Never trust arena pictures. A person’s eyes are much better able to process even the worst seating angle and enjoy the game than a picture can represent.
The Ford Center at Frisco is not an ideal basketball venue, but no ideal basketball venue is ideal for the men’s and women’s conference tournament. Couched in the public relations speak from the conference leadership is the fact that the league needed something that would draw attention, but also make it easier to run a conference tournament.
Frisco is the best spot for that of the available options. The city is approximately 1/2 the population of, say, Birmingham, but the Metro area is seven times that of the Birmingham-Hoover MSA. More importantly — the median income of Frisco is about 100K. If the goal is to bring in the average person-off-the-street interested in relatively cheap but quality sports entertainment it does not hurt to place it where there is disposable income.
Frisco is small enough to get around easily and not get lost, while providing all the big city-type amenities in restaurant and hotel options without having to deal with all the things a big city has — traffic, long lines, confusion. Obviously, if you are looking for those other big city benefits — museums, cultural attractions, history — Ikea and the Stonebriar Mall are not going to cut it. That is where having DFW just 40 minutes away comes in handy.
For the person coming to Frisco only for the C-USA tournament, this is a perfect spot.
The conference has a ready host school in North Texas and the league office a short drive away which makes managing the event much easier and cost-effective.
Aside from that factor, the venue is nice. In conversations with about 100 people ranging from students, band members, athletes, to administrators, retirees, non-college fans, and media members the consensus is that it is cool but there are some things that could be (and likely will be) improved.
Food & Shopping
“I like that I can walk across the street and there are restaurants.”
This was the most frequent praise point of the entire tournament. Everyone loved the shops surrounding the venue. Frisco has more than the Star complex and Your Favorite Blogger (YFB) did try a few of the spots.
Tupelo Honey Cafe
The Nest Cafe
Other attendees tried Raising Canes and the two restaurants directly facing the game had meet-up events for at least WKU and ODU fans at one point.
There is a good variety of dining ranging from casual to upscale so if your wallet was hurting you had options. You can eat and not be broke.
Hotels & Parking
“I had to drive around for a while but I finally found an old couple who were leaving and took that spot.”
The Omni looms over the Star, emblazoned with the Cowboys logo and provides an easy-access place to sleep after watching all of the basketball. If your wallet is thinner than the average corporate titan, you can stay at the Holiday Inn Express or one of the other surrounding hotels. You have options, folks.
YFB stayed at one of those options down Warren and it is literally a five minute drive away. The parking is free — woot! — and so the daily commute to cover this thing was short and sweet. For the NT fans that drove over from Denton, the media that came to produce Facebook streams and Stadium broadcasts, the same applied.
Once everyone figured out the layout by the second day, it was easy going. The first day there were a few lost souls but that is always going to be the case with an unfamiliar venue. Once this event is a regular occurance at the Star, there will be old pros that know how to navigate the area effortlessly and it all will be a little smoother.
On the busiest days there were some parking lot sharks — the people slowly trailing the lone pair of folks to their cars in hopes of stealing their spot quickly. The biggest games draw the biggest crowds. Frisco is an ever-developing spot, so I expect the area will be different with more places to choose very soon.
The surrounding businesses were not quite ready for the rush. The nearby café reported a slightly higher rush than a typical weekday, and the Rally House by Dr. Pepper arena was scrambling to rush over some Mean Green gear. Next year, they will presumably be ready to take full advantage of the tournament.
Ford Center and Views
“Oh yeah I can see just fine from here.”
I said not to trust the arena pictures and I cannot tell you how much I mean that. I sat in every section — in the football seats, both sections of the premium general admission, the court-side section, and also stood next to the suited conference folks to take it in from near the bands. I talked with some of each fellow visitors to get their feelings on things, also. No one complained — at least not directly to me.
The entrace to the Ford Center overlooks Court A and many took games in from that view.
“I think maybe the best spot might be up there in the second level.”
The above quote was referring to the off-limits second-level of the arena. The low angles for all the seats did obscure the court-side screens and so getting the score was a chore if the view was obstructed.
Even from press row, if you were seated from the free throw line extended and lower (lower to the baseline) the view of the scoreboard was limited.
While the free wifi was useful, and clever fans could use their favorite sports app to keep up with the score, fouls, and stats, it was not ideal.
“We need to get those higher, yes.”
The above came from an administrator about those scoreboards. While the criticism is valid, it is the good kind of criticism.
The first run is always important for finding bugs and making improvements. If next year’s tournament has the same issue? Well, then we will complain loudly.
“I think it is cool that they have all that stuff out front.”
The outside Fan Fest area was fun, if limited. There was music, random guys playing soccer, staff playing basketball, kids running around (one was my own) and well, fun. Oh and marketing. There was much marketing.
Underestimated is the unique prospect of the players queueing up before their game just under the bleachers. It is akin to the new NFL fad of having fan hallways where they can watch the players walk on and off of the field. Players left the court, in jubilation or disgust, and the distance from court to locker room door meant that everyone got to see a little bit more of the whole show.
It is a small thing, but not an insigificant thing.
The cost-effective hosting is lost on the average fan and frankly, that is not why we got into this fan game in the first place. You are forgiven if the budget of the league is not your top thought.
The primary benefit to the fan’s wallet of a single location is that the women’s tournament gets the benefit of better attendance and increased attention. No longer are you shuttling between locations a mile or so apart.
On Wednesday you could show up early, watch the women play, head out for dinner and return in the evening — a sort 2-minute walk — to watch the men.
Each session also allowed in-and-out privileges. You could leave and run to Raising Cane’s (as my friend did) and run back for the second half.
Oh, the concession stands have overpriced nachos and drinks as is usual for these kinds of things.
This is published before the league crowns the men’s and women’s champion but the tournament is all but done. Even if the nation only pays attention to a given non P5 league tournament on the final day or so, the diehards were here Tuesday.
Four and a half days are plenty to get a feel. To summarize the above for you:
Hoops At The Star was a success. Next season should be even better.