I’m hitting the road to cover the Cats’ SEC away games! As part of my adventure, I will rate each venue on atmosphere, food, crowd…you name it, I’ll rate it. I’ve come up with 20 criteria, each of which I will judge on a scale of 1 to 5 for a possible high score of 100. Next up: Auburn Arena.
Seating capacity: 9,121
Your typical fare of hot dogs, popcorn, pretzels, and nachos. Dippin’ Dots continues its odd monopoly of SEC arena ice cream offerings, but as usual, no one was partaking in the ice cream of the future. The price of a jumbo hot dog? $4.
You know I love me some movie popcorn. Auburn’s was delicious and hot from the popper. Sadly, I could only finish half a bag, and had there been more space in my computer bag, I would have saved more for later. I did have to take a point off for excess butter, which made blogging and eating popcorn at the same time very difficult. My OCDness won’t tolerate greasy keyboards.
Signature food: 3
I asked one of the guys working the concession stand what their “signature item” was. After trying to sell me on a souvenir tub of popcorn, the guy finally went with the War Eagle BBQ Pulled Pork sandwich, which comes with home fried chips for $10. It seemed to be a popular choice among the people in my concession area, so I’ll give it a solid 3.
The best part about Auburn’s beautiful arena? The large, clean bathrooms. Everything was automated and they had both turbo hand dryers and paper towel dispensers. Add in slate floors and beautifully tiled walls and I was so in awe that I literally told the lady next to me at the sinks that they were the nicest bathrooms I’d ever seen at arena. She giggled proudly. Want to win over your lady fans, athletic directors? Build nice bathrooms.
Like everything at Auburn Arena, the scoreboard was top of the line. In addition to the main jumboscreens on each side, there were two more displays for ads and promotions. This allowed them to keep the player by player stats up at all-times, which is oh-so-useful for live blog purposes.
PA System/announcer/music: 3
Music wise, Auburn might as well have popped in the last “NOW! That’s what I call music” CD. I’ve never seen a group of people so excited to hear “Party Rock” in my whole life. LMFAO is their Chief Keef. The announcer was a little too over the top for me as well, taking twenty seconds to read three syllable names. In fact, I’m pretty sure he’s Vince McMahon’s long lost cousin. However, they incorporated the “NBA organ” a few times throughout, which made up for it.
Fun stuff: 5
Chick-Fil-A is everywhere at Auburn, from the press area to the giant cow mascots walking around taking pictures with the kids. That’s all fine and good, but when tiny cow figurines parachuted down from the rafters, I was sold. I almost knocked down three kids in a ill-fated attempt to get one. Auburn “gets it” when it comes to crowds: they love free stuff. If the parachuting cows weren’t exciting enough, they brought out the t-shirt cannon late in the second half, causing some fans to turn around at the exits to try to catch one. As one live blog reader put it, can you imagine the hysteria if they had a t-shirt cannon in Rupp? They also had the standard fan cams, kiss cams, and even a trivia contest.
Pep band: 4
Auburn’s pep band was pretty impressive, if only for their rendition of “Eye of the Tiger,” one of my favorite
late night party workout songs. They also performed the National Anthem and did an admirable job.
Halftime show: 5
I’ll admit, I was in the concessions line during halftime, so I missed Auburn’s new football coach Gus Malzahn’s introduction. Trust me, if you thought the crowd was loud during the game, the minute Malzahn stepped on the court, you were reminded that Auburn is indeed a football school. Malzahn stirred up the crowd by promising to bring back the edge to Auburn football and typical rah-rah propaganda. The crowd lapped it up, and I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t enjoy a similar halftime chat from Stoops at Rupp some point this season.
As far as I could tell, there were no major souvenirs, save some orange pom poms for the somewhat unsuccessful “Orange Out.” But being in that arena is gift enough.
Ticket price: 4
Single game tickets range from $10/$15 for non-SEC games to $25/$30 for the Kentucky game. When you consider that the upper level is only maybe four rows and there’s not a bad seat in the house, that’s not bad. I asked a scalper outside what tickets for the game were going for and he said $100/piece. I feel really bad for any Auburn fans that paid that much for what turned out to be a pretty sad performance by the Tigers.
Auburn Arena was built in 2010, and is absolutely gorgeous. The outside is brick and glass with white trim around the large windows. The building cost $92.5 million and includes a separate entrance for students. The arena is located across the street from Jordan-Hare Stadium, with which it shares parking facilities. The best part? Parking is free.
If I were a rule breaker, I’d give it a 6. The inside of Auburn Arena is clean, modern and drenched in orange and blue. DeWayne Peevy told me that the UK staff studied Auburn’s locker room when drawing up plans for the new locker room at Rupp, so you know it’s good. Because the arena only seats 9,000, there is a very cozy feel to it, with the student section taking over one whole sideline and both end zones. As a result, it can get very, very loud. There are also several court-level luxury suites, along with a loge level with it own food facilities and even a VIP court lounge that I unsuccessfully tried to sneak into (where else would Sir Charles hang out?). All of that being said, it still feels like a college arena, probably due to its size.
Moving around the arena was easy, even at the end of the game. Plus, there are several elevators to help the older fans get to and from the Loge and upper levels.
One of the things I’ve come to appreciate about games on the road is the interview room, where the players and coach speak to the press from a podium. This is in stark contrast to Rupp, where reporters swarm the players, who sit in chairs against the back of the media area. If you don’t stake your spot early, you pretty much don’t have a chance at hearing or seeing them, unless you want to press yourself right up against Alan Cutler’s armpit (no thank you). At Auburn, both the players and the coach address the media from a raised podium, making note taking much easier. Even better, the pregame meal was Chick-Fil-A BBQ sandwiches, cookies, and all the Coke products you could fit in your bag. The “press box” was really just half of Section 118, which I was at the very top of. There was no separation between the press areas and the rest of the concourse, so there was a big crowd watching the game literally over my shoulder. One older fan was brave enough to take the media tags off the table and make herself right at home next to me. Maybe she was covering the game for AARP or Blue Hair Monthly?
Student Section: 4
Auburn’s student section is called “The Jungle,” and as I mentioned earlier, lines the court on three sides. They’ve been named one of the top ten student sections in the country, with good reason. They’re loud, even if they need some help in the cheers department from a cheat sheet. The only reason they didn’t get a five was their inability to abandon the Ryan Harrow “AIRBALL” chant long after Harrow had hit several shots and their seriously unimaginative and slightly hypocritical “This won’t count” chant late in the second half. That, along with a gutsy “This will be vacated” sign just made them seem like poor losers.
BBN Effect: 5
Blue got in both to the student section and the general crowd. I learned that Auburn and UK have a partnership so that if you go to UK, you can go to Auburn’s vet school for the price of in-state tuition, and a similar swap is available for Auburn students who want to go to UK’s med school. Neat, right? Because of this perk, there was a strong Kentucky presence in the student section who led “Go Big Blue” and C-A-T-S chants throughout the night. By the end, the Auburn fans just gave up and let the Big Blue Nation take over, something which Cal noticed and tweeted about this morning:
— John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) January 21, 2013
My GBB chant count: 7.
Auburn is the quintessential college town. The campus is beautiful, but I was more impressed with the town. There are two main streets with bars and restaurants that intersect at the infamous “Toomer’s Corner,” where the beloved oak trees still stand after being both poisoned and set on fire. Despite continued efforts, the trees won’t come back to life and are going to be replaced with two mature oak trees soon. The town revolves around the college, and I can only imagine what it’s like on a Saturday during football season. Hopefully the scheduling gods will give me a chance to find out in the coming years.
I was only in town one night, most of which I was working, but I did find time to enjoy the local hot spots, including 1716 (shout out to the awesome group of UK fans who let me tag along on their “boy’s weekend”). Other happening spots included Skybar, The Vault, and the Supper Club, a mysterious off-campus dive that is so popular a shuttle runs students to and from campus. Next time.
Overall atmosphere: 5
A beautiful arena, a beautiful town, and a mostly beautiful performance by the Cats. All in all, a great SEC road trip for any fan. Tuscaloosa, this will be hard to beat. Bring it!
Total score: 84/100