Amway Center - The New O-rena

A couple of weeks back, my best friend invited me to join him at an Orlando Magic basketball game. I last attended a game about 8 years ago, when this same friend and I went to a playoff game against the Milwaukee Bucks. On that night, we not only managed to score floor seats behind the basket, but also found a way to get ourselves on TV as well. Needless to say, it was an awesome experience that makes for a great story still to this day. While I knew we wouldn't come close to topping that night, there was still a great deal of excitement in going to the game, as it would be the first time I'd get to see Orlando's new arena...The Amway Center.

For the first two decades of the Magic's existence in the NBA, the team made their home in the Orlando Arena. The name on the building changed many times as corporate sponsorships came and went, but from almost the beginning most around Orlando knew the venue by one name...the O-rena. The O-rena served the Magic well for the first 15 years or so, until a fundamental change in the fan experience began to take hold not just in the NBA, but the sporting world as a whole. The advent of club levels and expanded luxury boxes suddenly made any stadium that lacked such amenities obsolete. Owners, looking to squeeze as many dollars out of those with the deepest pockets, began to clamor for new stadiums with the most expansive offerings for the luxury ticket holder. It didn't take long before the Magic's owner, Amway founder Rich DeVos, hopped on the new stadium bandwagon.

Using the same case as most owners nationwide, the DeVos family argued that their franchise simply could not turn a profit without a new arena, and if the city was not willing to pay for new facilities, they'd move the team to somewhere that would. Needless to say, this was a highly unpopular argument in the city of Orlando, however after much negotiation, the city caved and agreed to fund the majority of the nearly $400 million project. Having lived in Orlando when much of this controversy was taking place, I was excited to see if the city had gotten their money's worth.

We started the night by meeting at the Grand Bohemian Hotel, for a bite to eat and some pre-game beverages in their bar, the Bosendorfer Lounge. It was only fitting that we started here, as it's no secret in Orlando that most of the visiting NBA teams stay at Bohemian, as it's located just a couple blocks from the arena. The main reason for meeting here, however, was the $6 valet parking they offered for Bosendorfer patrons that were going to the game. I never really need much of an excuse to visit the Bohemian, but the relief of not having to stress with parking was certainly an added bonus.
Amway Center Orlando
The area immediately surrounding the Amway Center feels more like the entry to a theme park than sports stadium. There are numerous vendors with food and carnival style games, which combined with the live band that was playing served to get fans excited as they entered the stadium. I believe the term that the folks at Disney use for this brand of entertainment is "Streetmosphere."

Upon entering the stadium, it was immediately clear that the Amway Center bared little resemblance to her dated predecessor. As opposed to passing through the turnstiles and being greeted by concession and souvenir stands, fans enter into a gorgeous atrium where numerous escalators provide a short ride up to the mezzanine level. Usually this sort of entry is reserved for those in the luxury boxes or club level, yet this design means the guy in the nosebleeds gets the same welcome as the corporate luxury box owner.
Amway Center Orlando
After checking out our seats, we decided to give ourselves the nickel tour of the stadium. Given that food is a big part of my life, I paid special attention to the concession offerings. Gone are the days of hot dogs and nachos being the only fare available at a game. I spotted everything from a New York deli to Thai food, interspersed with the traditional "dog and a beer" stands. And of course, no stadium would be complete without a roasted almond stand luring fans with a scent which can be detected halfway across the stadium. Granted, I don't like nuts, so it's wasted on me, however my comrade couldn't resist the temptation and bought a bag of each flavor.
Amway Center Orlando

We made our way to the awesome seats my friend scored, which were only ten rows up from the floor. The stadium features the standard jumbotron over the court, however what makes this one different is that the media appearing on the screen is coordinated with the other screens and scoreboards which wrap the stadium. So if a commercial for the Toyota Camry appeared on the jumbotron, the Toyota logo was featured on every other screen available in the stadium. This is certainly great for the advertisers, as it all but guarantees that someone is going to see your ad in one form or another.
Amway Center Orlando
As the game began, we couldn't help but notice people seemed to be paying special attention to a group of guys in seats down on the floor. After a few minutes of trying to figure out who they were, my buddy insisted that one of them was Carlton from "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air." I didn't believe his claim, until they showed him on the jumbotron and played "It's Not Unusual" by Tom Jones. With that, the he got up and did the patented "Carlton dance," much to the delight of the crowd, and this fan of "The Fresh Prince."

We watched most of the first half in our seats, but as halftime approached, we decided to check out the many lounges which are found throughout the stadium. For those looking to have a beer at a bar but still watch the game, there is the Budweiser Baseline Bar, which serves Anheuser-Busch products from a terrace overlooking the court. Not to be outdone, the Coors Light Mountain bar is the same concept, but on the other side of the stadium.
Amway Center Orlando

During our tour of the stadium we stumbled upon one of the rooftop lounges called the Gentlemen Jack Terrace. While the bar was outside and away from the action in the stadium, the terrace has a fantastic view of downtown Orlando, which combined with the numerous couches and other seating had the effect of making one forget that this was actually a sports stadium. There were also plenty of flat screen TVs all showing the game, for the fan looking to stay in touch with the action inside.

After hanging out on the terrace for a few minutes, we decided to make our way up to the O3 bar, which is located on the top floor of the stadium. The O3 combined a rooftop terrace like at Gentleman Jack, but with an ultra-lounge on the inside. It didn't take me long to feel out of place, as it seemed I was way under dressed for this location. After all, I was still at a basketball game, but I got the idea most of these patrons had come to the stadium not to see the Magic, but rather to hang out at this lounge. It was a great atmosphere, and again another great view of downtown Orlando, but the lesson learned was that jeans and a polo is no longer suitable attire everywhere in the Amway Center.
Amway Center Gentleman Jack Terrace
For the record, the Magic defeated the Toronto Raptors in blowout fashion, but it is the city of Orlando that is the real winner as far as the Amway Center is concerned. Did they get their moneys worth?...absolutely. Not only did they create a state of the art sports facility, but they managed to build a destination in and of itself, independent from basketball. Granted, I'm not sure I'd pay the cost of admission simply to hang out at a rooftop lounge, but I'm quite certain there were many in attendance that had done just that. And with both terraces staying open until midnight or later, the revenue keeps flowing well after the action on the court is over.

Aside from the financial victory the stadium provides the Magic, the city is already seeing a great deal of benefit also. They have revitalized a large area of urban decay and managed to link the attraction that is the stadium, to the vibrant nightlife of downtown Orlando. Building the stadium adjacent to the Church Street entertainment district brings added revenue to those business owners on nights which otherwise may have been dead.

For all of it's controversy before construction, the Amway Center is living up to everything it was billed to be, and perhaps even more. Time will only tell if this short term excitement surrounding a new stadium will translate into long term success for all the stakeholders involved.

One thing is for certain, if the Magic don't keep winning, then everyone loses.

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