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Official Review by Nathaniel Mata, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The Rio Grande Valley Vipers have played in the Texas-Mexico border town of Hidalgo, Texas since 2007. The NBA D-League team is affiliated with southwestern division Houston Rockets. The Vipers have won two D-League champions in their short history.
RGV’s ‘Snake Den’ is the State Farm Arena, an arena that has seen confetti litter the court during a championship victory in 2010. The arena, constructed in 2003, is a multi-purpose, $20 million dollar venue built 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. This all seems to be coming to an end soon however, as a new Vipers home facility undergoes construction in nearby Edinburg, Texas.
A huge plus in State Farm Arena is the singular-bowl that allows you to sit anywhere in the crowd and have a great view. You can purchase any ticket (for a good value) and have an excellent seat and view of the action.
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 average attendance revenue is hopefully compensated by strong concession profits. Prices are similar to what you would find at a major league 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!
Be sure to try the RGV toaster and Texas Cheddar Burger. Can't go wrong with either one!
Also, make sure to get out to the vendors with some time left in the game because they do start to close down near the end of games.
The State Farm Arena is not very different than most basketball experiences. In-game music is queued up well to hype the crowd.
The arena does not really do too much beyond the average things though. So if the crowd seems groggy or the team is going through scoreless stretches it can get lifeless. When the Vipers charge out to a large lead or fall behind in games, it can certainly feel dead in the arena.
One bonus is the long-time PA announcer that does a great job of calling three-pointers and player names. Other than that it's a pretty run-of-the-mill in-game effort.
The arena in Hidalgo does not sit in a sprawling downtown area, it is actually not even in a residential area. Instead you will find international duty-free factories, forming 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 if you want hoops action. 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.
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.
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.
A large majority of Rio Grande Valley basketball fans are avid Spurs fans. There are a good amount of Rocket faithful but they are severely outnumbered. You might think that this has an impact on fan engagement for Houston's D-League affiliate but it really does not. Fans in the Valley cheer on their Vipers wholeheartedly. The fact that they have won two championships in the NBDL helps the crowd push the Vipers to remain a top team. Sure, they might be rooting for the red and white while wearing silver and black in their seats, but that's ok. RGV fans are knowledgeable when it comes to hoops and enjoy a close game
It's unfair to compare State Farm Arena basketball fans versus hockey fans, but if I had to I'd say the basketball crowd is twice as large and twice as involved.
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, State Farm Arena is probably the most noticeable building in town.
Within the arena, access is smooth with the smaller crowds. Disabled seating is close to the baskets 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 locals, a little searching around businesses in the area might lead you to lower priced tickets. The arena also has promotional nights that include things like donating canned goods for admission.
However, for those not from the area or unable to find tickets for cheap the entry price starts at $14 . When comparing tickets for the Vipers with other D-League opponents you are probably getting a good deal. Floor seats, or seats right behind the benches will only set you back around 50 bucks.
It is not really a steep price to pay considering the level of talent you get to see. You also have a good chance of seeing upwards of 250 points scored combined due to the amount of offense that is usually generated.
Parking is free at State Farm Arena which is a big plus because tickets don't usually hurt your account in the first place.
If you have kids and are a fan of mascots you are in a luck. For some reason the arena has about three mascots roaming the grounds. If you are someone who cannot stand mascots...I'm very sorry.
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3200 Expressway 83
McAllen, TX 78501
3300 E Expressway 83
McAllen, TX 78501
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