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  • Writer's pictureAaron S. Terry

SAP Center – Bay Area Panthers

Photos by Aaron S. Terry, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71

SAP Center 525 W Santa Clara St San Jose, CA 95113

Year Opened: 1993

Capacity: 17,562


North Cali Football

Primarily the home of the NHL’s San Jose Sharks, SAP Center in San Jose is a beautiful, modern facility with tons of glass elements, an iconic main entrance that looks stunning when lit up at night, and all the amenities sports fans could hope for. The Indoor Football League’s (IFL’s) Bay Area Panthers moved into the venue in 2022 – the team was founded in 2020 and was supposed to play in Oakland, but thanks to the Pandemic did not begin play until 2022.

SAP Center opened in 1993 and holds 17,562 fans, but during Panthers games, the upper deck is curtained off, so for indoor football the capacity is around 10,000. The facility took about 3 years to build and cost $162.5M.

Food & Beverage 3

SAP Center has a huge range of concessions options available – the prices are on the high side, and a lot of the stands that are open during San Jose Sharks games are not open during the Bay Area Panthers games. However, that fact has the interesting side benefit of leaving multiple seating areas open on the upper level of the concourse where you can sit and enjoy your food and drinks before heading to your seat.

Main dish options include almost everything you can think of, such as hot dogs, nachos, Caesar salads, pizza, BBQ sandwiches (either pork, chicken, or brisket), burgers, sausages, chicken sandwiches, and chicken tenders, while sides include everything from popcorn and fruit cups to pretzels and packaged candy, while dessert options include Rita’s frozen custard.

There are also several full bar areas where you get mixed drinks, wine, or beer on draft, or you can get beer from the regular stands, or from convenience store-type stand which offer a wide selection of canned alcohol, bottled water, and soda – these convenience-store type stands are becoming a fixture at sports venues around the country.

Atmosphere 4

The Bay Area Panthers pull out all the stops for indoor football at SAP Center – the action begins with crazy pyrotechnics as the team comes onto the field (think towers of flame and loads of fireworks), as well as the dance team and mascot (dressed like a Bay Area Panthers player, except wearing a Batman-esque cowl instead of a football helmet).

There are also all the traditional fan contests you see at games, but some come with a twist; for example, there is a contest where fans can win prizes for driving a mini football thru the upright using golf clubs. There is also plenty of dance music played all game long, including sing-a-longs and the “Carlton Cam”, where fans are invited to do their best impression of Carlton, from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, singing ‘It’s not Unusual’.

Fans are also invited to have autographs signed by players after the game (though fans are not allowed on the field like they are at many indoor football venues), and the staff offers not one, but 2, after-parties for fans to enjoy – the first is held inside SAP Center itself right after the game ends, and the second is at a location in downtown San Jose for adults 21+ only (the after party at SAP Center is kid-friendly).

Neighborhood 4

SAP Center is less than a mile from downtown San Jose, which offers all kinds of dining and entertainment options before or after a Panthers game. But for my money, fans need to look no further than San Jose’s Little Italy, a small warren of Italian restaurants within walking distance of the SAP center, about 3-5 blocks away.

I could have spent all day inside Pour Decisions and its sister restaurants (three different restaurants which are connected inside) – you can get delicious hot Italian beef sandwiches on one end, and $5 local beer drafts or fabulous gelato (chocolate and pistachio 2 best flavors) on the other end. Note that the taxes in California are high, so when you go to pay it may seem like more than you expected.

Fans 2

The fans at Bay Area Panthers games are pretty solid, but the arena is pretty empty even though some of the seats are curtained off – at an average game you might only see about 3,000 fans in attendance. The fans are pretty raucous at times, however, and the noise level is enhanced by all the dance music they play, as well as the loud horn which erupts every time the home team scores (the same sound you hear when a goal is scored during a hockey game).

There is a small team gear stand inside SAP Center; the most popular item seems to be the foam finger with panther claws – you will see lots of fans inside wearing these and clawing the air with them, and not just the kids, either.

Access 4

Getting to SAP Center is ridiculously easy – the venue being technically outside of downtown means you have a lot less traffic to contend with than you might expect, and the facility is only about 5 minutes from the San Jose airport – just head northeast on Highway 87 for about 4 miles and you’re there; you can see and hear jets flying over on their landing approaches as you walk into the arena. Incidentally, San Jose Mineta International Airport is a great little facility in its own right, with flights coming from and going to destinations everywhere you can think of, and rental cars on-site.

You can park right outside the SAP center for $20, and once you get inside there is plenty of room to move around the concourse, myriad clean bathrooms, and short lines at the concessions, with many stands allowing self-checkout.

Return on Investment 4

SAP Center tickets are mobile-only, and the venue has free Wi-Fi – tickets run $27 each including fees from Ticketmaster, which is a little on the high side for IFL venues, as some IFL teams allow you to buy at the door and avoid the fees.

However, this is California, so higher ticket prices may not be unexpected, and the staff has some great amenities to offer fans, namely the beautiful venue, the massive 4-sided center scoreboard so you can easily see replays, free Panthers-themed boom sticks, and rally towels for everyone who comes through the doors, and the awesome pyrotechnics at the start of the game; fireworks galore and towers of flame dozens of feet high.

Extras 5

SAP Center itself offers a lot of extras for fans as they wander the concourse – the first is as you walk into the main entrance, you are greeted by the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame, a digital experience (presented by SAP) highlighting San Jose’s finest in different sports. The display features a huge LED screen that spans most of the wall facing the entrance. There is also a long wall of fame as you walk around the rest of the concourse, with bronze reliefs highlighting famous Olympians, football players, and more.

The Panthers also have special uniforms for the different special events they offer, for example, camo uniforms for Military Appreciation Night. The giant 4-sided center-hung scoreboard also has smaller screens underneath, for fans who are sitting close to the field and don’t want to strain their necks looking up at the larger board. And even though the main tenant is the San Jose Sharks, you couldn’t tell that from the décor – there is so much Panthers signage all around, including video clips of live Panthers in the lead-up to kickoff.

Final Thoughts

San Jose is a great town to visit, and SAP Center is a venue worthy of a visit. A hockey game here may be a bit overwhelming for some, what with its larger crowds and higher ticket prices, but a Bay Area Panthers indoor football game here hits that sweet spot between entertainment, value, fun, and excitement – visit when you can.

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