Photos by Matt Finnigan, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.29
Ball Arena 1000 Chopper Circle Denver, CO 80204
Year Opened: 1999 Capacity: 19,250
The NBA at a Mile High
The NBA’s Denver Nuggets have had just one home in their 21st Century existence: downtown Denver’s Ball Arena. Since this Millennium started, the Nuggets struggled to find a mix of players to elevate them to one of the Association’s top teams. Who can forget high first-round draft selections like 2002’s Nikoloz Tskitishvili (5th overall) or 2015’s Emmanuel Mudiay (7th overall)? All sarcasm and nostalgia aside, the Nuggets history at Ball Arena has not been a disaster. Far from it. The team enjoyed successful runs after drafting Carmelo Anthony third overall in 2003 and trading for Allen Iverson at the start of the 2006-2007 season.
Lately, the Nuggets have emerged as one of the NBA’s top teams. They drafted a little-known Serbian center, Nikola Jokic, in the second round of the 2014 NBA Draft (41st overall). “The Joker” became one of the great steals in draft history. He won NBA Most Valuable Player honors in 2021 and 2022, seemingly recording triple-doubles on a nightly basis and passing like a point guard. Jamal Murray, the Nuggets’ seventh pick in the 2016 NBA Draft out of the University of Kentucky, has given the Nuggets a second superstar. Jokic and Murray now have a solid supporting cast that includes Aaron Gordon, Michael Porter, Jr., and Bones Hyland. This has the Nuggets positioned for deep postseason runs. Ball Arena befits the quality of play that Head Coach Michael Malone’s Nuggets display on a regular basis.
Food & Beverage 4
Ball Arena’s concession stands have just about all of the food groups on the major-level sports venue nutritional pyramid: hot dogs, corn dogs, burgers, pretzels, and nachos can be found throughout the arena. The Wyncoop, a poultry-based pun of a local place-name, has a delicious fried chicken sandwich ($15, with fries) on the lower concourse, just outside the entrance to section 146. The taco stand just outside section 102 slings four different kinds of tacos, including a vegetarian option, for $14. The food’s quality is good.
Given that a beverage container company owns the arena’s naming rights, it should come as no surprise that thirsty fans will find a wide selection of beer and cocktails. There are several locations where fans can buy “tall boy” cans of beer that include InBev/Anheuser-Busch and Miller Coors products, along with Cutwater Canned Cocktails and White Claw hard seltzer. Ball Arena has a full bar on the lower concourse where mixed drinks are available ($13.50 for a single, $19.50 for a double).
Given that Pepsi previously owned the arena’s naming rights and remains a sponsor of the building’s tenants, it similarly should come as no surprise that thirsty fans will find Pepsi products sold at Ball Arena.
NBA games are high-energy and Nuggets home games are no different. The team’s recent success has brought larger and louder crowds. The Skyline Drumline plays outside, greeting fans as they arrive. Ball Arena has two main entrances: one on the building’s southeast side and one on the building’s southwest side. Most fans will then take escalators to their seats on the 100, 200, or 300 levels; those sitting in the 100 level can also access their seats via ground-floor entries. The entrance on the southwest side leads into Ball Arena’s grand atrium. The Altitude Athletics team shop sits just beyond where tickets are checked. Be sure not to miss the 20,000-pound sculpture of athletes playing their sports that hangs from the grand atrium’s ceiling.
Ball Arena’s center scoreboard is the gold standard for NBA venues. Installed before the 2013-2014 season, the scoreboard remains one of the best in league arenas. It spans between the tops of the three-point circles at each end, providing highlights, promotions, and live action at 1080p high definition. Despite its size and the fact that it probably sits as a sports dream for many fans who see it, Ball Arena’s scoreboard complements – and does not overwhelm – the live action on the floor below. The in-house audio system is crisp, as are the beats from the team’s DJ. That said, the music can be loud for some people’s tastes. Ball Arena has a place for those wanting a break from the sensory overload that can come from a live NBA game.
Ball Arena Scoreboard, Photo by Matt Finnigan, Stadium Journey
Ball Arena has as many restaurants, bars, and hotels within walking distance as any NBA arena. Denver’s Lower Downtown, or “LoDo,” is the Mile High City’s oldest neighborhood. It has more than 100 restaurants, clubs, and shops, along with Coors Field, the National Ballpark Museum, and the recently renovated Union Station. Just across Speer Boulevard from Ball Arena is Coohills, one of Denver’s best restaurants (1400 Wewatta Street, Denver, CO, 80202; (303) 623-5700). For something more casual, try the Hopdoddy Burger Bar at Union Station (1747 Wynkoop Street, Denver, CO, 80202; (303) 446-2337).
If you’re willing to walk a bit farther, walk west on Speer Boulevard across Interstate 25 to the Highlands neighborhood. Linger (2030 West 30th Avenue, Denver, CO, 80211; (303) 993-3120) offers fine dining in a former mortuary that has one of Denver’s best rooftop patios. Afterwards, you can’t miss Sweet Cow Ice Cream next door (2620 16th Street, Denver, CO, 80211; (303) 455-3811) because it resides in a 28 foot-tall milk can.
The closest hotel is Springhill Suites by Marriott Denver Downtown , .2 mile walking distance.
Denver has always been a great NFL city, with a rabid fan base following the Broncos. People along the Front Range have begun to pay attention to the Nuggets. In the 2022-2023 season, the team has ranked among the NBA’s top 10 franchises in terms of attendance, averaging more than 19,000 fans per home game and filling an average of 97.6 percent of Ball Arena’s capacity. The fans who come are loud and attentive. As Jokic and Murray have matured into NBA stars, the Nuggets’ fans have grown.
Unfortunately, a contract dispute between the team-owned regional sports network that carries the Nuggets, Altitude Sports & Entertainment, has been engaged in a contract dispute with Xfinity since August 2019. This has left a significant portion of the fan base unable to watch the Nuggets legally on a regular basis for both of Jokic’s MVP seasons and for the team’s ascent to the top of the NBA’s Western Conference.
There are more ways to get to Ball Arena than you can shake a miner’s shovel at. Many downtown hotels are within walking distance of Ball Arena. The Rapid Transportation District’s (the “RTD’s”) C, D, E, and F light rail lines all stop at Ball Arena. There’s also an RTD bus stop at Ball Arena, located at the intersection of 9th Street and Auraria Parkway; several bus lines stop there. Denver participates in the ubiquitous scooter and bike share programs, so those are options. With the nearby Platte River and Cherry Creek trails bordering Ball Arena’s property, walking or bicycling to the game is a cost-efficient way to get to Ball Arena, too. There are three sets of bike racks around the arena. If driving, Ball Arena has 10 different parking lots. There are a number of parking lots within walking distance, as well.
With a big crowd, Ball Arena’s common areas can get crowded. Long lines for food and drink tend to form, as do lines to enter seating areas. With most of the seats accessible only after taking an escalator or stairs up, large crowds form at the end of games as large numbers of fans funnel into the escalators to return to ground level. A better option is to use the stairs, accessible through doors along the upper and main concourses. The stairs lead to ground level and do not provide the claustrophobia - or agoraphobia-inducing congestion that can occur while moving toward the tops of Ball Arena’s elevators.
Return on Investment 4
Even with recent success and the NBA’s best player, a Nuggets game remains a decent bargain. A single-game ticket to a Nuggets game at Ball Arena is, in the words of Seinfeld’s George Costanza, “right in the meaty part of the curve” with respect to average NBA ticket prices. Face value of single-game tickets for a February 2023 home game against the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors ranged from $59 for the arena’s last seat to $599 for a seat behind the Warriors’ bench. A number of promotions provide lower-priced tickets, as well. Participants in the “Buzzer Beater” program receive text messages the night before each home game, with a limited number of tickets available at lower costs. And every Saturday and Sunday are "Family Nights," with tickets loaded with concession value.
Food and drink prices align with other Denver sports venues. Prices seem generally tethered to reality: hot dogs ($7), chicken tenders with fries ($15), large pretzels ($7.50), fountain soda ($6.50 for collectible aluminum cup), bottled water ($5.50) and candy ($5) compare favorably with prices at Coors Field and Empower Field at Mile High.
Parking in Ball Arena’s lots will cost either $25 or $30, depending on location. Cheaper parking is available within walking distance. There are numerous parking lots where $10 or $15 parking is the norm. A little willingness to walk can save a few bucks.
The newly expanded and renovated Altitude Athletics team shop merits a point. Kroenke Sports Enterprises, which owns the Nuggets and Ball Arena’s other two tenants, the National Hockey League’s Colorado Avalanche and the National Lacrosse League’s Colorado Mammoth, removed the arena’s ticket office before the Nuggets’ 2022-2023 season. In its place, the team store expanded. This yielded more room for merchandise, better flow for foot traffic, and added point-of-sale locations.
Many NBA teams have in-game DJs. The Nuggets are no exception. Theirs is Austin “Paws” Pawleka. He must rank among the league’s best. Paws knows basketball and he also knows how to provide a multi-genre soundtrack for the team he grew up loving.
Props to Ball Arena for having two nursing pods: one on the lower concourse, just across from the entrance to section 130, and the other on the upper concourse, just across from the entrance to section 345.
Another point to Ball Arena for recognizing that its teams have fans with varying sensory processing needs. To that end, Ball Arena has designated its elevator lobbies outside sections 120, 228, and 340 as “quiet areas.” Additionally, Ball Arena’s guest relations kiosks provide sensory bags at no cost. These bags contain a special badge for guest recognition, noise-canceling headphones, and fidget tools.
Finally, a point for Ball Arena’s new concession stand, The CANteen. It’s a grab-and-go vendor that only sells beverages in aluminum containers. It’s part of Ball Arena’s “Play Clean” program to encourage fans to recycle packaging after events.
Jokic alone is worth the cost of a ticket. He fills a box score like Oscar Robertson and passes like Jason Kidd. He and Murray front a team that should contend for an NBA title. Yet the costs of watching the Nuggets at Ball Arena do not require a complex financial transaction. It’s a decent bargain for an exceptional experience.