) as well as snacks that include cookies, ice cream, pretzels, cracker jacks, popcorn, etc. ($5 - $6).
A Gordon Biersch Brewery and a Round Table Pizza are open with a limited variety of GB's brews and some additional food choices like chicken sandwich, French and garlic fries, pizza and candy. An upstairs eating area with tables and chairs is available at the goal ends of the concourse.
Pepsi is the soda choice at $5.25/$6.50. One bar (The Ice Bar) is open for cocktails and beer; beer is also offered at the concession stands that are open. Beers range from $10 - $13.75; wine and cocktails range from $8.50 - $11.50.
Attending a Barracudas game is enjoyable but it does not have the same fervor as a Sharks game.
The architecture and layout of the facility is impressive both inside and out. The entrances are bright and open. When entering via the north entrance, take the escalator up to the concourse level and view the City of San Jose seal hanging from the ceiling. Turn around and see a stunning banner of the San Jose Sharks (though none of the Barracuda).
There is just the one concourse so fans travel down some stairs to the 100 level or travel up to the 200 level. The upper level and some of the lower level seats are curtained off for the low attending Barracuda matches.
Seats are quite comfortable; all are cushioned and are plenty wide with average legroom and all come with cup holders. An impressive light grey/dark grey seat layout color pattern can be seen easily at a Barracuda game as the seating area is not full. The center ice logo is the Sharks; not the Barracudas.
The stadium temperature is cold and it gets colder as the game progresses. Wear a heavy duty shirt and sweatshirt and/or jersey, a jacket with a hood and bring a hat and gloves. A blanket wouldn't be a bad idea either.
A center hung video scoreboard produces high-quality replays and displays. They do post text/words of prerecorded announcements including game official names, advertisements, upcoming events, etc. for those hard of hearing. Barracuda goal scorers' names are displayed but not those who get the assist(s). For penalties, only the number of the player and time is posted, not their name nor the infraction name.
The music (no organ) is played constantly at every stoppage and is too loud to have a conversation with the person in the next seat without yelling to be heard. The Zamboni cleverly has a fin on it (Barracuda/fin - get it?).
The SAP Center is located in downtown San Jose, CA which has an enticing variety of entertainment venues, restaurants, galleries, and museums.
The Guadalupe River Park is right next door. It has a river, trails, grass, trees, and gardens; and for kids and adults alike, it has a high volume of Pokémon to catch.
The San Pedro Square Market, four or five blocks from the SAP Center is worth a visit for outdoor morning coffee, lunch, dinner, drinks and live music. While there, if you're a history buff, check out the Peralta Adobe - Fallon House Historic Site (be sure to call for tour times).
Several restaurants are within a few blocks and include Poor House Bistro (New Orleans cuisine), Firehouse No. 1 Gastropub, and Henry's Hi-Life (steak and BBQ). All offer good food, good drink, and a unique environment.
In the Whole Foods Market, a block west of SAP Center, is the Mission Creek Brewing Co offering mostly California beers and some food choices and may be another place to visit before the game (it closes at 10pm during the week and at 11pm on weekends).
For places to stay when visiting from out of town, the Arena Hotel is recommended and is just three blocks from the venue. It is clean, safe, comfortable and affordable. Of course, a little further away from the venue are the more luxurious hotels like the San Jose Marriott, The Westin, and Hyatt Place.
Most of the fans are respectful of the game and the players, regardless of the team.
They pump their arms up and down when a goal is scored by the Barracuda.
Though only in their second season as the Barracuda Sharks, average attendance is higher than when they were in Worchester, though they are still in the lower half of the overall AHL attendance figures.
Getting to the SAP Center is relatively easy and because of the low attendance traversing the concourse and visiting the restrooms are a breeze.
Various parking lots surround the venue and all are within a few blocks. Some free parking can be found, particularly north of the venue.
Getting to the arena is convenient via public transportation as the San Jose Diridon Station is three blocks from the main gates. The station serves both Caltrain and Amtrak trains as well as serves as a hub for VTA (Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority) buses in the South Bay.
Menita San Jose International Airport is four miles from the Shark Tank. A ride share / Uber pick up location is located near the Whole Foods Market just a block from the venue. For reference, an $8.18 Uber trip got me from the Arena Hotel (a couple steps from Whole Foods) back to the airport. Public transportation is available from the airport to the venue - it can take up to 45 min with multiple bus transfers.
Entrance into the SAP Center on Barracuda game day is clumsy, though not crowded. There are two lines: one for 'non-season ticket holder' fans to get in with another labelled 'season ticket holder' fan lane. So most fans line up on the non-season ticket holder lane. When the gates open, the staff directs the fans to use all lanes (regardless of ticket holder status or lane), so fans in line shuffle around trying to figure old which line to enter the venue. No tables are provided for the security folks to check bags for dangerous items causing bags to topple and security folks not easily seeing what's inside. And there's a stationary pole in which fans have to scan their own tickets but it doesn't work well (especially with printed 8 1/2 x 11 sheets of paper) and quite often fans have to flip their ticket or the attendant has to end up positioning it for them (this, of course, causes delays in entering the stadium). It's quite inefficient.
When entering via the north entrance, steps and escalators are directly in front to go up to the concourse. If visiting the souvenir shop, head left before going up as the shop is on the lower level.
The steps up and down the portals into the seating area are steeper than other venues so be careful if climbing or descending more than normal step heights might be an issue.
Save yourself some extra service fees and get tickets to a Barracuda game at the door. Those will include an extra $2 but better than the $9.25 ticketmaster fees and additional order fee. The games do not sell out.
Barracuda tickets are much less expensive than Sharks tickets and run about the same as other AHL venues. Tickets range from $15 - $80.
Beginning the 2016 season, the Barracuda / Sharks organization decided no pocket schedules would be offered. A huge disappointment as pocket schedules make great souvenirs and just holding one in your hand helps visualize additional games to attend. At the game of this review, a magnetic schedule was offered so that was some consolation.
Doubleheaders - kudos to a venue who provides sports travelers the ability to see 'multiple sporting events' over a weekend.
Downtown - San Jose has a nice downtown area and the SAP Center is in the midst of that area so making a trip to the venue also allows a fan to check out the city easily.
Game day rosters - These are given out upon entry to a match. One side shows rosters of both teams, the other a photo and stats of a Barracuda player.
Check both the NHL and AHL schedules once they are released to see when doubleheaders occur in San Jose. A Barracuda game offers a much more affordable choice than a Sharks game as well as a more relaxed experience. But see both if that's an option.
Member Review by sportsroadtrips on May 24, 2016
Of the five new California-based teams in the AHL, the San Jose Barracuda are the only ones playing in the same venue as their parent club. The SAP Center at San Jose is also home to the NHL’s San Jose Sharks, and as such the Sharks nickname that had been in use in Worcester had to go. Barracuda Networks, a tech firm located in nearby Campbell, saw a great marketing opportunity and bought the naming rights to the team – even their corporate logo is part of the Barracuda team crest.
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