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Official Review by Jackson Wolek, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Since opening in 1986, U.S Century Bank Arena has hosted a variety of events, including concerts, graduations and comedy shows. Recently during the NBA lockout, FIU hosted an sold out All-Star type game featuring Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant and many other NBA superstars. However, for the school's own sporting events, there is usually minimal attendance. Despite hiring legendary NBA star Isiah Thomas as their head coach in 2008, the men's basketball team is posting the worst attendance for the Sun Belt Conference (1,130) in the 2011-2012 season. This could be because Florida International University is located in Miami, Florida, which is known to be an "event" type city. With South Beach and the Miami Heat just 20 minutes away at AmericanAirlines Arena, there are plenty of other things to do.
The arena recently just got remodeled on both the inside and outside. With the 11,000 square feet of renovations, there is a new plaza built outside, a brand new lobby, and suites that have yet to be bought. Inside the new lobby, you can find a brand new concession stand, and flat screen televisions. A new huge scoreboard was put into place in 2011, along with a videoboard.
In the future, there is planned to be a team store and a wall to commemorate past championships the school has won.
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".
I was a little disappointed that there is only one location that you can get food or drinks at US Century Bank Arena. Luckily, there is rarely ever a wait of longer than five minutes because of the lack of attendance the men's basketball team receives. At the concession stand, you can find your usual hot dogs, hamburgers, popcorn and candy. All of the food is priced in a reasonable range, and you can even get airheads candy for just 25 cents. I was hoping that being in Miami, there would be some Spanish food or something that other arenas wouldn't normally have. All in all, you can fill yourself up pretty well by getting a $3.50 Cheeseburger, $2 popcorn cup and $3 soda. If you are looking for something a little more appealing, there are plenty of restaurants off campus just a 5 minute drive away. Also, FIU has Chili's on campus, that serves alcohol.
What all Miami teams seem to get criticized for is lack of fan support at games. That is certainly the case at FIU men's basketball games. Along with the conference low attendance is the feeling that you are at your little brother's high school game. The arena is situated so that there are essentially two student sections, each behind a basket. On the sides are paid seats for the public, or students who choose to pay.
Beyond the seats on the south side of the stadium are bleachers, where students and paying customers can sit. To FIU staff's credit, they try to get the fans involved with a foul shooting contest during halftime, and t-shirt giveaways at timeouts, but other than that, it doesn't give off any kind of "college" feel that you would have at other places.
Unfortunately due to Miami being more of an event town than an actual college town, the neighborhood surrounding the campus is nothing more than what you would see in any other suburban neighborhood that had no campus near it at all.
That being said, there are numerous bars, clubs, restaurants and activities to do, but it is a 20-30 minute drive from the campus. Driving in Miami can be one of the worst experiences ever, but it's worth the pain to go to South Beach for the night.
To the credit of the fans, it is pretty hard to stay loyal to a men's basketball team that has finished well under .500 for the last few years, and is continuing to do so. While fans do still attend the games, the enthusiasm that they give out is very low. You won't see any face paint, hear any funny chants, or even notice any group of fans standing throughout the game as you would witness at other venues. In fact, if you are not sitting in the small student section that they have, it would be difficult to notice that one even existed. I did get a chance to sit in the student section though, and there were some funny references to an opposing player looking like Dikembe Mutombo, but overall the "college spirit" wasn't there.
Getting to the arena is a breeze. The campus is located right off the Florida turnpike going north and south, and once you arrive all you need to do is follow the signs pointing you in the direction of the game that is taking place. Traffic is fine on campus, but off it is another story. Be aware that if your directions show that it takes 15 minutes to get to the campus, then it probably really means 30.
Parking is free, and in close proximity to the arena. There is VIP parking, but it is only for those who have courtside seats.
With the team not doing very well, it's hard to see it as a real good deal to watch them play. However, being able to see one of the top 50 players in NBA history, Isiah Thomas, coach on the sidelines is enough to make up for the poor play. Students can get into the games for free, and the general public can into the games for as low as $5 if you are an alumnus, senior, or child. Anyone else is $7. If you want to get real close to Isiah Thomas, get a $10 lower bowl ticket online. They also have suites that have yet to be purchased, and courtside seats that can be had with a "considerable" donation.
The biggest benefit besides being able to see Isiah Thomas coach is the FIU band that plays throughout the game. By going to several games here, I can assure you that the band might be the biggest fans at the arena. They can always be heard making wise chants and trying to get the crowd involved.
Another plus is the women's basketball team. They have the current number two scorer in the nation, Jerica Coley. She averages 24 points per game, and is a real treat to watch. She is also only a sophomore, so she should be around to watch for another two years.
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