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Official Review by Daniel Armstrong, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
With the completion of US Cellular Coliseum in 2006 a transformation began. The transformation was for the Bloomington-Normal area into the sports hub of downstate Illinois. Being the home of three collegiate teams and four semi-professional teams, the twin cities are only rivaled by the Windy City as far as sports options in the state of Illinois. The newest addition to the area's sports scene are the Central Illinois Drive of the Premier Basketball League.
The Central Illinois Drive are playing their inaugural season in the PBL in 2011-2012 in the West Division.
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".
As far as stadium food goes this is pretty good stuff. There is a large variety of options, but all are more than slightly overpriced. You can get a Pepsi product ($5.75), hot dog ($3.50), double cheeseburger ($4.50), Italian Sausage ($5), popcorn chicken ($5.50), french fries ($4), nachos ($5), or a large popcorn ($7).
There is also a large variety of sandwiches including Italian beef, BBQ pork, an Avanti's Gondola, among others from $6-$7. There are a couple of specialty stands; Dippin' Dots, Maui Smoothies, and Papa Johns to name a few. My recommendation would be to get one of the sandwiches (my favorite being the Italian Beef), and some fries at the main stand and then go over for a smoothie. But that just might be my reluctance to pay $6 for a soda.
Some of the fixed stands offer a few other unique items. There is one with a Mexican theme that offers a very good walking taco for $4 among other things, including "gourmet" nachos.
The fans left something to be desired, but the overall atmosphere was not much better. During the entire game a series of sound effects were used. At first they were amusing, but as the game went on and the sound effects continued it just became an annoyance. I have never been to an event where there were sound effects played during the action from start to finish. It was incredibly distracting, and somewhat disrespectful to the players on the court. The volume of the music and the PA system were way too high. Or maybe it just seemed that way because of the headache that the constant sound effects gave me. The high point would be the different promotions of which were slightly unique and entertaining, and the cheerleaders and mascot who were constantly trying to incite a reaction from the crowd with little to no avail.
One of the positives of being located in the center of a downtown area is the large offering of restaurants and bars. There are numerous bars scattered around, the best of which would be Rosie's Pub, which also has a large sandwich offering.
My recommendation is to visit Lucca Grill, about three blocks down from the coliseum. The restaurant has been in Bloomington for over 75 years and is one of my favorite restaurants with easily the best pizza in town. It also has a bar area if that is your preference. One warning would be if you go too far West the neighborhood can become a bit sketchy. If you are unfamiliar with the area I would suggest using a GPS.
There was a pretty good crowd as far as size. That is really the highlight of this category. It appeared less than half of the people (I wouldn't call them fans) were watching the game, and the rest were either too busy on their cell phones or running up and down for more beer. Of the ones who were paying attention few of them would cheer unless prompted by the announcer or the cheerleaders. The most cheering came when the Drive scored 100 points and everyone in attendance won a free corn dog. That was the only time the atmosphere even slightly resembled the basketball feel I was expecting.
Being in the center of a downtown area the parking situation can be a difficult one. It is very important that you pay attention to signs, because a majority of the lots by the arena are private and if you do not pay to park there you will be towed. The parking can run anywhere from $5-$15. My recommendation would be to either go in one of the parking garages, or find a place to park along the street. Both options are free. Once inside US Cellular Coliseum, bathrooms are plentiful and you shouldn't expect a long wait.
For the Drive games, only 6 sections of US Cellular Coliseum are open (three on each side). One side is considered reserved seating where tickets sell for $12, and the other side is general admission where the tickets go for $10. The fact is it isn't worth the extra $2 for the reserved seating. There will be plenty of decent seats on the GA side and the sight lines are the same. The reserved seats have access to a club which is convenient and makes it more cost effective, but really isn't necessary.
Assuming you go for the free parking on the street, and about $16 for a soda, popcorn, and a sandwich the overall cost runs just above $25. It is worth it, but only because of the quality of game being played. The bottom line is that if you're needing something to do and you have a picture of Andrew Jackson burning a hole in your wallet, then you will have a good time.
I really felt all the sound extras took away from the quality of the game. Several of the players could easily have futures in the NBA and with both teams scoring over 115 it was a GOOD game to watch. The players really came to play and I appreciated it, even if the rest of the fans didn't notice. It is one thing that I love about minor league sports. The athletes are playing their hearts out, where as when you get to the big leagues they sometimes seem to play more for the money and less for love of the sport. As far as talent is concerned, this is one of the best Minor League games I have seen. The cheerleaders and the mascot really worked to get the fans into the game. Even if it didn't do a whole lot of good.
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116 E Market St
Bloomington, IL 61701
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