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The votes are in, folks - I've taken to grading each sporting experience offered by the various venues here in the Bay Area. After a methodical, strenuous period crunching numbers, I have the final results!
Okay, so it wasn't an exact science. I have been to several sporting events at each venue in the greater bay area (if you don't believe me take a gander at the background of this website) so I like to consider myself an expert. I judged Candlestick Park, O.Co Coliseum, AT&T Park, Oracle Area and HP Pavilion. Judgment was based under five categories: accessibility, sell out/crowd enthusiasm, amenities (bathrooms, merch stands, food etc.), cleanliness, on field/court/rink product and overall fan experience. I rated them on a scale from 5-1 and popped out a winner. Here we go, from worst to first-
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5. Pulling up the caboose in last place is Candlestick Park. If you read my stuff you know I love this place, but based on the five criterion I had to be objective and honest.
The biggest mark against Candlestick's record is accessibility. It's well documented that Candlestick is a black hole for automobilist delirium, and nothing is worse than watching your team lose and then having to suffer through an hour of standstill traffic in the parking lot. Candlestick got the lowest mark here for sure.
Amenities and cleanliness also took a big hit - the place is a dump and the food is awful. Last time I went I spent 5 dollars to eat a bratwurst served on a waterlogged bun - yuck.
I gave Candlestick a 3 on the "product on the field" scale because although the 49ers impressed this season, I'm not ready to grade them any higher due to the slop that I've witnessed in the previous several years.
Attendance was stellar this year as well, but tumbleweeds were a frequent sight in the last several seasons so I couldn't give it top marks in that category either. Sorry, 49ers fans, but we all saw this one coming – Candlestick remains the worst.
4. O.co Coliseum - It should be noted that I only judged the coliseum based on Raiders games. Had I included the Oakland A's in this contest, the coliseum would have plunged all the way to the bottom.
O.co is not much better than Candlestick in most categories - in fact it only beat out the Stick by 3 points, 2 of which amassed from the accessibility category. The food is as bad if not worse than the Stick, it's scoreboard is the worst in the bay area and it's an overall filthy place.
On a positive note, the place does seem to rock regardless of how many fans are in attendance and that counts for something. I'm a sucker for a rocking crowd and an easy exit - that's why O.co slides in ahead of the 49ers cement palace.
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3. Oracle Arena - Okay, I promise I'll start spinning a positive angle here soon. Oracle is a great place to enjoy a basketball game. The stadium has a very clean, almost newish feel the moment you step inside. If you've ever been there you've probably smelled that signature bar-b-que sauce odor - that's an Oracle Arena staple. The food is quality, the bathrooms are clean, the breezeways are made up nicely.
The fan experience is definitely a notch on Oracle's belt - they offer those cool little Facebook check-ins that allow you extra fun after the game. The commercial break entertainment is always worth a look. And as far as on-court product? The Warriors are usually fun to watch, even when they lose, so I gave 'em a middle of the road grade for on-court product. As it turns out, Oracle Arena ended up in the middle of the road as well.
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2. The runner up for this contest is AT&T Park. San Francisco's gem on China Basin always offers a good time for fans. There's not many bad things to say about where the Giants play, so I don’t have much to rip on.
As far as settings go, you won't find one better than 3rd and King. Before the game, you can explore the many restaurants and bars surrounding the park to have a few drinks and socialize. Once inside the park, there isn’t a bad seat to be found. No matter where you are there's a stunning view to enjoy. If the game is a bore you can always stroll down the concourse and take in the bay front property.
AT&T offers some of the best food around and I'm not talking about the garlic fries. I, for one, have never even purchased garlic fries - I fancy the Cha-Cha Bowl myself. The bathrooms are clean, the stands are clean, the fans are clean. All good things.
The stadium sells out every game (at least that's what the Giants want us to think) and the place gets electric when it wants to. The product on the field is always nail-biting, if not downright exciting. If you know you're way around the city at all you won't have trouble escaping when the game is over so accessibility is a non issue as well. I don't think I've ever left a Giants game disappointed with my experience, and if it wasn't for this next place, AT&T park would be the king of this contest.
1. That next place, your winner, is HP Pavilion. The sad thing is that most people don't know what it's like to enjoy an NHL bout at this San Jose gem. Truth be told I couldn't help but give HP perfect marks in every category - and I'm a tough grader. Let's go down the list.
Accessibility - Honestly, I could have taken HP down a point for being so far from the greater Bay Area, but that's not HP Pavilion's fault (they're not the San Francisco Sharks, after all). If you're judging HP Pavilion for being in the South Bay, you're just being a curmudgeon. Get out and live a little. San Jose is really a cool town - a truly fun place to visit. It's easy to get to and from HP Pavilion once you’re in San Jose and there's plenty of cheap parking to choose from. It's nearby good food and night life - enough said.
Sell out and enthusiasm - Every Sharks game is a sell out and they all rock. Sharks fans are all about their team - they get loud, they're knowledgeable and they're nice people to be around. Instead of 40,000 mostly disinterested fans, its 17,000 hardcore, passionate people. That's the way I like it.
Amenities - the bathrooms are clean, the breezeways are well dressed and the food is spectacular. You can get everything from freshly cooked BBQ to popcorn or even a hand carved turkey sando on a fresh sourdough roll. They even have Dippin’ Dots - I was thrilled with that discovery. Love the eats at HP Pavilion.
On rink product - I don't need to say much here. The Sharks dominate their division, they make the playoffs every year and they've been to back-to-back Western Conference Finals. The Sharks are ALWAYS competitive, if not downright dominant. This is all without saying that hockey is one of the most exciting sports around when it comes to the live experience. If you've never been to a live hockey game, you don't know what you’re missing. I'll bet you fall in love with it.
Overall fan experience - Sharks fans feel like they belong to a special club . They know and love a sport that many people overlook. But when you come to HP Pavilion you enter a welcoming atmosphere. There isn't a bad seat in the house and you're guaranteed to have a good time. Perfect marks for fan experience here.
It was hard for me to rip Candlestick or dethrone what many consider to be the best ball park around, but ultimately HP Pavilion is the best kept secret in the bay. Obviously you can't do wrong by hitting up any sporting event around here - take it from a guy who's blown tens of thousands of dollars going to games. But if you haven't tasted Sharks hockey at The Tank, you just don't know what you’re missing.