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Official Review by Eric Moreno, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Change comes fast and it comes seismically in the world of sports. At the beginning of December 2015, Toyota Field played home to the San Antonio Scorpions of the North American Soccer League (NASL). By the end of the month the team was dissolved and the new owners of the stadium were Spurs Sports & Entertainment (SSE).
The group was awarded a franchise in the United Soccer League (USL) in January 2016 and San Antonio FC began in February 2016. From January 1 to the opening of the 2016 season, the new owners needed to re-brand, refurbish, and renew a great many facets of their new home. They have met with resounding success in their inaugural season.
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".
Food aplenty can be found at the renovated Toyota Field. On both sides of the first and second concourses, you can find your typical sporting event fare including hot dogs (jumbo is $5; foot-long is $7), nachos ($6), popcorn ($4), Coca-Cola line of sodas ($7 for a large, "bottomless," souvenir cup), Budweiser brand beers (16oz is $6; 20oz $8), etc. Stands are spread out fairly regularly throughout each level. Some upgraded fare, such as chopped brisket barbecue sandwiches ($8) and grilled Polish sausages ($6) are also available. What's particularly well thought out about these stands is how they mirror each other on each side of the stadium.
Some upgraded food choices have been added to the food scene at to the "new" Toyota Field. Local food trucks are on hand before the game. On a side note, if you're coming to the game with your kids, make sure you stop by the Corner Store Food Truck as the dancing Whoopie Pies (they have to be seen to be believed) are on hand. Kettle corn stands are also located on the first and second concourses. Other new additions include a pizza by the slice ($6 per slice) and Mexican street tacos (three to an order with beef or chicken; $8 per order).
The local flavor of San Antonio has also been added. On the second floor concourse, roasted corn and corn in a cup ($4 each) are represented. These are South Texas staples. Whole ears of corn are roasted over open flames and dressed to your liking with a variety of toppings (butter, parmesan cheese, chili powder, etc.); and a corn in a cup is just as the name implies. It is also served dressed as you like it. Most folks in these parts prefer mayonnaise in lieu of butter.
A fruteria, or fruit stand is also on site. Large cups of fresh watermelon, cantaloupe, mango, pineapple, cucumber, and jicama ($7 for a large cup). Refreshing aguas frescas are also served ($5 per glass).
Toyota Field is the class of the USL. After seeing the improvements done to the facilities first-hand, I believe it would be difficult to find anyone who disagrees with this assessment.
This is really a "fan's park." During play, the stadium PA operator is virtually silent. There is no ambient music played during stoppages simply to allow the fans and their rowdiness to take over. The overhang above the luxury box level amplifies the crowd noise and only feeds the crowd's enthusiasm.
Even before the renovations from SSE, there was not a bad seat in the house at Toyota Field. The location of the stadium (formerly at the heart of a rock quarry) lends to the overall secluded atmosphere. It seems ideally suited for a sport like soccer. The wide open vistas and remoteness of this part of the city pair nicely with the vast green expanses of a soccer field.
Upgrades to the stadium include the addition of a new bar/cabana area on the south end of the field. The new Bud Light Bunker offers standing room only attendance with a phenomenal view. Attendees in this area not only get a direct view from behind the goal in the south end of the stadium, but they can also do so from the comfort of a shaded, raised (the bunker is on a platform putting it above the playing surface) area complete with industrial-grade ceiling fans and all-weather flat-screen TVs.
In the concourse above and diagonally across from the Bunker, is another great viewing area, the Corner Kick Pub. This outdoor, in the elements version of the Bunker also offers tremendous sight lines of all the action. There is a similar venue in the luxury box level, the Sky Suite. No matter where you sit, you're going to enjoy the view.
Toyota Field is situated in the middle of a former rock quarry and as such is set apart from much of the city. Adjacent to it is Heroes Stadium (a high school football and track facility for the North East Independent School District) and the S.T.A.R. (South Texas Area Regional) Soccer Complex.
In Toyota Field's "backyard" is the pride and joy of the facility's former owner, Morgan's Wonderland. The country's only completely ADA accessible theme park is open year round to the public. If you have some time either before or after a San Antonio FC game, make sure to stop by.
While the area is remote, Toyota Field is located at the intersection of no less than four major thoroughfares which can conceivably take you to any point in San Antonio within 15-30 minutes. Hotels, motels, sit-down and fast food restaurants are littered in every direction along these roads.
Less than 10 minutes away (depending on traffic) is The Forum at Olympia Parkway, one of the area's most popular shopping centers. You can find any number of family friendly eating establishments (Red Robin, Chili's, Chipotle, TGI Friday's, Outback Steakhouse, and more) as well as retail establishments such as Target, Best Buy, and Kohl's. The real draw is the remoteness of the location; being away from the hustle and bustle of the city is a rare treat.
The old tenants of Toyota Field had a very rabid and die-hard fan base. One of the first missions of the new owners was to offer a hand of friendship to these fans and offer them a chance to be a part of the inaugural season as members of San Antonio FC's fan base. In their first season, the fans have come out in droves and give Toyota Field an electric atmosphere.
Two particularly rabid fan clubs are the Crocketteers and Mission City Firm 118. From the first second of the game until the last, these fans are chanting, shouting, waving their scarves, beating drums, jumping, and giving the opposing goaltender and referees the business. Before the game, the tailgate is very impressive, especially for a minor league club. The fans are an important part to the overall game experience and are quite entertaining in their own right.
There are four main thoroughfares that lead to and from Toyota Field. The "super road" Wurzbach Parkway and Interstate 35 being the main ones. From these two roads, you can get to Toyota Field fairly easily from any part of the city. The close proximity to I-35 especially makes the stadium easy to access from tourist hubs, such as San Antonio's Downtown/Riverwalk area.
The new management team spent a great deal of time and planning with city and county officials in an effort to ensure the best egress and ingress options for visitors. Parking lots have been streamlined to make them better for visitors, as well. With three lots (two permit and one general admission across the street), there is plenty of close parking for every attendee.
For what you get, you really can't beat a game at a really high-quality minor league facility. Toyota Field checks all of the boxes needed for a great game experience. Tickets can be purchased for as low as $10 per person (standing room "seats" in the Bud Light Bunker) and sideline seats range from $15-$17. The food and parking costs are reasonably priced, as well.
The overall experience is well worth the visit to Toyota Field. There are a couple of nice little extras for fans to look out for. A giant-sized cutout of the San Antonio FC shield/logo is available for photo ops just inside the main entry. It has proven a hit with selfie takers since its installation. Out in the south goal area, a full-sized Toyota Tundra is on hand (as part of the Toyota branding, of course). Fans can sit in the bed and/or on the tailgate for an upgraded cost and watch the game from a great corner view.
Toyota Field is a true gem. For soccer fans, you will be hard pressed to find another minor league stadium in the United States that can beat the views and the bargain you'll get with your ticket. SSE has done a great job with the renovations thus far with the promise of more to come in coming years. If you're in San Antonio, do yourself a favor and grab a ticket or two and catch the action.
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