Amway Center Nice, Not the Best


Amway Center’s maiden voyage was something of a success. The new arena was the toast of the league as far as amenities goes. I mean the scoreboard was an incredible upgrade — not to mention the soft-serve ice cream machine in the media room.

It was everything it was supposed to be.

It had its drawbacks. Everyone complained/worried that the building was not going to be loud enough, that the fans were too far away from the game and those that are close, are not quite as boisterous as some would like.

Ultimately you have to rate Amway Center on its fan experience more than anything. In that regard it is in the upper echelon of NBA arenas… but it is not the best.

Two recent polls have placed Amway Center among the league’s top 10, but not as the best arena. That might be disappointing for all the bells and whistles the team put into actually buidling the arena.

The New Orleans Hornets gathered a group of NBA public relations members to review the top arenas in the NBA. The panel, which featured public relations personnel from the Wizards, Hawks, 76ers, Raptors and Mavericks among others, placed Amway Center eighth. Even the Orlando Sentinel gave the one-year-old arena room for improvement, placing the Amway Center fifth in its countdown.

What did they have to say and why wasn’t Amway Center No. 1? Let’s try and figure out:

Michael Preston of the Philadelphia 76ers ranked Amway Center No. 1 saying: “I was amazed the first time I walked into this building, from the size of the scoreboard to the amenities to the style. Bonus points for having the biggest, nicest visiting locker room in the league and its close proximity to the court.”

Yes, the visiting locker room is pretty conveniently located near the court and right down the hall from the Magic’s locker room. The visiting team locker room from what I can gather is much, much, much bigger and nicer than the one in the Amway Arena — although it is nowhere near as big or as nice (ridiculously nice) as the Magic’s locker room.

Bigger certainly can be better. Amway Center’s amenities are almost over the top and it feels like there is more than three, maybe four times, the room everywhere in Amway Center compared to Amway Arena.

Scott Hall of the Washington Wizards agreed with the feeling about amenities. He saw the arena on opening night when the team unveiled the true power of the massive scoreboard and all the bells and whistles in full affect. He said he could definitely see why the Orlando brass was so proud of the building.

The one complaint? It gets a little chilly in the loading areas.

“The only thing that bothered me was there is a serious wind tunnel from the loading dock to the visitor locker room,” Sarah Melton of the Dallas Mavericks said. “When I was helping (dole out) tickets before the game, I felt like I was in a heavy metal video as my hair blew around like crazy!”

Can’t say I know exactly where that is. But I imagine the TV producers are happy to have that area after working in trucks outside at Amway Arena. She still ranked the arena fifth in the league, so obviously Jim Eichenhofer of the New Orleans Hornets kept the real negative comments to himself. Madison Square Garden finished first in the Hornets’ unofficial poll.

Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel, who has been ranking just about everything to occupy the down time this lockout, made Amway Center fifth in his ranking of the top 10 arenas. He travels to every road game and has done so for a few years now, so if anyone knows these arenas, it is likely him. He took atmosphere, stadium aesthetics and amenities and location into account in making his list.

Robbins knows there is a lot to like about Amway Center. But like Dwight Howard, he says the gameday atmosphere could use some sprucing up. He writes improving the game night atmosphere will help Amway Center climb.

“Amway Center has two significant negatives, in my opinion,” Robbins writes. “First, the atmosphere on a game night is lacking. It’s common for the lower-bowl stands to be half-empty as many as five minutes into the third quarter of many regular-season games. And while it’s true that people are enjoying the arena’s first-class amenities, those empty seats take away from the overall experience. Indeed, Magic fans are gaining a reputation as a wine-and-cheese crowd.”

He is also somewhat critical of the functional exterior of the building, but thinks the spire and glass facade facing Church Street and the main plaza are nice aesthetic touches.

Robbins is still revealing his list and it will be interesting to see what he picks as the best arena.

For now, Amway Center is a great building, but still needs to gain a reputation as a great arena and place to watch a game.