Des Moines, Iowa, was once the Arena Football League stomping grounds of an unknown, Iowa-bred quarterback who went on to win a Super Bowl title and set numerous NFL records.
That former Iowa Barnstormer star was Kurt Warner, who was under center for the AFL squad from 1995-97. Warner was the first QB for the franchise when it opened its first season in Des Moines in May ’95. As the AFL ran into financial problems, the team was sold and moved following the 2000 season.
The Barnstormers returned to Des Moines and Wells Fargo Arena in 2008. Since then, Des Moines’ largest indoor stadium has played host to one of the most raucous fan bases in the AFL. The supportive crowd lived up to its billing in the Barnstormers’ final game of the 2012 season on July 21, an exciting 66-63 victory over the first-place San Antonio Talons.
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".
Wells Fargo Arena has your basic concessions with average prices. There was nothing special, just your basic popcorn, hot dog and soda stands. A dog, drink and snack will cost you around $10.
Beer is also reasonably priced with a 20-ounce draught selling for $6. Some of the vendors have an interesting way of serving the stadium's beer selection of Budweiser and Bud Light. Wells Fargo Arena features the efficient "pouring" of the Bottoms Up beer system. It works by having a magnet at the bottom of your cup, and the vendor pushes the cup over a machine that pushes beer through the bottom by moving the magnet. When it's full, the magnet closes over the hole when moved away from the machines. Check out this video via Des Moines Register reporter Sophia Ahmad, who published this blog before the system debuted at an Iowa Energy game in February 2011 (the arena also hosts the Iowa Energy of the NBA D-League).
Wells Fargo Arena is a small, compact stadium with a low ceiling, and it gets loud. It probably helped that I attended arguably the Barnstormers' best home performance of the season, but the crowd of 9,184 made it sound like a sellout.
The stadium was a little more than half full, but it didn't take much to become absorbed with the game. Any seat in the house is great for viewing because the proximity to the field is similar to watching a basketball game in a gym. You're right in the action, especially with a lower concourse ticket within 10-15 rows from the walls on the field.
I'm not used to being that close to a football game, and it was a thrilling experience. The fast-paced, high scoring affair fueled the electric atmosphere, and the noise lasted from start to finish.
If you're a football fan, just attending any AFL game is worth experiencing. It's a totally different perspective, and the contest felt like a glorified backyard pick-up game with much better athletes than the ones you grew up playing against.
Wells Fargo Arena is located on the northern edge of downtown Des Moines, a decent-sized commercial district that has plenty to offer in terms of pre- and post-game entertainment. Most of the bars and restaurants are located on Court Avenue, which is located about a mile south of the stadium.
Unfortunately, the arena is about a one-mile, uphill climb from Court Avenue, making the walk rather unpleasant. But on a nice summer evening, the walk to the arena is doable. However, if you call a cab after having a few drinks, it is a fairly cheap fare from the Court Avenue District to the stadium.
The area surrounding the stadium is safe and well-lit. If you park a few blocks down from the arena in any direction, it will be a safe walk to your car after the game, even late at night.
The Barnstormer faithful ranked towards the top in AFL attendance during the team's run in the '90s, and support has steadily climbed since the franchise returned. Iowa's largest crowd in Wells Fargo Arena was 12,184 in April 2010. During my most recent visit on July 21, the team announced a crowd of 9,184.
Barnstormers fans are loud and crazy about their team. Aside from Iowa and Iowa State college football, the Barnstormers are the closest thing to professional football in a state that is crazy about the sport. But these fans are knowledgeable, too.
I'm not all too familiar with Arena Football League rules, but I'm a fan of football in general and enjoy watching some players who I recognized in college continue playing the game. The Iowa fans I sat by knew the names of most of the players on the field. Many have been to multiple games and knew at least the basic rules of arena play.
And, boy, do they love their former Hawkeyes. Former Iowa running back Rodney Filer received a roaring ovation after finishing off his 13-year AFL career with a win.
Conveniently, Wells Fargo Arena is located right off Interstate 235, the main highway that passes just north of downtown Des Moines. The stadium is a few blocks south of the exit and is the gateway to downtown Des Moines.
Parking at the stadium is relatively cheap, usually around $5 or $10. However, I can't tell you the exact price because I have not once paid for parking at Wells Fargo Arena for any event. If you're willing to walk an extra block or two, you could avoid the parking fee by parking on one of the downtown side streets, which are relatively unoccupied on weeknights and weekends.
There is plenty of parking within walking distance around the arena if you look for it. Think about it: you can save enough for an extra Bottoms Up beer!
For an arena football game, you can't get much better than the atmosphere of an Iowa Barnstormers game at Wells Fargo Arena. The fans are fun and friendly, the atmosphere is loud and exciting, and the stadium is easy to access without paying for parking. You can easily take a family of four and buy some food and beverages for around $80-$100, depending on the seats.
That being said, I still think the tickets are too pricy. Des Moines isn't the biggest sports market, so fans shouldn't have to pay big-market prices. The cheapest tickets should be in the $8-$10 range and not the $12-$15 range. Also, $45 for a top-notch seat is a little steep. At the end of the day, it's still arena football, and the best seat in the house should be no more than $35.
The only bonus point is a shout out to the passionate fans of the Barnstormers. They are into the game and excited while still acting under control and are considerate. They are a knowledgeable bunch and dedicated to supporting their players. If there is a better fan base in the AFL, speak now or forever hold your peace.
**Photo attributed to Iowahwyman.
Nice place to see a concert
206 3rd St
Des Moines, IA 50309
302 Court Ave
Des Moines, IA 50309
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