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Official Review by Marc Viquez, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The Milwaukee Wave hold the honor of being the United States’s oldest professional soccer team, debuting in 1984 as members of the American Indoor Soccer Association. Throughout six different indoor leagues, three venue changes, six retired jersey numbers, and six championships, the Wave have played continuously in the city of Milwaukee since the Reagan administration.
The Wave joined the Major Arena Soccer League in 2014 in the renamed UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena. The arena opened in 1950 as the Milwaukee Arena and has been known by multiple names that include the MECCA Arena and the U.S. Cellular Arena. The 9,500-seat capacity for the Wave creates an ideal canvas for one of indoor soccer’s biggest draws in attendance figures.
The arena saw a $10.5 million renovation in 1998 that included a new video scoreboard, refurbished seats, wider concourses, and lighting and sound improvement. For a facility that was built in the mid 20th century, it holds up quite impressively with unobstructed views and excellent sightlines.
The Wave are embarking on their sixth major indoor league, but continue to be a popular entity within the sports community of Milwaukee with an educational outreach program that has reached 70 schools, popular kids club packages, and is a child friendly destination. The team and the arena make for a perfect setting for spending an afternoon or evening watching indoor soccer.
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 is a nice selection of menu options at the arena, with many of them including a type of sausage sandwich, but then again this is Milwaukee, so what do you expect? The hot dog, bratwurst, and Italian sausage sandwiches are well worth the price of between $4.50-$5. They are fresh, tasty, and come with the option of grilled peppers and sausages. There are more exotic sausage varieties that include apple and gouda and chipotle cheddar that are priced at $7.
The arena also serves hamburgers, pulled pork sandwiches, nachos, pretzels, popcorn, pizza and ice cream cones for fair prices. RC Cola, 7Up, Big Red and Sun Drop soft drinks are served at the concession stands and beer prices start at $7 for domestic bottles. All of the products are hot, fresh, and quite delicious. Perhaps a basket of cheese curds added to the menu sometime in the future?
The Wave have been one of the better teams in terms of attendance in indoor soccer and continually draw well to their home games. It is amazing how much the atmosphere can be altered when you have 3,000 plus fans rooting for the home side. However, there is much more to the atmosphere than just the sheer presence of fans and supporters.
The Wave do a great job creating theme nights for their 10 home games that include Ghostbusters Night, Hot Wheels Night, and Superheroes and Princesses Night. During breaks between periods and halftime, there are activities on the field that you would find in many minor league baseball stadiums. There are three minute games of bubble soccer during halftime for fans, dancing contests, dizzy soccer shoot outs, and t-shirt tosses into the crowd.
Then there is the all black turf that has been well received by players and fans. The synthetic playing surface was installed before the start of the 2014-15 MASL season and results have been positive. The color of the surface grabs your attention and creates another vibe for the sport of indoor soccer.
There is also an array of music played throughout the game that runs the gamut from Metallica, Van Halen, Taylor Swift, and Spice Girls."Chelsea Dagger" by The Fratellis is played after every Wave goal scored, and a lucky fan receives an autographed soccer ball that is kicked into the stands after each goal scored. After each game, the Wave tour around the field and allow fans to walk on the turf to seek autographs from players.
There is a rich history with the club and the six championship banners adorn the wall of the coliseum behind the goal, along with banner honoring six retired numbers.There is a section on the main concourse for merchandise featuring the Wave's colors of black, neon green, and light blue. The team sells a commemorative neon yellow arm sleeve that the Wave players wear in honor of former teammate Brett Wiesner who passed away in 2014. A portion of sales of arm sleeves go towards a fund in his name.
The arena is located in the downtown section of Milwaukee and near many of the city's eclectic neighborhoods of bars, restaurants, museums, shops, and other points of retail. The Historic Third Ward, Fifth Ward, and Waterfront districts are a short walk or taxi ride from the facility.
The Milwaukee Brat House is an ideal spot for a bratwurst sandwich and fried cheese curds, and the Wisconsin Cheese Mart allows visitors to sample numerous types of cheeses and enjoy a few pints in the Uber House next door with many of the beers priced around the $4 mark. The Ale Asylum is located on the waterfront and features Cuban tacos and curry chicken sandwiches. In Red Arrow Park, take a break from eating and drinking, and enjoy some ice skating with the friends, family, or that special someone.
In the Historic Third Ward District are Cafe Benelux, Water Buffalo, and the Wicked Hop that offer amazing options for brunch or just enjoying some great atmosphere. Across the street is the Milwaukee Public Market that is home to fresh fish, meats, a wine and beer bar, cafes, retail, and other culinary delights.
Down the road in the Fifth Ward is the Milwaukee Brewing Company that offers tours on Saturdays and the Central Standard Craft Distillery for $4 Bloody Mary's done the old-fashion way on Sundays. A little further away by car, Honey Pie Cafe serves one of the best pies anywhere. The bourbon fudge and blueberry cream pies are worth ruining your diet.
The Wave have a truly dedicated brass of supporters who have been attending games since 1984. These are not your ordinary fans. They cheer, shout, and scream when things are not going their way on the black turf. The Wave faithful are concentrated on the action on the field and do a great job of creating much of the atmosphere here at the arena. They will also serenade the team after a victory at home and pay respect to former players who make appearances at games. The MASL needs more fans like them at every city in the league.
The downtown setting makes it rather simple to get off of I-94 and find the arena. Parking is $5-$10 and if it is a Sunday or after 6 PM, meter parking is free. The closer you are to the arena, the more of the chance that the parking price will be around $10. Once inside the facility, it easy to get around to the bathrooms and concession stands. You will not be able to completely walk around the seating area without bumping into seating and railings, but for a building that was built in 1950, it is still a great gathering spot for the 21st century sports fan.
The price options for tickets range from $16.50, $26.50, $31.50, $46.50, and $56.50. The $16.50 price point is well worth the admission price to the Wave, but a $46 and $56 price tag seem somewhat high for indoor soccer, even though it is for seating in the first three rows of the arena. Compared to other teams in the league, the Wave ticket prices are somewhat on the higher side. However, the team is a first class organization and worthy of a visit to any stadium traveler.
The Wave receive extra points for their black field surface, another point for the admiration the team gives to its fans during the game that includes kicking autograph soccer balls into the stands, a third point for its user-friendly website to find out about tickets and schedules, and a fourth and final point for being the longest running professional soccer team in the United States.
All indoor soccer games should be like a Milwaukee Wave game experience. The sport has seen its up and downs since the original Major Indoor Soccer League ceased operations in 1992, but the Wave have managed to be an anomaly in a sea of defunct indoor soccer franchises. Attending a Wave game should be on a list for any sports enthusiast who may or may not enjoy soccer. I have to commend the Wave for being a top level organization and if I ever find myself back in Milwaukee, I look forward to attending another game.
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