Professional basketball has taken on quite a few different shapes in North Carolina's Queen City. The ABA's Carolina Cougars split their time across North Carolina between 1969-74, and one of the homes for this traveling troupe was in Charlotte's Bojangles' Coliseum, then simply named Charlotte Coliseum. The team also played in Winston-Salem, Greensboro and Raleigh before moving to St. Louis.
Thirteen years after the Cougars' departure, the Charlotte Hornets were born. The Hornets played in another Charlotte Coliseum -- this one off Tyvola Road, within minutes of Charlotte-Douglas International Airport -- that also hosted concerts, basketball, pay-per-view events, football and movies. Despite the on-court and attendance successes of the club, they eventually relocated to New Orleans, becoming the New Orleans Hornets (now Pelicans). The second Charlotte Coliseum was torn down five years after the club moved to Louisiana.
The Hornets' move helped land another team in Charlotte, as well as the new, modern home for which the previous club wished. Time Warner Cable Arena opened as Charlotte Bobcats Arena in 2005, and has made news for a number of reasons in its short existence. The Charlotte Bobcats -- though many Charlotteans have clamored for a return of the Hornets name to the franchise -- continue to build their team's history. Every legacy needs a great foundation, and this beautiful facility in uptown Charlotte certainly provides that foundation.
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".
No matter your cravings, there should be little problem finding something that satisfies those cravings. Food and beverage choices are seemingly available around every corner on both levels of the arena. The normal choices grace the stands, including hot dogs ($4.50), cheeseburgers ($6.50 for a regular, $7.50 for a bacon cheeseburger), nachos ($5.50), french fries ($4.75) and popcorn ($6.75 for "bottomless" popcorn), but there is absolutely no need to go "safe".
The unexpected is almost the norm among the concession choices. Options such as apple gouda sausages with apple slaw ($7.50), chipotle cheddar sausages ($7.50), garlic parmesan french fries ($6), pulled barbecue chicken sandwiches ($7.50), barbecue nachos ($7.75) and cheeseburger dogs ($7.50) dot the dining landscape. A Lowe's Sandwich Workstation cart operates on the concourse, with its "signature" item of a chef-carved sandwich ($9.75) satisfying several customers on the night I attended. The sandwich is made of carved sirloin or smoked turkey, and it includes your choice of cheese (provolone, cheddar or brie), smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato, red onion, spicy brown mustard, horseradish and herb mayo. The sandwich is served with kettle chips and slaw.
Other choices include a donuts and coffee cart, where you can purchase a bag of donuts for $6, with hot tea, hot chocolate or freshly-brewed coffee (all $4) to wash down the tasty treats. A gluten-free cart, ironically enough, is also nearby, selling -- among other things -- gluten-free beer ($5). If gluten-free beer is not your speed, there is a margarita bar on the upper level, selling "yard margaritas" ($13) and non-alcoholic margaritas ($9).
Coca-Cola products are served for those wanting a non-alcoholic beverage. Bottled sodas are $4.50, regular fountain sodas are $5.50 and souvenir sodas are $6. Coffee ($3) and bottled water ($4.50) round out the "conventional" non-alcoholic choices. Non-alcoholic beer ($5) is available at some stands, along with regular drafts ($6.50) and large drafts ($7.75).
A sizeable atrium awaits fans who enter on the lower level. The Charlotte Bobcats team store is part of this atrium, just to the right of the entry doors. Escalators bring fans to the main concourse, which is wide and spacious. Even with the afforded space on the main level, navigation can be a bit tough as fans wait in line for food and drink or congregate among friends. Be sure to leave a couple of extra minutes to reach your seat.
Whether your seat is at floor level or near the top of the arena, the scoreboard will be clearly visible in the center of the building. The video board is 38' x 36', with a video screen aimed toward each side of the seating bowl. The board, referred to as "Bobcats TV", shows pre-game and in-game content, such as video packages, game highlights and advertisements for upcoming events at the arena. In-game promotions, including the Celebrity Look-Alike Cam and Kiss-Cam, are also shown on the board. The scoreboard portion of the board displays the score, game and shot clocks, running statistics for each player on the floor and the foul and remaining time out count for both teams. The score disappears during promotions and breaks in the action, though, so if you need to check the score during a break, there is a ribbon scoreboard that rings around the arena.
The Bobcats feature an orange bobcat mascot named Rufus. Rufus gets his name (Rufus Lynx) from that of the bobcat breed. Rufus wanders the stands, poses for photos with fans and even occasionally takes the floor to dunk. Rufus is quite the favorite in the arena, so wherever you see him wandering, be prepared for a legion of children following him.
There is also a dance/cheer team, the Lady Cats, that entertains the crowd during selected breaks. The Lady Cats also participate in certain promotions, such as the t-shirt toss. The group is extremely talented and fun to watch. The team even dresses in different costumes for each game, with special outfits for special days.
Time Warner Cable Arena is located in the heart of Charlotte's downtown (or Uptown, as it is called) district, with dining, dancing and entertainment options for every age within blocks of the arena's doors. The most obvious choice is the EpiCentre, just across the LYNX light rail tracks from the arena. 20-plus dining establishments are located within the EpiCentre, featuring everything from sit-down fine dining to frozen yogurt. A movie theater, a bowling alley, nightclubs and shopping top off the EpiCentre experience, with an Aloft hotel also located within the complex. If you feel up to going for a stroll within a few blocks of the arena, many more restaurants can be found, from Irish pubs (Ri Ra) to Southern staples (Mert's Heart and Soul).
Charlotte's center city is so full of opportunity that there is not really space in this column to explain everything that can be done. The Carolina Panthers play nearby, with Discovery Place and Blumenthal Performing Arts Center among the family-friendly options. Many of the Uptown buildings feature light displays at the holidays and throughout the year, with the Duke Energy building serving as one of the highlights of the skyline. If you see the lights and wonder what the colors mean, a Twitter account explains the light patterns. Charlotte's travel and tourism board offers a quite helpful visitor guide to those looking to make more of their time in Charlotte than just the time spent at a Bobcats game.
The night I attended a Bobcats game in spring 2013 featured a game against the visiting New York Knicks. Charlotte's banking community has drawn many transplants from the tri-state area, so a lot of Knicks jerseys and shirts were out in force for the festivities. The Knick fans certainly supported their team at every chance, but left unhappy, as the Bobcats emerged victorious.
Charlotte's fan base is still somewhat in transition. Many fans grew to love the Hornets franchise before their relocation, and they still clamor for the return of the "buzz" to the Queen City. As the Bobcats still have fewer than ten years in the city, there has not been ample time to fully establish the club in the hearts and minds of Charlotteans. That said, the team still draws quite well, especially considering the team's struggles of late. There is a precedent for winning in the town -- the Bobcats have made a playoff appearance in their short history -- and the hope is that winning basketball will return to the city in short order.
Fans in Charlotte certainly know the game, and they show up wearing their Bobcats jerseys and shirts. The volume in the arena -- from the seats, at least -- could use a boost, and a run of good seasons just may be what the doctor ordered on that front.
Despite Charlotte's size, getting to a Bobcats game presents very little in the way of headaches. The easiest way to travel from South Carolina and points south of the arena is to ride the LYNX light rail line. The ride to the arena from the southernmost point on the line is 26 minutes, and the trip allows a nice view of Charlotte's South End neighborhood as the train traverses the tracks near South Boulevard. The 5th Street/Charlotte Transportation Center (CTC) stop is just outside the arena entrance. Parking at LYNX stations is free, with a round-trip ticket available for less than $5.
If you choose to drive to the arena, numerous parking decks are available within a short walk of the arena. As with most events at the facility, event parking is $5-$10 in most decks. If you find yourself annoyed with the price of one deck, continue driving. The chances of your finding another deck in close proximity at a fair price are quite good. Ingress and egress traffic may be a problem -- this is a center-city arena, after all -- especially on a weekend.
Inside the arena, the concourse is quite wide on both levels. There are a few occasional delays in navigating the concourse, particularly after games, but there are not many total blockages. The bathrooms are nice and modern, but I saw numerous lines at the bathrooms. These lines were particularly bad during the half. If you need to use the restroom, plan accordingly.
Tickets for Bobcats games are available at virtually any price point. Single-game tickets often start as low as $10, with a number of ticket deals available from different vendors. The cheapest seats are still good seats, and the video board certainly helps. The price increases as you get closer to the floor, but an aftermarket ticket purchase may net you a good seat at a great price.
Concessions are a bit expensive, though about what one would expect at a professional sporting event. If you total the cost of the least expensive ticket, a hot dog, a bottled soda and a round-trip LYNX ride, this comes out to $23. If you know how to look around for a value, attending a Bobcats game can be a reasonably-priced affair. Once you bring the entire family or start looking for seats closer to the floor, though, things can get a bit expensive.
The scoreboard in Time Warner Cable Arena was a topic of conversation earlier in this piece, and an extra feature on the scoreboard deserves mention. The Charlotte skyline is depicted on the scoreboard, and all four sides of the board give fans a look at the city outside, all without having to leave their seats. The team also occasionally projects different images onto the skyline, giving even more of an impression of the world outside the arena. This gives the arena a real sense of location, and is a feature not found in other similar places.
As you climb the escalator to the second level of the arena, the walls around you give you a glimpse of basketball history in the Carolinas. These walls tell the story of professional and college basketball in the area, including some of the more historic events at the area's schools. Along with this visual history lesson, there is a large mural on the wall in the atrium portion of the entry. Sports arenas are not commonly known for their artwork, and this is a nice touch.
There is a large team store just inside the entrance. The store offers just about every piece of Bobcats gear one could imagine, including jerseys, hats and other logo merchandise. A game ticket is not required to access the store, as it is also open to those passing by the arena. The team frequently runs specials on gear, helping fans support their team at a reasonable price. Merchandise kiosks can also be found on the concourse, should you wish to avoid braving the crowds in the store.
Whether or not the NBA is your sport of choice, a trip to Time Warner Cable Arena is certainly worth your time. The Bobcats feature a team with a number of up-and-coming superstars, and they play in a facility that is comfortable, large and full of good food and drink options. Though the team might be going through an identity crisis with some fans and their on-court success has not been to the level many would like of late, the future appears bright in center-city Charlotte.
Welcome to the home of the Charlotte Bobcats, Time Warner Cable Arena, a.k.a. "The Cable Box." Time Warner Cable Arena, opened in 2005, has been the home venue of the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL and has hosted the ACC Men's Basketball Tournament. The Cable Box also hosted WWE Wrestling, blockbuster concerts from famous acts such as The Black Eyed Peas, and U2. Most importantly to fans, it also hosted the first ever Charlotte Bobcats playoff appearance in 2010.
I got the chance to catch a game last season while in town, and I liked the stadium. It's right downtown which has really been revitalized. There are some nice restaurants and bars to hit before or after the game. The stadium itself was nice. Our seats were pretty high up but still had a great view. There was enough to keep the kids busy as well with some areas for them to play basketball. The only thing really lacking here were the fans, but that has a lot more to do with the lack of winning that has gone on there in Charlotte.
I liked the fact we could take the train into town and be dropped off basically at the stadium. It's always nice to be downtown in a major city and not have to worry about traffic, so that was a huge plus for me.
If you are a basketball fan, take in a game. I think you'll enjoy it as much as I did.
210 East Trade St
Charlotte, NC 28202