Situated in the shadows of Sun Devil Stadium, Wells Fargo Arena has played home to Arizona State's basketball teams since 1974. While the Sun Devil hoops program has never been confused with the elite in the nation, they typically provide a competitive team that will neither thrill nor disappoint. With recent renovations to the home court complete, the same can now be said of Wells Fargo Arena.
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".
One of the major portions of the renovations was the creation of a new "food court" near the east entrance. It's less of a food court in the more common sense than a row of four small vendors placed in a newly created indent along the wall.
The primary tenant is a Papa John's shop where fans can get the expected pizza options starting at $7 each. Alongside the Papa John's are Mexican and Chinese vendors offering standard combination plate options. You can expect to pay $8-$9 per plate at each. The last member of the food court is a grill offering tasty hamburger and hot dogs starting at $6.50.
Truth be told, for a university as large as Arizona State, the offerings outside of the "food court" were disappointing in respect to options. They would find an appropriate home at any high school venue, but for the largest Pac-10 school, it's not unreasonable to expect more. Nachos, fries (both $4) and candy ($3) can be washed down with bottled water ($3) or Coke products ($5 for a large or $4.50 for a nice souvenir cup).
Even during this sparsely attended game, the lines seemed to be moving slower than expected.
Sun Devil athletics, as have all professional and collegiate teams in the Phoenix area, have suffered from the population's overwhelming bandwagon attitudes. This is not a poor reflection of the efforts of the respective teams and programs, but simply the nature of the Phoenix area as a whole. The majority of the population, and in ASU's case the student body, is not native to the region, so within Phoenix you will find as vast an array of team loyalties as anywhere in the country.
The primary symptom of this condition is a generic and manufactured atmosphere during games. This, combined with the lack of prolonged success, has ensured that there are no great traditions, chants or activities that can be experienced.
The crowds typically arrive close to tip time. After passing through a quick and efficient security and ticket check, fans can expect a sterile mall-like atmosphere as they traverse the concourse. This is where fans will primarily notice the age of the arena, with a drab and borderline warehouse feel that is broken up by the occasional vendor as you walk along.
When you enter the arena area from the concourse, you immediately see where the majority of the renovation dollars went. The entire area is draped in bright gold and maroon. The individual plastic seats are easily accessible and adequate, although one nearby fan who was a just shade over five feet tall found the leg room in a lower level seat "uncomfortable".
As part of the renovations, a beautiful mural of great Sun Devil athletes now encompasses the top portion of the arena, which cuts the seating capacity by over 3,000. Banners commemorating the school's championships hang from the rafters.
The jewel of the renovation project is a very impressive video scoreboard hanging over center court. Even though every seat offers a clean and close view of the on-court action, the four 8' by 12' screens ensure all fans see the best that action has to offer. Another great new feature is the installation of two screens on the east and west ends of the arena that provide up to the second statistical information about the game.
The school band did a fair but unmemorable job with the fight song and other covers of pop music.
As anyone who has ever been to Tempe, Arizona can tell you, Mill Avenue is where it's at. It is the go to pre- and post-game spot for any ASU event, and for good reason.
All along the street are a varied collection of bars and restaurants that offer something for everyone. There are over sixty drinking and dining options within reasonable walking distance in the Mill Avenue area, so there is certainly no excuse for not finding something to your liking, with Rula Bula and Robbie Fox's (both Irish pubs) among the local favorites.
In venturing to Mill Avenue, it's highly recommended to park near the stadium and walk over, as parking is at a premium during all hours of the day around Mill, an issue exacerbated by the game day influx.
Thankfully, it is also accessible by the new light rail system that can take fans all over the Phoenix metropolitan area for a reasonable fare.
Other than the "Frieder Fanatics", who were quite an attraction during Bill Frieder's tenure as coach during the 1990s, fans at ASU games have a passive reputation. Even considering that this game was during Christmas week, the attendance in the 10,754 seat arena was still sparse.
The fans in the student section gave their all and in true ASU form were adorned in gold and stood during play. The cheers, jeers and chants were easily audible during the game, as the rest of the arena remained rather quiet.
The students were the only fans who showed any real passion during the game. The rest of the crowd played true to Phoenix-area form, remaining seated during the action and applauding after good plays by the Sun Devils.
"Let's go Dev-ils!" and "De-fense" were the only chants that emanated from outside the student section all night. Even the lone tradition of ASU basketball "" remaining standing until the opposition scores "" was only followed by about two thirds of the fans.
Parking in the area close to the arena is plentiful and cheap.
Entering the area off of either Rural Road to either Rio Solado Parkway or Sixth Street will get you to Packard Drive where you can access any number of lots, with the closest non-VIP spaces available for $5 and only a five minute walk from the gates.
The bathrooms are acceptable given the age of the facility and even during halftime, the wait is not excessive.
The attendance issues at Arizona State athletic events are well known by the administration and tickets are priced accordingly. Although most lower level seats are priced between $40 to $80 per game, the school runs numerous promotions that cut those prices drastically. For example, all lower level tickets during December were $10.
Typically, the "upper level" seats - which are in essence just slightly above the "lower level" in this one level arena - are at most $10 and still provide a great view of the action.
Although the food seems slightly on the high side, the low parking and ticket cost more than compensate, which results in a good return on your entertainment dollar.
Along the walls are dated black-and-white tributes to the members of ASU's Hall of Fame. In the concourse are two trophy cases containing various ASU athletic achievements of the past. They are presented as an afterthought, with no real excitement or draw to them at all.
As with any ASU event, the mascot, Sparky the Sun Devil, is an entertaining diversion. Other than his crazy antics, there is not much else in the way of extras at Wells Fargo Arena.
Cameron Indoor. The Pit. Phog Allen Fieldhouse.
Those shrines to college basketball are rightfully deserving of the attention and honor that are bestowed on them, not just for the quality on-court product, but for the intangible have-to-be-there experience.
Wells Fargo Arena possesses none of that. Being in the building has about as much electricity to it as walking through a mall during the holiday shopping season.
Overall, it is a solid and serviceable venue that will give fans a good experience for the money they spend. If you are a fan of ASU, their opponent or have a bucket list of Division I basketball venues to complete, then Wells Fargo Arena will suit you well.
If not, it's still a fine place to watch a game and you will not be disappointed by the surroundings.
As one fan I spoke to said of it, "It's fine, nothing special. It makes for a nice reason to head over to Mill Avenue".
They were right.
Although I don't attend many college basketball games, this venue seemed mediocre. That being said, it was a blast even though the home team fell to Washington 68-59. Super easy and affordable parking at the garage across the street and inexpensive tickets (I think they were something like $17) made for a great basketball night. The food was really basic, but I was happy with a brat, a coke, and some popcorn.
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