Photos by Aaron S. Terry, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.29
Veterans Memorial Arena 300 A Philip Randolph Blvd Jacksonville, FL 32202
Year Opened: 2003
A Decade in Jax
Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena is one of the nicer facilities in arena football, and is home to the Jacksonville Sharks, one of the longest-lived teams in the sport. While many franchises fold after a couple of seasons due to financial or attendance issues, the Sharks have found almost a decade of success in their home arena. Founded in 2009, the Jacksonville Sharks started off in the American Football League, but moved to the National Arena League in 2017.
Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena, where the Sharks have played since their inception, was built in 2003 to replace the old coliseum in the city. In addition to hosting the Sharks, the facility is also home to the Jacksonville Giants of the ABA, a semi-pro basketball league, and the Jacksonville Icemen of minor league hockey’s ECHL.
Food & Beverage 4
Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena may not have everything you could want in terms of food and beverage options, but the venue still boasts a pretty good variety. The food options include the basics that you would expect, such as burgers, hot dogs, chicken tenders, pizza, several types of salad, pretzels, nachos, popcorn, fries, glazed nuts, packaged candy, ice cream, and cotton candy. Prices are on the high end, and comparable to other pro stadiums; for example, a hot dog will run $5 and pizza will cost $9.
In term of drinks, options include bottled water, fountain and bottled soda (Coke products), energy drinks, and a large variety of beer, wine, and liquor. The beer selection is especially extensive, with domestics, imports, and even craft brews; beer can be purchased in bottles, cans, or on draft. Bottled water is $4, soda and energy drinks start at $5, beer starts at $7, and wine and liquor start at $8.
Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena provides a great atmosphere for arena football, with all kinds of bells and whistles to keep the fans engaged, including two great mascots. The fun begins when the Jacksonville Sharks players come onto the field amid spotlights, spurting flames, and lots of noise, and continues throughout the evening with the two mascots, especially the giant inflatable shark, who prowls the sidelines around the end zone, while his counterpart Chum rides around on his ATV. Fans can also purchase mini footballs to throw at a bullseye target set up in the middle of the field at halftime – the proceeds go to charity, but the fan who gets his or her ball closest to the center wins a prize.
In addition to the above, Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena has a host of other amenities as well. For starters there is a small memorial outside the arena which honors fallen police officers, and this of course is the reason for the venue’s name. In addition, all the seats inside are chair backs, so you can be assured of a comfortable seat while enjoying a close view of the action. There are also several lounges inside the venue, such as the iHeart Radio Lounge, which features plush chairs and even a foosball table, and many fans can be found relaxing here during breaks in the action. Lastly, you can visit the Gator Bowl Hall of Fame on the first level, where you can walk around and see all the trophies, helmets, and other memorabilia from that local college football game, which is played at nearby TIAA Bank Field – TIAA Bank Field, home to the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, and is close enough to Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena that you can see it from the entrance.
Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena is within sight of TIAA Bank Field, home of the Jacksonville Jaguars. However, the Shark’s home venue is also directly across the street from Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, home of the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, making this area a hotbed of sports facilities in Jacksonville.
A few miles beyond these sports venues and the freeway overpasses and parking lots that accompany them, you can find plenty to do at Jacksonville Landing, which is along the river. There are several great restaurants in this area, such as Tailgate Bar & Grill, Benny’s Steak and Seafood, and MacCool’s Irish Pub. There are also several nightclubs, and of course plenty to do on the water, such as river cruises, dolphin watches, and fishing.
If you want to stay for the day or the weekend, you can also make the short 45-minute trip south to St. Augustine, which is America’s oldest city, and features plenty of history and tourist attractions. Or if you prefer to stay in town, you can check out the Jacksonville Zoo or the Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary. There are plenty of hotels all over the city as well, depending on your budget and how close you want to be to the arena, or to the water.
Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena is far from a sellout during a typical Jacksonville Sharks game, but compared to other indoor football venues, there are a lot more fans in attendance here. Unlike other arena football stadiums, at Sharks games all of the levels are open, so you will see none of the black curtains commonly used elsewhere to block certain sections, and thus make the facility seem fuller.
The fans here are loud, and many of them show up in team gear. Attendance at Jacksonville Sharks games has been strong enough that the team has managed to stick around, while so many other indoor football teams in the region have folded after a couple of seasons.
Getting to Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena is really easy, as the roads around it were built to handle the much larger crowd at TIAA Bank Field, so traffic won’t be much of an issue. In addition, there are plenty of parking lots in the area, so you should easily be able to find something within walking distance for under $10.
The venue also has an enormous front entrance, with multiple doors, so getting in and out won’t present much of a challenge, especially given the typical attendance of under ten thousand fans. There are escalators inside you can use to go up to the concourse level, and there is plenty of room inside to move around, with more than enough bathrooms to accommodate the crowd, and relatively short lines at the concessions.
Return on Investment 4
Tickets to Jacksonville Sharks games at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena start at less than $15, which is a pretty reasonable cost for arena football (about middle of the road compared to other indoor football venues), but here you get a much nicer facility, and lots of fun amenities and extras, plus some decent crowd noise and energy. That said, if you are careful with your concessions purchases, attending a Sharks game provides a solid return on investment for your entertainment dollar.
Having two mascots is a big plus, especially given how much they interact with the crowd, and having the lounges inside to get away from the noise for a few minutes is also a nice bonus.
The city also deserves credit for naming their facility after some of our nation’s first responders, which is a nice gesture – many stadiums around the country are dedicated to members of the armed forces, so it is nice to see police officers also receive some recognition.
Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena is a great place to take in a game, and will give you a lot more entertainment than some of the lower-octane sports alternatives available in the city during the summer. And if you have never been to an arena football game, seeing the Sharks here would be a great way to initiate yourself into the sport – you will definitely have a great time.