Pepsi Center – Denver Nuggets
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A New Nuggets Era
Originally founded as the Denver Rockets of the ABA in 1967, the Nuggets joined the NBA along with the Pacers, Nets and Spurs. The team had many different owners before being bought, along with the NHL’s Avalanche, by Stan Kroenke in 2000.
After a long run of success as a member of the ABA, the Nuggets experienced long droughts of excellence throughout the 80’s and 90’s. The 2003 Draft brought Carmelo Anthony to town, leading to a long run of playoff appearances. Ever since Anthony was traded to the New York Knicks in 2011, the Nuggets have had fleeting success with 3 coaches in 5 years.
Opened in 1999, the Pepsi Center houses each of Kroenke Sports Enterprises’ arena teams – the Mammoth, the Nuggets, and the Avalanche. The “Can” replaced the aging McNichols Arena, and despite being 17 years old, still feels brand new. Official seating capacity for basketball games in the arena is 19,155.
The Pepsi Center has made large strides in the past few years to increase both the quality and the variety of food available. The traditional fare is all present – hot dogs, burgers, nachos, popcorn, candy and beer. There are also “street” tacos (chicken, pulled pork and veggie), chicken waffle sandwiches, tater tots loaded with cheese/chili/hot sauce, freshly fried mini donuts, and sugar coated nuts, among other exotic choices. Here are prices for the staples:
Hot Dog $5
Bottomless Popcorn $7.50
Bottomed Popcorn $5.25 (in a much larger container than the bottomless popcorn – unless you have 8 friends with you, the $5.25 popcorn will suit you fine)
Regular Soda $4.75
Souvenir Cup Soda $6.50
Beer $7.75 or $8 (regular vs. premium, see below)
Due to a mixture of loose brewing laws and an excess of entrepreneurial spirit, Colorado is known for an abundance of craft breweries, and that is reflected in the beer selection. While Coors is present around the arena, each stand that serves also has a “premium” beer selection. If you are a discerning drinker, feel free to shop around to the various stands – at some, the “premium” selection is Colorado Native, a beer mass produced by Coors and lacking much flavor at all. Many stands have Dale’s Pale Ale as their premium selection, a popular brew from Colorado brewery Oskar Blues. My personal recommendation would be the Odell stand near the top of the escalator from the East entrance. Their beers carry the same $8 price tag as Colorado Native and offer much better bang for the buck.
A personal favorite are the nut stands spaced around the concourses on both levels. They take a variety of nuts – peanuts, walnuts, almonds, cashews – and mix them with sugar, cinnamon, or chocolate. The nuts are very tasty and filling, and you can smell them halfway around the concourse.
The Pepsi Center does close down upper concourse stands if anticipated attendance is low. If you have an upper deck ticket, I recommend doing a lap around the lower concourse for the best food and drink options before heading up to your seat.
As with every modern arena, prices are high. I’d recommend doing your heavy drink and meal lifting at the fine establishments around downtown, while reserving some cash for a special treat inside the arena.
The Nuggets have fallen hard from the glory days of George Karl, Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups. Those teams used to combine Karl’s fast paced offense with the high altitude of Denver to run opposing teams off the court. And the fans loved it – tons of points, fast breaks, watching 3 future Hall of Famers in their primes.
Now? The star power isn’t there on the court – the front office is quietly rebuilding around new coach Mike Malone. Because of this, the team can’t compete in a Western Conference loaded with Stephen Currys, Russell Westbrooks, Blake Griffins, and the San Antonio Spurs. This is all evident in the attendance. According to ESPN.com, the Nuggets were last in per game attendance for the 2015-2016 season. Once attendance falls in any sport the atmosphere in the building will suffer.
That said, the Nuggets do various things to help the energy in the building. The Pepsi Center has one of the best arena video boards in the entire world. The size and quality is outstanding, and fans need to catch themselves from staring at the screens. The Nuggets mascot Rocky, known around the country for Youtube montages of him hitting birthday fans in the face with cakes, is one of the best mascots in the league. Kids young and old (including me!) are entertained by his antics. The Nuggets also use a small drumline to bring a more collegiate atmosphere to the arena. After marching around the concourse before the game, they set up in one of the upper sections and play various beats during play.
The Pepsi Center is situated in downtown Denver. While a bit of a walk from the arena, the Ballpark neighborhood of LoDo features countless bars, restaurants, breweries and clubs clustered around Coors Field. The area around Union Station has also undergone a much needed revitalization and offers high quality restaurants and bars (a perfect option if you take the Light Rail to the game). The more traditional downtown areas, like the 16th Street Mall and Larimer Square, are a bit closer and feature everything from popular chain restaurants (Chipotle, Subway, The Cheesecake Factory) to very high class dining (Capital Grille, basically anything on Larimer Street). The free 16th Street shuttle makes the entire area very accessible. Directly adjacent to the Pepsi Center is Brooklyn’s. While convenient and close to the venue, Brooklyn’s menus are very expensive, and the restaurant can become prohibitively crowded during the leadup to a game. The Blue Sky Grill is built into the Pepsi Center and offers a higher quality alternative than Brooklyn’s, but prices are still high. I’d recommend venturing into downtown to find a little more bang (and infinite more options) for your buck.
Personal recommendations for food and drink in downtown include Illegal Pete’s on 16th and Wazee for fast casual burritos, Marlowe’s on 16th and Glenarm for a nice sit down meal or cocktails at the bar ($20-$25 per person for dinner), and the Terminal Bar in Union Station on 17th. For craft beer try Wynkoop Brewery or Falling Rock Taphouse.
The energy in the building can be a little lacking. But despite being last in the league in attendance, the fans that do show up are into the action on the court. The game I attended had an eclectic mix of fans: the basketball/Nuggets diehards, that watch every game to carefully track the development of young point guard Emmanuel Mudiay; the families, showing their kids the exciting game of basketball and enjoying some quality family time; and even visiting fans, having friendly end-of-season conversations about their respective teams.
There is another type of fan, a type of fan that seems to plague every sporting event at the Pepsi Center: the fans who treat the arena as a nightclub. They show up 15 minutes into the game, leave before the end of the first quarter to go grab a drink, and then leave at halftime to go enjoy the rest of their night around downtown Denver. Maybe this is a common type of “fan” to show up wherever a downtown arena sits. It most certainly helps detract from the overall atmosphere.
The Pepsi Center is located right off of Interstate 25 in downtown Denver, making it an easy drive for anyone living in the Denver metro area. There is plentiful parking for Nuggets games, but it can be expensive. The nearby Auraria Campus, home of the University of Colorado Denver and Metro State University, has cheaper parking while only being a 5-10 minute walk to the arena. Instead of driving, I would recommend using the excellent Light Rail system that Denver has developed over the last 15 years. Trains serve most of the major Denver suburbs, with the Pepsi Center stop being a two minute walk from the main entrance. Taking the train will also let you enjoy yourself downtown after the game.
There are two entrances to the Pepsi Center – the main atrium, located on the west side and facing Sports Authority Field, and the east side. I recommend using the east entrance for the shortest wait to get inside.
Return on Investment 3
Your overall ROI will depend on many factors – whether your chosen game is on a weeknight or the weekend, who the opponent is, and what you are looking to get out of the experience. If you are willing to wait close to gametime, and aren’t trying to get a ticket to see one of the marquee teams (Lakers, Warriors, Cavs, Bulls, etc.), the secondary ticket market has many good deals. And the Pepsi Center offers good family packages, offering 4 tickets along with food and drinks for $100.
I purchased my ticket using FlashSeats, an eticket system used by each of the Kroenke Sports teams. Tickets can be purchased from the Nuggets website, with the tickets being credited to your account. You show up to the gate and have the attendant swipe your credit card (or scan a dynamic QE code from your smartphone screen) and your tickets will printed right at the door. The FlashSeats website and app also allow fans to sell and buy tickets, not only for the KSE teams, but also for local concerts. The convenience and ticket supply through the app marketplace cannot be beat.
Extra points for both the amazing video displays hanging above the court and the restaurant and bar scene in the surrounding area. Downtown Denver has really become an amazing place, and the Pepsi Center’s location makes it easy to partake before or after enjoying a basketball game.
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