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Official Review by Nathaniel Mata, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
In 2003, the border town of Hidalgo, Texas opened their multi-purpose, $20 million dollar arena to serve the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) for concerts, sports, graduations and conventions. Operated by the City of Hidalgo -Texas Municipal Facilities Corporation, the arena has stood for over 10 years and continues to be utilized for sports and entertainment. With a seating capacity of 5,500 for hockey, their oldest tenant, the Killer Bees have made themselves at home since its opening.
A major positive about State Farm Arena is that since it is a singular-bowl you can sit anywhere in the crowd and have a great view. It is impossible to get far from the action, and impossible to find yourself sitting in a bad seat.
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".
What the State Farm Arena lacks in attendance revenue is seemingly compensated for by strong concession profits. Prices are similar to what you would find at a professional venue, but luckily the taste often matches the price. You won't find anything less than 4 dollars (and that's just candy). Popcorn, hot dogs, and an order of fries all will set you back $5. However if you are headed to one of the many vendors on the concourse it's not a bad choice to spend an extra dollar or two and move into the range of the deluxe food items. Burgers, chili cheese fries, chicken strips are all in the $7-$8 price range and are a steal for the amount of food you'll receive. Eating is the favorite hobby in the RGV and you'll be able to tell quick!
Recommended in-house eats: RGV toaster and Texas Cheddar Burger. Can't go wrong with either one!
Atmosphere is one thing that is tough to pin a set rating on because it can vary so greatly from night to night. To give credit where it is due, the arena graphics and especially the PA announcer are on their game every night. This 2014/2015 season there were additions added to the team introductions that threw in some explosions and even pyrotechnics. Flames are all over the place in the pre-game as well as whenever the home team lights the lamp. It's a fun new addition but as hard as the arena tries every night, the overall atmosphere on any given night is always left in the hands of the fans.
Immediate Area. The arena in Hidalgo does not sit in a sprawling downtown, it is actually not even in a residential area. Instead you will find international factories and a unique industrial zone. In fact State Farm Arena is on a highway south of neighboring McAllen, Texas which is larger in population but still not a city by any stretch.
Hidalgo's southern neighbor is the Mexican town of Reynosa. That's right if you miss the State Farm Arena and drive only one mile south you will end up at an international border and it's best you turn back. I'm not sure if the proximity to the border keeps away the fans, but if you stay on the US side, you'll be fine.
Where to stay. McAllen is going to be where you want to lodge when visiting the valley and arena in Hidalgo. There is a plethora of affordable or high end hotels in the airport/mall district as well as further west near the McAllen Convention Center.
Where to eat. If you're coming from out of town for a game I suggest the McAllen Convention Center for eats. There are many restaurant options, from chains like BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse, Johnny Rockets hamburgers (Ware Rd Exit off Expressway 83 for both).
If you want to eat local you'll want to find your nearest greasy taco truck and those are not hard to find. Driving north on either 10th or 23rd from the State Farm Arena should find you one. And for a more comfortable, sit-down experience Taqueria El Zarape (4401 N 23rd, Mcallen Texas) is my personal favorite.
Fans and community engagement is a department that has plagued the Killer Bees since their very first season. The area is not exactly a hotbed for ice hockey, and despite hopes that the new team would change that, it never really caught on. The RGV relies on Winter Texans populating the stands during hockey season. The snowbirds do help with filling a part of the seats but on any given night the arena is lucky to crack 1,000 fans in the 5,000 seat arena. A good thing about these fans are that they are usually knowledgeable about the game but when the weather starts to warm up in the northern states and Canada, the seats can become even more barren. Hidalgo is a small town and not many locals travel from the McAllen for respectable attendance nights.
Hidalgo lost the team once when the CHL folded for a year, and if attendance does not improve, I'm not sure how the team can remain profitable in its current junior league.
If you are travelling to the RGV via commercial airline the McAllen-Miller Airport (MFE) is the obvious choice. The arena is almost a straight shot from the airport, only 10 minutes south. If you are coming from anywhere in the RGV there is an exit off the expressway in McAllen that takes you straight there as well. Not hard to miss in Hidalgo, probably the most noticeable building in town.
Within the arena, access is smooth with the smaller crowds. Disabled seating is close to the glass and available upon request.
Lines for food can be long because not every concession area is open nightly, but move quickly with lots of cashiers open and a robust staff.
The concourse is open and only crowds after a game. Lines at the restroom don't really exist because of the quantity of restrooms open.
For die-hard hockey fans the lack of passionate hockey fans in the area couldn't be better for your wallet. It's hard to spend more than $10 on admission into a game. The team puts on a lot of promotional nights for veterans, college students, Winter Texans, etc.
After you pay the price of admission you're going to enjoy a great hockey game just like anywhere else. The team is in the NAHL which is tier-3 junior league, the games are fast and the kids on the ice are hungry for a shot to play at college hockey programs.
Intermissions at State Farm are always fun, a few weeks ago during a "Guns and Hoses" event firetrucks and police squad cars were on the ice as cops and firefighters played tug-of-war. The arena also sells zamboni rides for $10.
The State Farm Arena is a hidden gem in the Rio Grande Valley...cheap seats and high action is not far away for many valley resident. This gem however has stayed undiscovered for far too long and who knows how much longer the team owner will have patience for sub-par attendance.
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3200 Expressway 83
McAllen, TX 78501
3300 E Expressway 83
McAllen, TX 78501
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