Improving the Arena Experience: Advice from a Fan

February 10th, 2015 | by Matt Pacenza

The email arrived early last May. The Utah Jazz were offering several hundred season tickets for the 2014-15 season at a special price. The price? The cost per game would equal the draft slot the Jazz received during the upcoming Draft Lottery.

(Getty Images)It took my brain a second to understand that. If the Jazz got lucky and landed the #1 pick, I could watch a full season of the Jazz’ promising young core PLUS Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker for $44? Even if they landed in their predicted #4 slot, I could buy two season tickets to NBA basketball for less than $400?

I took a breath, prepped my pitch to my wife (I wouldn’t go to all the games. It would be nice to share them with friends. It would be a way to have one-on-one time with each of our two boys) and she magically agreed!

A couple of weeks later, when the Jazz landed the #5 spot, I was the proud owner of two season tickets to three pre-season and 41 regular season games for the grand total of $440. Not quite the insane bargain the top pick would have been, but still remarkable.

A little more than halfway into the season, I’m pleased with the experience of being a season ticket holder. I’ve been to roughly half the team’s 24 home games, and have given away about half of the others to grateful friends.

I’ve seen several incredibly fun games, including the wire-to-wire romp over the Golden State Warriors 10 days ago. A big comeback over the Thunder a few weeks into the season. A super entertaining game against the T-Wolves just after Christmas.

And, of course, THIS, which was so remarkable my 10-year-old even cried a bit. (OK, that was me maybe.)

A very positive experience, all in all. The boys and I have had fun. However, as a guy who is lousy with opinions, a few ideas have been kicking around my head as to how I think the Jazz can improve the fan experience. They range from the trivial, to the more significant, to the utterly trivial.


The Jazz’ Emo Video

The team’s introduction of its starters is fun, overall. The kids go nuts when the bear rides out, when the flames shoots up in the air, when the smoke billows. But then this starts:

Isn’t basketball supposed to be fun? Or is it moody, depressing and a chore? I’m sure that whoever directed the video told the players and the coach they should look intense. Serious. Deadpan. Angry, even. Why? It makes me feel like I’m at the world’s most depressing all-ages concert with a bunch of moody teenagers dressed in black drinking a Robitussin on ice.

Basketball should be about exuberance. Excitement! Jumping up and down. Big smiles. Finger waves!

Drop the moody, angst-ridden intro video, please.

GREAT Scoreboards, but…

EnergySolutions Arena during tonight's open summer league practice. Fans filled the lower bowl; the Jazz were forced to open the upper bowl to make room for the fans.

The scoreboads are MUCH bigger in person!

If you haven’t been to a Jazz game this season or last, you’ll be blown away by their new scoreboard setup. Not only do the giant screens hanging over the floor offer amazing closeups of the action on the floor, especially useful during replays, but there are also huge, new scoreboards in each of the four corners of the arena, offering a running boxscore of the game. It’s great to see who’s on the floor (especially for the road team, when you may not know who the heck Jerami Grant is) and to watch their points, rebounds and assists grow in real time.

However, as a amateur analyst of the Jazz — again, lousy with opinions — I would LOVE to see minutes played. As a guy who wants to see more of certain guys (The Stifle Tower!) and less of others (sorry, Jose English) I find myself looking over there several times a game wondering who Coach Snyder has been playing more and less that night, to no avail. The boards do have limited real estate, so my recommendation would be to lose the steals column, a stat I’m much less interested in.

Drop the Cheap Aussie Effects

Look, going to a game is cheesy fun. That Kiss Cam/t-shirt cannon nonsense is goofy and silly — and it works. Heck, I’m even onboard with the Funhouse Cam.

But the “oi, oi, oi” sound effect played after Dante Exum or Joe Ingles score a basket? Nope.

What’s next? A Crocodile Dundee clip? A “shrimp on the barbie” reference?

We’re better than this, Utah.

More Local Food, Please!

The food and drink you can buy at the arena has improved the past few years. When I first attended a game after we moved here in 2006, there wasn’t much beyond limp burgers and hot dogs and tasteless mass market beers.

Eight years later, local micro-brews are easy to find and there’s now even several small bars with a wide range of offerings, including a Wasatch Squatters Pub. And, food-wise, there’s an Iceberg shake stall, a terrific addition, plus a few other spots offering better-than-cafeteria-style sandwiches and more.

Nonetheless, the arena’s food offerings remain pretty poor overall. To me, the Iceberg/Squatters additions are the ones to emulate. More extensions of popular local eateries. What about a Caputo’s? A Soup Kitchen? A Bruges Waffles and Frites?

Or, to take it a step further, which eateries are best at offering delicious, gourmet food in a very small prep and cooking space? Food trucks! There’s the venerable and always excellent Chow Truck. A few other favorites: Q4U Barbecue, Lewis Bros.,and Better Burger. See a fairly up-to-date list here.

Food truck stalls in the arena, please!

Share the Lower Bowl Love!

So, not surprisingly, my $5 season tickets are in the upper, upper bowl. I’m not complaining — again, $5 — but it’s impossible to not have envy for those lower bowl ticket holders. If you’ve watched a game down there, it’s just a different experience. You appreciate the athleticism and the sheer size of these men so much more. You can hear so much more of the chatter between players and coaches.

The young Jazz are of course in mid-rebuilding mode, so it comes as no surprise that on most nights, there are many empty seats, even in the lower bowl. Hundreds, certainly. A few thousand, some nights.

I first saw the following proposal from someone on Twitter, but can’t recall who. (If someone knows, I’ll happily stick their name in here to credit them) And the idea, which I’ve developed some, was the following:

  • At some point in the game (halfway through the second quarter? halftime?) if a lower bowl seat hasn’t been claimed, it becomes available to an upper bowl ticket holder. That person would receive a text message directing them to claim their fun upgrade.
  • The team could reserve a few dozen lower bowl seats just in case a season ticket holder does arrive after halftime. I suspect that’s relatively rare.
  • The technology to make this happen would seem quite simple. Ushers are scanning every single ticket upon entry, and so the system should know which seats are occupied.
  • Wouldn’t this pack-the-lower-bowl system benefit the team? The lower bowl would be “sold-out” every second half, partly with fans delighted to be there, lending the team an additional home-court advantage. It would also be a nice enticement for an upper bowl ticket buyer, knowing you had a shot every now and then to spend half the game in a $100 seat that you only paid $25 for.
  • The team could even make that moment when the texts are sent out a Big Deal, put it on the scoreboard during a timeout, involve the Bear, instruct everyone to pull out their phones, etc. A few hundred (or thousand) people would then cheer and move down, providing a neat communal moment.

Whaddya think? Any other fan experience improving ideas to share in the comments?

P.S. Dear Jazz Marketing/Ticketing Folks: If you wanted to test the “Share the Lower Bowl Love” plan, I'd be happy to be your guinea pig for the rest of the 2015 season. You know, just turn my row 21 upper bowl seats into, let's say, row 21 lower bowl seats, and I'll offer my frank assessment of the difference. I'm here to help.


Matt Pacenza

Matt Pacenza

When he isn't writing about the Jazz, Matt Pacenza is an environmental activist, Arsenal fan and world-class blowhard about many matters. A native of upstate New York, with a background in journalism and nonprofits, Matt lives near Liberty Park with his wife and two sons.
Matt Pacenza


  1. Matt, great write up! I have been a season ticket holder for I think about 4 years now. I love the experience and feeling like you are a part of something. I agree though with the lower bowl. I’ve sat down there close on occasion and cheer loud and yell and people look at me like I don’t belong. That’s why I love the upper bowl, it’s all of the true fans and not just everyone making business deals and getting huge corporate tax write offs. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and trust me, they have definitely upped the season ticket holder experience in recent years, and it’s only getting better!

  2. Jon says:

    Some good points for sure! Another criticism of the new mega-scoreboards I would add is that they don’t include team fouls, possession, and penalties like the old scoreboard. The only place to find that information now is on two tiny screens between the luxury boxes and lower bowl, or on your cell phone. And who wants to be looking at their cell phone at the end of a close game?

  3. B says:

    Agree 100% with that intro. It’s horrible, angsty white guy wearing a flat cap and white sunglasses music and frankly is embarrassing. Also it might just be me, but that emcee is hard to stomach.

  4. Steven says:

    After five years living in SLC I moved back to the UK before the end of last season (yes the Corbin years really were that bad – kidding). Had I not moved to London, I would have been all over that predraft season ticket offer. First couple of years as a Jazz fan I just watched on TV, the next few seasons I tried to get to a few games a season as and when work allowed, and I was just getting to the stage that I was contemplating getting myself a season ticket on the upper bowl, all my previous games at the arena had been in nose bleed territory, which was fine for me I like to take in the atmosphere of the arena, but I do think you idea is valid for those fans who can’t maybe afford to get lower bowl tickets but faithfully support the team in the upper bowl, giving those same fans the rare opportunity to enjoy the lower bowl experience seems like a nice way of giving back to the fan.

    My one major criticism of the arena was too often there was too many empty seats around. If there was some sort of incentive for season ticket holders to say ‘hey I can’t make the game tonight…can you make sure my ticket is used’ A lot of season ticket holder don’t need the money, hence the reason they can pick and choose their games they wish to see – maybe a token 10-20% return on that games ticket recouped by increased mechandise and new cheaper ticket made available to the upper bowl season ticket holders – similar in way to getting an upgrade on a flight home – with maybe a new ticket office line dealing with just this scenario on the day of the game, or alerts by text sent randomly until all available tickets are taken up.

    Your local food idea has real merit too, It can be tricky to make fast food for a high paced arena environment, maybe having a few extra stalls in the arena, where no one company has rental rights, instead they are opened up to different local food truck operators on a nightly basis, allowing each company the chance to feel the benefits of supporting such a large audience, and the audience alike has the chance to try fresh new exciting foods throughout the season. Much like the half time entertainment changes nightly, so could the dining experience. When I visited Portland I was blown away by the amount of otherwise empty blocks of land used in the heart of the city by stationary food trucks, Utah has some nice food trucks but the amount is dwarfed by the number found in Portland, an idea such as this may well bring new life to the food truck industry and support even more in SLC, Ogden, Provo and beyond.

    I can’t say I have experienced the jumbotron this season, but last season I was a little underwhelmed, I welcomed its introduction but I felt like it could have been offered so much more to the experience, I just don’t know it what way.