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  • Jared Goodman

Norfolk Scope – Norfolk Admirals

Photos by Jared Goodman and Joeseph Oakes, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.14

Norfolk Scope 201 E. Brambleton Ave Norfolk, VA 23510

Norfolk Admirals website

Norfolk Scope website

Year Opened: 1971

Capacity: 8,701


Scoping Out the Admirals

Tidewater Virginia is home to the world’s largest reinforced thin-shell concrete dome. The Kingdome in Seattle debuted a larger thin-shell dome in 1976; however, that stadium was imploded in 2000 and the world record was sent back to Hampton Roads. This bustling region in eastern Virginia is home to none other than the Norfolk Scope.

The Scope is a unique venue that’s nothing shy of an architectural feat. It boasts a design that is almost unheard of in sports, in that the arena resembles a kaleidoscope. When first opened in 1971, the building was home to the Virginia Squires of the ABA and the Old Dominion Monarchs basketball program. However, since 1989 it has been the home in some capacity to minor league hockey.

The Hampton Roads Admirals began to play as members of the ECHL and captured three Kelly Cup championships in 1991, 1992, and 1998. In 2000, the club made the move to the American Hockey League as the Norfolk Admirals and won the Calder Cup in 2012. However, due to a west coast migration by many western-based NHL teams, the Admirals found themselves back in the ECHL for the 2015-2016 season.

Despite league, affiliation, and logo changes throughout the years, the arena has never gone a season without a hockey team named the “Admirals.” Today, the Norfolk Admirals of the ECHL play at the Scope, which holds 8,701 people for ice hockey matches.

Food & Beverage 3

Overall, it’s best to dine before your visit to an Admirals game. There are many great restaurants in downtown Norfolk to choose from, so there’s really no reason to wait and eat overpriced, mediocre food at the arena. Not to say that the food options at the Scope are terrible, but they’re exactly average and what you’d find at any other sports venue. Corn dogs, nachos, funnel cakes, popcorn, lemonade, water and soda are among the offerings. It’s worth noting that most are priced at $5, which is expensive for some items but a bargain for others. Expect to pay a bit more, say $9 or $10, for large entrées such as barbecue sandwiches and chicken tenders.

Atmosphere 3

Perhaps due to the view of the unique kaleidoscope supports, the main concourse that rings the seating bowl seems very foreign, sterile, and space-age-y. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; in fact, it kind of fits in with the unintentional futuristic theme that was created along with the arena in 1971.

Speaking of the 70s, the sound system at the Scope is probably from that era. If it isn’t rocking fans out of their seats with extreme loudness, it’s cutting in and out – perhaps even interrupting the National Anthem, as it’s done a few times before.

The game day entertainment provided is pretty good and on par with other ECHL clubs. One thing that separates the Admirals from other teams, however, is the rocking “Man your battle stations!” line that the PA announcer delivers several times over. Using Norfolk’s naval heritage to their advantage is a wise move by the Admirals and provides a very original experience.

Unlike other venues that use blackout curtains to block light from entering or exiting the seating bowl, the Scope uses doors. There are pros and cons to this arrangement, so it might be nitpicky to say that they’re unconventional and bothersome.

Despite a few flaws, the Norfolk Admirals really are good entertainment and play in such a unique building. They’re worth a visit when in the Tidewater region.

Neighborhood 4

The Scope’s central location in downtown Norfolk makes it easy to spend an entire day in the Mermaid City. Start the day out exploring Nauticus, a giant naval museum that features the USS Wisconsin. This battleship, docked in Norfolk’s harbor, is open to visitors for boarding and exploration. If you’ve never been on a naval vessel before, don’t miss this amazing opportunity.

Cruises through the harbor are also available; they offer fantastic up-close views of battleships, destroyers, and aircraft carriers moored at Naval Air Station Norfolk. No matter where you turn, it’s evident that the United States Navy has always been deeply woven into the fabric of the Hampton Roads region. It’s well worth your time and money to explore part of this history.

Back in downtown Norfolk, head to the Waterside District that runs along the Elizabeth River. This is a great spot loaded with restaurants and bars, making it the perfect pre-game destination. As night falls, it’s a very short walk up a few blocks to the Scope.

If you’re staying overnight, take a look at some of the hotels located in downtown Norfolk and nearby Portsmouth. A few of these properties offer fantastic waterfront views and great in-house dining options.

Fans 2

Sellouts at the Scope are not even rare, they’re non-existent. This is obviously not the only standard by which the fans should be measured, but it certainly is a sad state of affairs when you can’t pack the house for any reason whatsoever. The Admirals, in fact, have ranked last in attendance in the ECHL for quite a few years now.

Fans do show up for games, though it’s often a light crowd. Those in attendance are capable of participating, but primarily when the team is doing well. It seems as if a lot of folks are just there to socialize. Moreover, large amounts of people leave when the score becomes lopsided in either direction.

Access 4

Norfolk is the heart of the Hampton Roads region and is located at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay in eastern Virginia. The only major interstate that reaches this area is I-64, which runs westward to Richmond, Charlottesville, and beyond. In Tidewater, I-64 and its spur routes criss-cross and loop the metro Norfolk area. A few of these highways are toll roads, so double check your planned route before leaving if you want to avoid surprise charges. Also, be aware that a few tunnels and bridges near downtown Norfolk are tolled as well.

A cheap and easy way to access the Scope directly is to take The Tide light rail. The convenient train service is free to ride and offers free or cheap parking at a few stops outside of downtown. The Tide stops just down the street from the arena’s main entrance at the Monticello station. Granted, taking The Tide is a much longer endeavor than simply parking near the Scope, but it is a bit nicer to your wallet.

Parking nearby, however, really isn’t all that bad. A few garages around the arena are available on game nights for a small fee, but the best place to park is undoubtedly the Scope garage located directly underneath the building. You really can’t get much closer to the arena than this. Out of all the parking options mentioned, most charge $5 – positively never more than $10.

Return on Investment 3

With the purchase of a game ticket, you’re in for a fun night of Admirals hockey regardless of your seat location. If you buy your seats online in advance, you’ll be charged almost $6 in extra fees. It’s best to simply wait and get your tickets at the box office when you arrive at the Scope, especially since there’s almost no chance of a sellout on any given night. The cheapest seats in the house, which still provide a close view of the action due to the arena’s relatively small size, go for about $12.

For a family of four, including concessions and parking ($5-$10), you’re looking at just over $100 for a night out at the Norfolk Scope.

Extras 3

The Scope has a one-of-a-kind design for a sports venue, it’s centrally located in both downtown Norfolk and the Hampton Roads region in general, and it’s good local entertainment without breaking the bank. All told, the Scope deserves three extra points.

The Scope’s Thinshell Dome, Photo by Jared Goodman, Stadium Journey

Final Thoughts

There have been talks of renovating the Norfolk Scope or replacing it altogether. No matter what lies ahead for this unique arena, make sure to get out to the Mermaid City for an Admirals game at the world’s largest thin-shell concrete dome – you’ll be glad you did.

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