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Official Review by Chuck Utech, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
What do you get when you combine equal parts of fan fervor, a league of rich history, the most popular sport in the country, and a venue that has hosted everything from John Cougar Mellencamp concerts to Papal visits from Pope John Paul II to arguably the most famous boxing fight in history? You get a basketball game between Ataneo De Manila University (ADMU) vs. Far Eastern University (FEU) in The Philippines.
The University Athletics Association of the Philippines (UAAP) is a sports association home to eight universities: Adamson University, Ateneo de Manila University, De La Salle University, Far Eastern University, National University, University of the East, University of the Philippines, and the University of Santo Tomas. Established in 1938, it is one of the oldest athletic conferences in the country and has emerged to be the most popular inter-university sports association today. The eight member universities compete in three divisions (Seniors, Juniors, and Women’s) in fourteen sports. Basketball, by far the most popular of the sports offered, begins the action each season. The UAAP plays its basketball games at both Smart Araneta Coliseum and the Mall of Asia Arena rather than on site at the respective universities.
Since its establishment in 1928 by founder Dr. Nicanor Reyes, Sr., FEU has been recognized as one of the leading universities in the Philippines. The mascot is a tamaraw. A tamaraw is a hooved mammal similar to a water buffalo that is an endangered species.
Smart Araneta Coliseum is located in the Cubao district of Quezon City, the largest city by area in Metro Manila, and the most populous in the country. While known for hosting the "Thrilla in Manila," "The Big Dome" as it is also known, is host to scores of concerts, sporting events and culturally significant events annually.
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".
Once inside the venue, concessions are abundant. There are plenty of options for those wanting standard American fare. Wendy's, Taco Bell, Krispy Kreme, and Pizza Hut all have stands on various levels. For a more local feel, try a Jamaican Pattie for 60 PHP ($1.40 US). There are vendors for all of the establishments that make rounds during the game in case one does not wish to leave their seat. There are no alcohol sales at this event, but water, soda, tea and juice are available throughout the coliseum.
Entry is gained through the main gate at the west side of the arena. Tickets can be purchased online or at the main ticket booth. These events are very popular and buying tickets early is recommended. There are scalpers (locally they are called fixers), but purchasing through them is highly discouraged. Seating runs from 100PHP ($2.65 US) for bleacher seating at the outer reaches of the dome to 300PHP ($8 US).
I have been fortunate to attend sporting events in America of all four major sports including Game One of the 2013 Stanley Cup (triple overtime). I have been to many major college basketball games in venues known specifically for being the most raucous. Without question, this is the loudest sporting event I have ever attended. The crowd started roaring at the beginning of introductions; it did not cease until the final buzzer. Aiding in the delirium of the fans are rival drum corps that play constantly during game action. Both squads have cheer squads that would bring comparison to the cheerleaders of the first half of the 1900s. While sitting amongst the FEU faithful, cheers are led by guys emphatically yelling "DE-Fense!" and "Go Tamaraws!" during play. At halftime, both cheer squads give individual performances court side.
The score is posted on a large overhead scoreboard above mid-court. Due to the high decibel levels, the PA announcer is not always clear. This did lead to a touch of confusion when a review late in the contest resulted in the addition of one point and although an explanation was given, the roar of the crowd was overwhelmed.
Lighting is superb. Sight lines of the entire arena are generally unobstructed.
Located in the Cubao district, the Big Dome is surrounded by three shopping complexes. Farmer's Plaza, Gateway, and Ali Mall are all within one block of the coliseum. In addition there is a market (Farmer's Market) just west that offers fresh produce, additional shopping and a dampa, which is a fresh fish market. One simply points to the seafood they wish to purchase and it is cooked to specification.
Within two blocks of the arena itself there are probably 100 eating establishments to choose from featuring flavors of the world. Cubao is not considered the safest of areas within Metro Manila and one should be cognizant of their surroundings, especially after dark. Walking outside of the immediate area is not recommended. That being said, there is a high level of security at the shopping areas and the arena itself.
The crowd is quite knowledgeable, which is to be expected as basketball is the country's favorite sport. They are also quite friendly.The local fans make visitors feel right at home. The fans shriek at every turnover and three pointer. The crash of the drums is a constant heartbeat for the crowd as they enthusiastically follow each bounce of the ball.
Depending on where one is arriving from, Smart Araneta is easy to get to, whether by taxi, bus, or jeepney. A 30 minute taxi ride is approximately 175 PHP. There are jeepney stops nearby and the bus terminal is located one block south, across from Ali Mall. For visitors unfamiliar with the area, a taxi is recommended. It can drop off immediately outside the arena. In addition, it has been found easier to tell the taxi driver "Cubao, Farmer's."
This limits any confusion and allows for a drop which is close to the main entrance and ticket booth.
There are public parking ramps nearby for those brave enough to drive.
Inside, the venue is very handicap accessible. Elevators bring patrons to their correct level and the concourses are fan friendly. There are plenty of security guards and attendants to ensure a pleasant experience.
Smoking? One is allowed to leave and re-enter by showing a hand stamp.
An event ticket, food, beverage and roundtrip fares can be had for a total of around 500 PHP ($11 US). One can indulge in some shopping or some fine dining nearby and still not expect to break the bank.
Although there are no concessions or programs, the local schools do have merchandise booths with a decent selection of team gear for purchase.
Restrooms are easy to access and are clean. The staff is numerous and handles a large crowd well.
This was the most raucous event I have ever attended. It is well recommended for anyone who wants to take in an event that combines a historically significant venue, the national pastime of the Philippines, and the passion of a large fan base for not a large sum of money.
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