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Official Review by Paul Donaldson, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Traveling through west Texas, when it seems all signs of life have disappeared and tumbleweeds really do blow, you’ll come upon the sprawling city of Lubbock. Fueled by wind energy, cotton fields, and the mini-economy of Texas Tech University, Lubbock is home to the United Spirit Arena and Red Raider basketball.
Constructed in 1999 with support from major donor United Supermarkets and the students of Texas Tech, the United Spirit Arena is a beautiful building that blends in with the Spanish Renaissance-style architecture of the university campus. Known locally as the “Entertainment Showcase of West Texas,” the United Spirit Arena also serves as host to Red Raider volleyball, Lady Raider basketball, and numerous concerts. Original construction cost approximately $62 million with a total footprint of 204,025 square feet and a capacity of 15,098.
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".
There's a decent variety of concession options at the United Spirit Arena, but be prepared to pay quite a bit for them. Several different stands are scattered throughout the concourse including Chicken Fry Fry which offers up a chicken tender basket for $8, the Black Angus Grill which serves a burger basket for $9 and grilled chicken sandwich for $7, Hot Dog Nation where you can get an American or Chicago styled hot dog for $6 and Vinny's Original with pizza for $6. Each stand also serves up fan favorites like a jumbo hot dog ($5), fried pickles ($6), nachos ($6), popcorn ($4-$5), and assorted candy ($4). You'll also find a Sheridan's ice cream stand and Farley's Fun Foods (cotton candy, funnel cakes, sno cones, and lemonade).
Your drink options will be Coca-Cola products ranging from $5-$6 and bottled water for $4. I recommend going for the snack items like fried pickles, funnel cake, and a fresh lemonade. There's also "Club Red" which is styled as a sports pub and is located on the outer edge of the east side concourse. The concession experience offers good quality and variety but, as you would expect at a major college athletics facility, it also comes with a significant hit to your wallet.
The college basketball atmosphere is all about the fans. Though fan support will be further explored in the Fan section below, it's clear that Lubbock loves their Red Raiders. Whether it's rabid alums, community supporters, or a healthy and active student section, Tech basketball games inside the United Spirit Center are action-packed and full of passion.
The spirit teams are top-notch when it comes to engaging the crowd and entertaining. Though the famed Masked Rider is without his horse inside the arena he still makes an appearance. Tech's other mascot, Raider Red roams the arena engaging fans whether it's taking pictures or shooting giveaway items into the stands. The Pom Squad is a sixteen member team that features some of the fittest girls you'll find on a college dance squad and the cheer teams join them on the base lines rooting on the Red Raiders. A pep-band subset of the Goin' Band from Raiderland is located in the southwest corner of the arena in the student section.
The arena is just as amazing on the inside as it is outside. Two tiers of seating wrap around the court in a bowl style. The student section is robust and wraps from the center court on the east side around to the southwest corner.
Banners hang from the rafters above the second tier seats and wrap around the entire arena. Above the east side second tier is a line of banners honoring men's basketball achievements. In the northeast corner are banners honoring retired jerseys including recognition of legendary Bob Knight's 900th victory as a head coach.
A band of ribbon video display wraps around the bottom portion of the upper level and a four-sided video board hangs above center court also serving as a scoreboard. The court floor extends to seating on all four sides leaving no empty space between seats and hardwood. The best seat in the house is no doubt center court on the west side. However, there are plenty of great seats all over the arena. Personally, I like the seats on the southwest corner just before the band and student section begins. This will give you a good angle for gameplay and put you just close enough to hear the band and see the student section get rowdy.
Lubbock is the definition of a great American college town. Texas Tech University is the engine that makes Lubbock spin and the community loves their Red Raiders. Though there's little doubt the best times can be found on Saturday nights in the fall, Lubbock offers a great college town atmosphere regardless of which sport is in season. If you've been to Lubbock in the past but it's been a decade or so since you've been in town, you'd find it hard to believe just how much growth has occurred around the university. There are plenty of restaurants and nightlife activities available to keep students, alums, and fans engaged around game time.
While in town, duck in for lunch at a student favorite, One Guy from Italy. Their specialty is calzones and you can't go wrong with which type you try. For dinner, order the prime rib with a glass of homebrewed Red Raider brew at Triple J Chophouse and Brew Company.
While searching for other restaurant options, Bigham's Smokehouse might be mentioned as an old joint for some classic Texas pit styled BBQ. Do yourself a favor and don't buy the hype. I know Texas BBQ and that isn't it. If you aren't from Texas and are itching for authentic Texas BBQ, try Rudy's. Though it's a growing chain store, you'll likely find one in every Big 12 college town and throughout Texas.
If you're in the mood for Tex-Mex, check out Abuelo's. Try the "Grande" which includes three enchiladas, a cheese chile relleno, tamale, crispy beef taco and guacamole.
Your best lodging option is undoubtedly the Overton, but it comes with a high price-tag. Though non-nightlife attractions are anything but a strength of the Lubbock area, some interesting options include the American Wind Power Center, the Silent Wings Museum, and the West Texas Walk of Fame featuring the Buddy Holly Statue.
You also can't go wrong taking in the architecture and artwork on the Texas Tech University campus, viewing the surrounding massive wind turbines, and (if you're from the city and don't get out to the country much) taking in miles and miles of cotton fields. Great nightlife options can be found in the Depot District. I recommend taking in the sights and sounds of Louie Louie's Dueling Piano Bar.
Even during the down years, Tech fans support their Red Raiders. Average home crowds are between the 7,500 and 9,000 mark which is just below average for the Big 12 and in the top 50 in the NCAA. Though that may not seem impressive, consider that the Red Raiders have a combined record between the 2010-2011 and 2012-2013 seasons of 31-60.
Fans are consistently in the game whether it's rooting on their Red Raiders, booing the referees, or making noise for their defense to get a stop. During home team free throws, fans have guns held high in silent support. At key moments in the game, one side of the crowd will yell "Power" and the other side will respond with a loud "Raiders."
If you're planning to fly into Lubbock, you can likely catch a Southwest flight into the Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport. It's not the largest of airports, but it's certainly a quicker option than driving if you're coming from outside of Texas.
The United Spirit Arena is a quick drive down I-27 to Highway 82. From 82, you can take a left onto Texas Tech Parkway and another left on to Indiana.
Both free and paid parking is available around the arena. If you look for a lot a little further away, like the corner of Indiana and 18th, the walk will be a breeze and parking free.
Once you arrive at the arena, the ticket lines will be manageable at about 3-5 deep. The gates are also easy to pass through on your way into the arena.
Restrooms and concessions are easily accessible throughout the spacious concourse. The aisles in the stadium are wide and you'll have no issues getting up and down to your seats.
Ticket options at the United Spirit Arena start at $18. For a major college basketball game, that's a pretty nice deal. Concessions are overpriced, but that's the norm at venues in the Big 12. Free parking is available on campus. Considering the overall experience and price, the return on investment is high for a Red Raider game at the United Spirit Arena. Take advantage of the tips in the Neighborhood section and you'll find yourself pleasantly surprised with how much you enjoyed your stay in Lubbock.
Every great live sports experience is highlighted by certain 'extra' features which are unique compared with other venues or make the overall experience memorable. For a Red Raider basketball game at the United Spirit Arena, be sure to consider the following during your stadium experience:
• The Texas Tech University campus architecture is breathtaking. It's pretty neat how the United Spirit Arena blends in. Take some time to walk the campus and take in the sights.
• The Depot District is definitely a plus. There are lots of great nightlife options.
• The prime rib and locally brewed Raider Red at Triple J's is a must stop while in Lubbock.
Member Review by Lbbsport on Apr 18, 2016
State of the art arena. Been to many on campus arenas across the country and this one is by far one of the best. The intensity fell off during the slump but last year, 2015-16 season it was back. For example the Tech - OU game last season was ear splitting. Back when Coach Knight was at Texas Tech, the noise meter would register jet engine often. Facility is well kept and a true basketball palace. Also great for concerts as well.
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