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Official Review by Paul Donaldson, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
A 50 mile drive northwest of Houston, Texas will put you in the small city of Prairie View, home to Prairie View A&M University and, well, not much else. The namesake of both the city and university can be taken in the literal sense, because outside of university buildings, all that can be seen is vast Texas prairie. During college basketball season, the sights and sounds of Prairie View are quite different inside the William J. Nicks Building.
Seating approximately 6,500, the “Baby Dome” offers a unique experience from the suggestive dance moves of the Baby Dolls to the deafening music pumped in from the sound system, to the high-energy style of SWAC basketball.
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".
The concessions offerings are anything but a strength for Panther basketball at the Baby Dome. If you're looking for variety, you've come to the wrong place. Perhaps the most "unique" offering is Red Bull drinks. In fact, only six items are on the menu: chili & cheese hot dog ($4), regular hot dog ($3), nachos ($5), popcorn ($2, $3), candy ($2), chips ($1), Red Bull ($3), and Pepsi product sodas ($2).
It's even hard to say the price is fair considering the $5 nachos are certainly nothing to write home about. My recommendation is to grab a box of popcorn and soda. Make sure you eat before heading out for the game because there are very few restaurant options in Prairie View.
The loudest noise you'll encounter at the Baby Dome is undoubtedly from the sound system which will have your ears bleeding by the second half. Though this may be a welcomed attraction of the Baby Dome for some, it was certainly a nuisance for my family and I found myself seeking out aspirin after the game. A small group of boisterous students sit behind the visitor's bench and literally spend 90% of the time ragging on the opposing team players.
Personally, the highlight of the atmosphere inside the Baby Dome was the Panther Dolls, the PVAMU dance squad. Though several times I had to cover my son's eyes during their suggestive routines, they demand attention during every break from young and old, male or female.
As usual at most smaller college basketball venues, the William Nicks Building doesn't feature any video scoreboard or replay screens. A scoreboard hangs beyond the end lines on both sides of the courts. Though seats wrap around the court in bowl style, you'll want to avoid the seating areas behind the end-lines as the scoreboard can block your view. A great seating area for visitors is the home side of the arena near mid-court, but closer to the top of the stands. Banners highlighting accomplishments across several sports wrap the arena around the outer wall just below the ceiling.
If you were hoping to maximize your time at a Prairie View A&M basketball game by taking in the eats and attractions in the university area, you'll be sadly out of luck. There's very little to eat in the area and, outside of viewing the beautiful Prairie View A&M campus, there's absolutely nothing to do. If you are determined to eat in the area, my recommendation is Brubakers Barbecue and Burgers. There are a few chain stops including Papa John's and Subway. I'd recommend spending time before and after the game in nearby Hempstead or a little further away in Cypress.
The average paid attendance for Panther basketball at the William J. Nicks Building ranges between 1,000-3,000, but actual attendance is usually closer to 1,000 or less. Don't expect the small crowd to equal a quiet, listless arena. The fans in attendance react well to big scores and flashy plays, but don't stay involved throughout.
Though Prairie View is certainly not near a major airport or public transit option, getting to the university area is pretty painless, if you don't mind Texas highways. If you are flying in, your best bet is Houston through Bush Intercontinental and then taking a 30-45 minute drive from Beltway 8 to Hwy 290 en route to Prairie View.
Once you arrive to the Prairie View exit, the Baby Dome will be just off the main entrance to your left. Parking is accessible and free. You'll have no issues making your way to the entrance and through the gates. The concourses and seating aisles are spacious enough to make your way easily through the arena. The restroom facilities are adequate.
Tickets to a Prairie View basketball game at the William J. Nicks Building will cost you $10 per person. That's a somewhat fair price, but a little more than I would expect to pay for the level of competition. As mentioned, parking is free and concessions are a little over-priced but not extreme. Overall, the return on investment is average.
Every great live sports experience is highlighted by certain 'extra' features which are unique compared to other venues or make the overall experience memorable. For the experience at William J. Nicks Building be sure to consider the following during your stadium experience:
Whether your team wins or loses, you certainly won't be let down by the Baby Dolls dance squad.
It was pretty neat to see an old-school trophy case in the concourse. Though it certainly gave a high-school feeling, it's better than not displaying historical accomplishments at all.
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