Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Houston Dynamo 0 at Sporting KC 0 (MLS) - October 15, 2017

When I first booked this weekend trip to Kansas City, the Steelers at Chiefs game was the primary attraction. But after checking the MLS schedule, I saw that I could do Sporting KC instead and add another venue to my list at a fraction of the cost.

SKC is the only major league team in Kansas as they play in Children's Mercy Park, about 15 miles west of downtown KCMO. The naming rights are owned by a local hospital, which bought them in 2016. There are several large parking lots, with those that are for Season Ticket Members (STMs) much closer. The general lots are quite far away, and I had to walk about 10 minutes to get to the main entrance. The advantage of this is that after the game, you can get out to the highway fairly quickly, as each lot seems to have its own path directly to the main road out.

There is a large mall just north of the venue with several restaurants and bars, but I did not have time to visit it, having arrived just an hour before the game. I picked up a ticket on the secondary market (SeatGeek is the official reseller) and had no trouble entering the ground. Inside the main entrance, I found an interesting display listing all of the affiliated Sporting clubs around the Midwest. Great to see the team reaching out to places as far flung as Nashville and Arkansas.

I wandered around the concourse, taking pictures from each angle. Below is the south end zone, above which is one of the two scoreboards.

Across the way is the east sideline, with Sporting spelled out. My seat was on the left side of the P, though I chose to stand for most of the match.

Below is the view from the south end, which provides the best look at the unique roof. It is connected from start to finish but slowly descends as you move around the stadium, so that the end above the north end zone is several feet lower than the beginning.

The west sideline is where you will find the suites.

The main supporters section is in the north end zone and limited to members only. They call it Blue Hell, and that seems to be accurate as the team has lost only once in their 17 home games, drawing 6 others (including this one).

One thing that I appreciated was that the club's 2017 US Open Cup was already commemorated on their wall of honour.

As I was working at this game, I did not do a full tour, and did not eat either. If I were to return, I would come a lot earlier and explore the Legends Outlet Mall and have a beer or two at one of the bars before going inside. I did enjoy my time here and appreciated the architecture of the venue. It is a very family friendly atmosphere, with many parents bringing infants to the match. The only problem is that many fans get up during the action, something that is more and more accepted at every sport, but should really be frowned upon in soccer, where goals are so rare.

As they were on this night, where the teams battled to a scoreless draw, allowing both to clinch playoff spots. 41 total shots (they count all attempts, including those blocked on the way to goal) but only 9 required a save. Sporting KC did have a glorious chance in the final minutes of stoppage time, but Houston keeper Tyler Deric made a great save to preserve the clean sheet. The two teams might meet in the knockout round, which should be a more spirited affair.

Next Up

My Club 123 trip of the fall is a tough one, with Vegas on Saturday night and the Chargers in LA on Sunday afternoon, all without missing work. Check back next week for the thrilling recaps.



Miami Heat 95 vs Philadelphia 76ers 119 (NBA Preseason) - October 13, 2017

Last weekend, my wife I traveled to Kansas City to visit our friend. This was not a sports trip, but as luck would have it, the NBA was holding an audition. Not a player tryout, but one for a city and arena as the league considers expansion. This rare event was enough for me to leave them for a couple of hours to check it out.

Kansas City is home to the Sprint Center, a downtown venue that is in desperate search for a regular tenant. The NHL will likely expand to 32 teams and Seattle and KC are two contenders to balance out the Western Conference. The NBA might also add two teams, and again those two towns are in the mix. So I was interested to see the inside of this venue to see how it measures up.

The arena was opened in 2007 and is the centerpiece of the Power and Light District, one of the best stadium neighborhoods out there, with over two dozen bars and several entertainment venues within a couple of blocks. The main entrance is located at 13th and Grand (above) while the picture below was taken from the backside at 15th and Oak, about a block from where I found a free parking spot on a side street. There are several lots nearby that charge quite a bit, not just for the game, but because there is so much going on around it. A new free streetcar runs along Main Street, so another option is to park a few blocks south and hop on that.

Tickets started at $7 online and when those were sold out, the next level up was $17. When you added in the rip-off fees (including a will-call charge), that jumped to $27, so I waited until game day, only to be charged $30 at the box office. Yikes. I asked for an upstairs seat, but was told there were none left, so took a seat behind the net in "Row 6". As you can see below, that is not 6 rows from the floor, but row 6 in the seating bowl. In other words, 6 rows from the ice surface should there be a hockey game. Not that I was complaining, it was a good enough seat for a meaningless game.

The shot below shows how many floor seats there are, which is normal for an arena that is used for both hockey and basketball.

I then did the lap around the concourse, which was narrow in parts as is expected for a downtown venue with a small footprint. Concessions were typical and overpriced. KC has some great restaurants, particularly of the BBQ variety, so I didn't eat here.

The floor was pretty plain, with simple lines and no advertising, surrounded by all dark grey seats.

You might notice that the upper deck is closed off, which is something that they apparently do for these exhibition games. The St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild played here a couple of weeks earlier and the upper deck was closed for that as well.

Despite the upper level not having any available seating, the escalator was operating so I took it up to see what was going on. From what I could tell, some tickets had been sold for the upper deck, as there was a lineup of people waiting to exchange tickets for those in the lower deck. Whatever the case, I was not allowed to wander the upper concourse, so took a picture of the very steep seating area (again not unusual in a venue limited by downtown streets). The only other thing I noticed here were a couple of banners honouring Garth Brooks and his streak of sold out shows.

Back on the main level, I returned to my seat and decided that although the Sprint Center is the main attraction of a great downtown district, the venue itself needs a bit of work before an NHL or NBA team can call it home. I don't know if either league considers attendance for exhibition games (the Blues/Wild game drew 12,865 compared to 11,249 for this one) but given the impressive new arenas like Sacramento and Edmonton, this one is already bordering on obsolescence.

In terms of the game, the Sixers were the home team, with former Kansas Jayhawk Joel Embiid the prime attraction. Miami still has Erik Spoelstra coaching but not much else from their two championship seasons. The referees were already in midseason form, calling plenty of fouls (Hassan Whiteside had 3 fouls in the first 2:21 while guarding Embiid, leading to some humourous postgame tweets). That killed the flow and left me annoyed, but then again, I'm always annoyed at basketball games.

Anyway, the 76ers took an early lead and never looked back, dominating with a 119-95 win. Ben Simmons and J.J. Redick each had 19 points to pace Philadelphia, whose half-decade of tanking may finally be starting to pay off.



Monday, October 9, 2017

Buffalo Bills 23 at Atlanta Falcons 17 - October 1, 2017

The Atlanta Falcons suffered an ignominious end to their 2016 season with the biggest Super Bowl collapse in history. So they picked a good time to leave the hideous Georgia Dome, moving across the street to brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. This spectacular venue should help fans overcome the Super Bowl hangover, and will also attract plenty of visiting fans too. On this occasion, I was one of those visiting fans, as I would be cheering for the Buffalo Bills.

The new venue is easily walkable from downtown, and is served by two MARTA stations should you be coming from farther afield: Vine City to the west, and the Dome/GWCC/Philips Arena/CNN Center station to the east (which should soon be renamed). I was staying about a mile away and walked over, surprised by how many Bills supporters were in town. The stadium is huge, so to get a full shot, you will have to stop a couple of blocks away; the picture above is taken from MLK Jr. Drive, and you can see the Georgia Dome just to the right.

The east side of the stadium is fronted with glass that allows you to look inside. It is known as Window to the City as, when you are inside, you can look out to the Atlanta skyline. This outside area is dubbed Front Porch and it is where you will find the famous Falcon sculpture, which is known as "Rise Up" after the team's motto.

The sculpture is atop a football and stands as high as a four-story building.

It is one of more than 180 art pieces throughout the facility and well worth a few minutes of your time to see the intricate design.

Note that the Front Porch, the sculpture, and the Ring of Honor are all inside the gates. Unlike most venues where your ticket is scanned at the door or just inside, you will go through security and have your ticket scanned outside. There are three gates surrounding the Front Porch and all moved quickly once they opened at 11, two hours before kickoff. The Falcons use only electronic tickets for which you must have a smartphone and app installed, though there is a table that will print your ticket if you are having phone trouble. I asked if they would print one for me as a souvenir, and they said no. I debated destroying my phone and asking again, but I didn't need the stub that much. Still, as someone who collects tickets as a souvenir, I find the trend towards mobile-only tickets very distressing. Teams should always maintain the service to print out a hard ticket upon request.

Anyway, I made my way inside and promptly entered the seating bowl to take the above picture. As you can see, there are three seating levels, with seats in the team colours. The Window to the City is behind one end zone, though the sun is not a problem once the game starts.

On my 2013 trip to all 32 NFL stadiums, the Georgia Dome ranked #31, mostly because of poor customer service. Obviously, owner Arthur Blank had read my post and instituted change because this was one of the friendliest stadiums I have ever visited. Every single staff member was smiling and greeted me with a hello as I made my way around.

These two pictures are taken from the second (below) and third (above) levels in the east end zone, which is known as the Skybridge. There are no seats here, but many fans stand here for the entire game.

Turning around, you see the glass windows. The skyline is actually too spread out to take a good picture, but looking down you can see the crowd around the sculpture.

The concourses are spacious, though they do fill up here as game time approaches. Each level has more or less the same concessions, with your typical fare such as dogs, fries, and soda competing with specialty stands offering pizza, BBQ, and grilled cheese and brisket, among others. The most important thing to note here is that concession prices for many items have been kept low. For example, a regular soda, which you can fill up yourself at one of many stations, is only $2, while a souvenir cup is just $4. Hot dogs are also $2, and other items are similarly priced. Specialty items are slightly more expensive, but I did not see any of the outrageous pricing that goes on at many New York-area stadiums, where a tall boy of crap beer can be $13.

I wandered around each level, trying to get a series of pictures of the seating bowl. I particularly like the two small triangular sections at the 20-yard lines below, a result of angling those sections closer to the end zone so they face more of the field.

In the upper level concourse, you can find the 100-Yard Club, an area with yardlines on the floor, hash marks on the ceiling...

...and pillars with information on current players.

Along the lower concourse is the Hometown Legends display that includes high school helmets for every team in the state. This area gets very crowded as everyone wants to see their school represented.

There is also a small display just below his honouring local stars such as Shannon Sharpe, who played both high school and college football in Georgia.

Just next to this is another interesting artwork, this one by Jamaican-born Nari Ward, who used donated and found shoelaces to make this statement.

One other area worth noting is the AT&T Perch, where dozens of TVs and benches allow you to relax before the game. They even had soccer on!

The roof is shaped like a pinwheel and does open, but on this day it remained closed. YouTube has a quick time-lapse video of the roof closing.

Just below the roof is the scoreboard, which circles the entire stadium. There are several panels, though for most of the game one shows the scoreboard and stats, while the other shows live action and replays. Before the game, the scoreboard is used as part of the introduction, where Rise Up escapes its earthly bonds and flies among flames in an attempt to get the crowd going. It is actually pretty cool.

The panorama shot from the top row at midfield captures much of the stadium. Note that those small triangular sections are not found on the south side of the seating bowl.

Through TicketMaster resellers, I picked up a seat in the first row of the 300 level, which is actually where I prefer to sit. The view is below. The only thing that surprised me was that the seats are somewhat flimsy compared to those at ballparks. I suppose that being inside and used maybe 50 times a year (Atlanta United of the MLS plays here as well) that the seats need not be as sturdy. It certainly wasn't a problem for the game but I wouldn't feel comfortable stepping on them.

Overall, its location, amenities, artwork, history on display, and cheap food make MBS a great stop for sports travelers. For local residents, the Personal Seat License charge (reportedly $45,000 for the best seats) might lead them to think differently, but if you only want to see one game there, you will enjoy it. Especially if your team wins.

The Game

The Bills came in at 2-1, while the Falcons were showing no ill effects after their Super Bowl debacle, winning all three of their games. After a scoreless first quarter, Atlanta got on the board with a short field goal from Matt Bryant. Buffalo followed that with an 8-play, 78-yard drive that culminated in a 9-yard pass from Tyrod Taylor to Jordan Matthews that gave them the lead. But Atlanta managed a last-second touchdown, going 77 yards in 9 plays to take a 10-7 advantage into the half.

After the Bills went three-and-out on the first drive of the second half, Atlanta took over. On a 3rd-and-9 from around midfield, Matt Ryan was hit as his arm moved forward. It looked like an incomplete pass, and even the referee signaled as such, but no whistle blew. Rookie Tre'Davious White picked it up and ran it back for a touchdown. Of course, the play had to be reviewed and I was sure the call would be reversed, but surprisingly it stood. Touchdown Bills! On the next Falcon drive, Ryan was picked off by Micah Hyde on a deep ball, and the Bills had their second turnover in two drives. They then proceeded to take 11:20 off the clock on a beautiful 19-play drive that gained 102 yards of offense (minus 20 penalty yards) that finished with a 24-yard chip shot for new kicker Steven Hauschka.

The Falcons followed that with a great drive of their own, marching 75 yards in 10 plays as Ryan found Justin Hardy in the end zone for a 3-yard score. The extra point by Bryant tied the game at 17 with 7 minutes to go. The Bills got one big play on their ensuing possession that allowed Hauschka to make a 56-yard field goal to retake the lead. On the next drive, Ryan was again torched by Hyde, who dove to catch a deflected pass. Hyde caught the ball as its nose touched the turf, which I thought meant an incomplete pass, but a review ruled otherwise. Apparently there is a new rule that says if the player has possession when the nose touches the turf, the catch is good, and the Bills had their third takeaway on the afternoon. With 3:27 to go, they needed to kill some clock, but the Falcons used all three of their timeouts and the Bills were unable to get a first down. Hauschka kicked a key 55-yarder to make it 23-17 but Ryan had 3:06 left to work some magic, which I fully expected him to do. Slowly he led his charges down the field, reaching the Bills 14 with a minute to go. Two incompletions on 1st and 5 were followed by a 4-yard gain. On 4th and 1, Ryan threw a short pass that was knocked away and amazingly the Bills had won! I was shocked and deliriously happy.

Their 23-17 victory was the first time I had seen them win on one of my trips, after losses in Minnesota, Cleveland, New Orleans, and Oakland. I have seen them win over the Jets at MetLife Stadium, but that was not nearly as exciting as this and made for a very enjoyable plane ride home.

Next Up

I'm heading to Kansas City this coming weekend to visit a friend and will check out a couple of events, including an NBA preseason game at Sprint Center, along with a Sporting KC match. The following weekend I'll head to Vegas for a Golden Knights game and then Los Angeles for the winless Chargers to check off a couple of new Club 123 venues. The blog is no longer updated on a timely basis, but check back on occasion, as I will get around to it eventually.



Monday, October 2, 2017

North Carolina Tar Heels 7 at Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 33 (NCAA Football, ACC) - September 30, 2017

My sports road trips are now going to be sports weekends, mostly to maintain my Club 123 membership. My first autumnal adventure was to Atlanta, where the Falcons opened Mercedes-Benz Stadium to much fanfare. I was in town to see the Bills take on the defending NFC champs on Sunday, but had to find something to do on Saturday. Georgia State was to host Memphis and I had received a free ticket from a friend, but that game was cancelled after Memphis's match against UCF, postponed due to Hurricane Irma, was rescheduled for the same date. Fortunately, Georgia Tech was also home, taking on UNC at Bobby Dodd Stadium, so I made that my Saturday special.

One of the problems with college football is that start times are not set until 12 days before the game, by which time flights are generally more expensive. I had booked my flight several weeks prior using miles, which limited my options to a flight that arrived at 12:15. I hoped that at least one of the games would be scheduled for the late afternoon or evening, but then the State game was unscheduled. Naturally, the Tech game was then set for a noon kickoff, ensuring that I would be late.

Fortunately, tickets were cheap on the secondary market, so I picked one up the night before, printing it out. My flight actually arrived early, and I was able to catch the MARTA train at 12:10, arriving at the stadium around 12:35, just as the second quarter was getting started. I flew without luggage, so had no trouble getting into the stadium immediately, where I started snapping pictures. The shot above is from the southeast corner just inside the main gate, with the south end zone in the shade, while below is the east side, with two decks.

I moved around the lower concourse, taking a shot from the northeast corner with the only scoreboard in the distance...

...and the north end zone, which is where the band sits. As you can probably tell, it was White Out Day, with fans instructed to wear white, as did the players. Being unaware of this, I had worn dark blue, but that is also a Tech colour, so I was not mistaken for a Tar Heel.

During a break in the action, I made my way to my seat (view below), which was just six rows up in the east upper deck. There are only benches here, but many fans use Stinger Seats, which push back a little bit into the row behind. I was in Seat 42, an aisle seat, which is possibly the longest section I have ever seen. With limited leg room to begin with and those Stinger Seats, getting to Seat 21 would not be fun at all.

The sun was unforgiving, so at halftime, I moved to the shade in the south end zone and enjoyed the halftime show, including one of the cheerleaders tossing fiery batons. The North Carolina kicker was not as impressed.

The band put on a good show as well, though from my angle, I could not tell if they were spelling out any words or creating any designs, as the Ohio State band does.

When the third quarter started, Georgia Tech was coming toward my end zone. As they were dominating the game, I stayed in the shade and saw a couple of touchdowns right in front of me, including a 63-yard scamper from KirVonte Benson and a 12-yard catch by Ricky Jeune (#2 below). I actually prefer sitting in the end zone than at midfield for this reason.

Midway through the fourth quarter, with the Yellow Jackets up 27-0, I returned to the upper deck and watched UNC break the shutout with a touchdown. Tech got that one back with less than two minutes to play but the PAT hit the goalpost and bounced out, making the final 33-7. Not a particularly exciting game, but a fun afternoon.


This was my second trip to Georgia Tech; back in 2010 I saw their tennis team play on an off day after a Thrashers game.