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Official Review by Jason Collette, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
The University of Central Florida has come a long way in its basketball facilities. When the school began playing basketball, it borrowed gym time from local high schools. It eventually began playing games in a multi-purpose gym that was attached to its College of Education building until opening up its first free-standing structure in 1991. That poorly-designed facility quickly proved to be inadequate for Division I sports, which led UCF to building the newly-named CFE Arena that first opened its doors in 2007. The most recent arena retains the traditions of the former UCF Arena, but is a major improvement in every other area and one of the best on-campus venues in the Sunshine State.
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".
The food selection is mostly your typical arena food, save two exceptions. They have recently added barbecue turkey legs and pulled pork barbecue from Everglades BBQ to the main concession stand on the south concourse. Soda can be purchased in a souvenir cup and refilled as many times as is desired during a game or concert. Alcohol is not for sale during collegiate events in the main concourse, only during concerts. That is not the case in the club, loge, or suite areas, where alcohol is for sale until the final ten minutes of a game. In the club area, alcohol must stay in the club underneath the stands and may not be brought out to the seating area. Food was included in the cost of the club seats for the first time in the 2013-2014 basketball season. The biggest turnoff to the food and beverage offerings is the availability; rarely are more than two concession stands open at the same time during basketball games, which leads to very long lines. There are a total of six concession stands on the concourse level, plus a few freestanding kiosks.
The CFE Arena is affectionly known as "The Dungeon." The seating is very close to the court, and nearly every seat in the house offers excellent sight lines and loud crowds. The crowd feeds off the energy from the student section, which is full for many games as long as classes are in session. The audio/visual team is very much involved in the game and keeps the volume at a high level, with the longtime PA announcer helping lead the charge. Tradition is for the hometown fans to remain standing until UCF scores their first points, which can be an annoyance for opposing fans and first-time neutral patrons. When students aren't in session, games often lack the energy level present when students are there.
The CFE Arena sits in the middle of the Athletic Village on the north side of campus. The immediate area outside of the arena has several quick dining options including pizza, sushi, and sandwich options, as well as a full-service sports bar. Just off campus, there are plenty of quick and casual dining options and several sports bars. If you have an appetite for something, odds are you can find an option to satisfy it within a three-mile drive of the campus. If you attend events from Thanksgiving to New Years, you can enjoy Light Up UCF. That event features ice skating, sledding, a Ferris Wheel, and other rides.
There is a solid core of long-time season ticket holders that has been watching the team play since its days in the Education arena on the other side of campus. It is not unusual to spot former collegiate and professional greats that live in the area at games. As a whole, it would not be considered a hostile environment for opposing fanbases. The student section is where most of the action happens. They are on their feet the entire game with cheers, jeers, taunts, and distractions, and they just happen to be located right next to the visitors' bench and the few rows of seating reserved for visiting teams.
It is very easy to get to campus, as the 408 expressway's terminus is the south end of the UCF Research area that intersects with the campus. It is approximately a 20-minute ride from downtown Orlando, without the presence of rush hour traffic.Parking is $5 in the D garage, which is near the front of the arena, while the F garage toward the rear of the arena is reserved for certain levels of season ticket holders. Exiting the garages can be a labor of love, which is why fans will visit one of the establishments in the village to wait out traffic. Traffic flow after games is an issue for big games.
Tickets are relatively cheap compared to other sporting events. Season tickets can be had for under $100 and fans have several options with smaller ticket packages. Ticket prices are tiered by non-conference games, conference games, and premium games within the conference. Tickets for non-premium seating range from $5 to $25, depending on the opponent. If you are a fan that lives in the area, with even a general interest in the program, season tickets are a tremendous bargain. There are youth season tickets available at half the cost of adult tickets.
There are promotional tables at the top of the stairs that lead fans to the main concourse that contain posters, schedules, and a limited copy of game notes. There is a Jimmy John's store on the ground level of the arena that has access to the downstairs lobby of the CFE Arena. Fans are permitted to bring their food and drink from that facility into games. That is the only food option on the lower concourse, despite several areas that were built for the purpose. The other concepts were not able to survive the non-regular business the arena provides outside of basketball games. The Orlando Predators will call the arena their new home starting in the 2014 season, which may change that.
Member Review by StPeteRays
I have many friends who have told me that they were University of Central Florida students or alum, though when I moved to Florida in 2003, I hadn't heard a lot about this school. Maybe I was sheltered or just ignorant to the fact, but I'm not sure why I was left in the dark; with an over-1,400 acre campus just east of downtown Orlando and the second-largest enrollment in the United States (behind only Arizona State University), this school, like most good schools in the state, simply hides under the massive radar generated by the likes of Florida, Florida State, and Miami.
So, when I got the green light to review the Knights' UCF Arena in the heart of this expansive campus, I had about eight people who wanted to come with me; students, alums, and overall fans alike, all because of the rising popularity of this hidden gem. UCF Arena, the largest - by almost double with almost 10,000 for basketball - of the on-campus facilities I've reviewed yet, was opened in 2007 to replace the 5,000-seat Venue at UCF Arena, which was built in 1990 and is still standing today for small concerts and the volleyball team.
Member Review by JimFolsom on Feb 15, 2013
I’m almost hesitant to write a review about the UCF Knights basketball experience. UCF basketball is one of those well-kept secrets that if word gets around, it may lose some of its good qualities. I attended a recent game at the UCF Arena with my two kids. It was a quite enjoyable time.
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