Ocean Bank Convocation Center – Florida International Golden Panthers
Photos by Chris Green, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 2.71
Ocean Bank Convocation Center 11200 Southwest 8th Street Miami, FL 33199
Year Opened: 1986
FIU basketball isn’t exactly steeped in historic excellence. Known more for its hiring and firing of Isiah Thomas as their head coach a few years ago than for consistent winning, the FIU program has had a rough go of it the last few years. Ironically, their facility seems to show the same dreary emotion. In an arena that looks state of the art from the outside and in the lobby, the reality of what awaits inside is rather disappointing. The facility has had a facelift that makes it initially welcoming, but what fans get instead is a boring and clearly aging experience that needs massive work.
Food & Beverage 3
There isn’t anything spectacular about the FIU Arena concessions stands, nor is there anything inherently bad. Food is not very expensive; cheeseburgers cost $7, hot dogs and salted pretzels are $4, ice cream is $3, candy is $2, and chips or cookies are $1. Drinks are a flat rate of $3 for water, soda, or Gatorade.
The best thing here is the unique floor design that FIU’s court features. With waves crashing onto a beach on one side and tropical palm trees on the other, the floor definitely stands out. That, however, is where the uniqueness ends. The arena echoes a lot, so the little noise that is made by the few fans in attendance is amplified, making it seem even more empty. Also, the extremely old lighting in the rafters hums loudly whenever turned on.
The upper stands are also rarely ever opened all the way for fans. The blue folding seats are uncomfortable, reminding you more of old high school gymnasium seating than Conference USA college basketball, and the entire inside of the arena seems old, stuck in the midst of the 1980s. In fact, it’s hard to tell any difference between now and when the arena was used for the filming of an episode of Miami Vice. The upper concourse is no longer open to the public due to the small size of the crowds, so fans enter at the ground floor and continue into the arena through the ground floor instead of walking up to their seats.
The nicest part of the arena is the exterior of the main entrance, which is complete with new entry doors, ticket booths, landscaping, and a statue of a Florida Panther, while the second floor features suites that are available but rarely used. Once you get past this and the lobby, the rest is very disappointing.
FIU’s arena is located on campus, which makes it convenient to attend for students. Unlike stadiums in the middle of a city, there is a sense of security on campus, as you are seemingly separated from the rest of the neighborhood around it. However, there still remains the issue of how that surrounding neighborhood looks, and it isn’t exactly the best in Miami.
Sweetwater is a town known for political corruption and severe street flooding during hurricanes, and not much else. Put a college campus in the middle of it, and you have FIU. The campus itself is growing by the day, with new construction all over the place and new buildings popping up. Ocean Bank Convocation Center is on the far west end of the campus, situated in a corner near FIU’s tennis courts and a parking garage. Very few hotels are nearby, making the idea of an overnight trip hard if you wanted to stay close to the action.
It is hard to get really excited about college basketball when few fans show up. Most students who do show up only stay for part of the game, often coming and going throughout the evening. Few are actually passionate fans who follow the progress of the team on a game-by-game basis. Some student athletes do attend to support friends, but that also is on a “as I was passing by” status.
One of the most disappointing things is the fact that the arena, as old as it is, looks even more so without fans, and the lack of excitement and electricity in the facility is hard to ignore during college basketball games.
Getting to any stadium at FIU isn’t too hard, but traffic can sometimes be problematic. As is typical in Miami, traffic backs up right around the exits nearest FIU’s campus on a daily basis. If you find yourself hoping to get to a game and rush hour happens to have lasted a little longer on that day, you may be in for a late arrival. Plan accordingly and give yourself more time than you may think you’ll need. The campus is right off of Florida’s Turnpike.
Return on Investment 3
The investment of a ticket, travel, and concessions may be average in terms of what you get back, but there simply isn’t anything to get overly excited about. It would be a different story if the arena had anything that set it apart, such as featuring a state-of-the-art interior that wowed your senses. But aside from a basketball court with a beach scene design, and the end zone “cabanas” that cost a lot of money to sit in with a mediocre view, the arena is nothing more than a glorified gymnasium. For the same amount of money and investment of time and travel, one could travel to the eastern side of Miami for another NCAA basketball experience that far outperforms FIU.
There are often giveaways to students and fans at FIU basketball games, and that is never a bad thing. FIU’s mascot Roary also is a frequent visitor to the games, mingling with fans and trying to pump up the energy. Lastly, the FIU dance team, cheerleaders, and band are always on hand to liven up the experience.
If you are looking for a top notch, exciting, and comfortable college basketball experience in Miami, you likely arrived at the wrong campus. FIU basketball is like the color beige; sure, there isn’t anything wrong with it, and people use the color often in their homes, but it signifies nothing exciting and nothing to wow your senses when you’re there. The face lift to the arena was much needed, and has improved the fan experience, but not by much.