- Lloyd Brown
Smoothie King Center – New Orleans Pelicans
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71
Smoothie King Center 1501 Dave Dixon Dr New Orleans, LA 70113
Year Opened: 1999
Big Easy’s Big Birds
Like the Mississippi River that runs through it, New Orleans has a long and winding history with professional basketball. The city originally had an NBA franchise in the form of the New Orleans Jazz, which played in the city from 1974 to 1979. After several seasons of poor attendance at the Superdome, the team relocated to Utah, where it became the Utah Jazz. Basketball returned to the Big Easy in 2002 with the relocation of the Charlotte Hornets. This was the first team to play in what was then known as the New Orleans Arena. This lasted until the 2005-2006 season when Hurricane Katrina did massive damage to the city. The storm forced the team to begin its season in Oklahoma City, as the arena was being used as the center for medical operations after Katrina. Miraculously the team was able to return and play the last portion of its season at home as of March 2006.
2014 brought about a new era for the team. The team was rechristened as the Pelicans, the state bird for Louisiana. The Pelican name was chosen as the breed is known for its resilience and tenacity… much like the local population that stayed behind to rebuild the shattered city. In 2014 the arena was renamed the Smoothie King Center in a naming rights deal that runs through 2024.
Food & Beverage 5
The city of New Orleans is known for its eclectic dining offerings. The Smoothie Center offers the typical arena fare… but why would you want to settle for that? The food and concessions operations at the arena make sure that you will have ample opportunities to sample the foods New Orleans is famous for. Among the stands you’ll want to check out are Zatarains (New Orleans Chicken and Rice bowls, shrimp rémoulade), Geaux Mac (Seafood Geaux Mac, Buffalo Chicken Mac), Crescent City Cuisine (shrimp and cauliflower grits) and LA Seafood (shrimp platters, catfish platters, shrimp po’ boys)…. how about an alligator sausage at the Three Point Grill?
There is obviously no shortage of adult beverages at the Smoothie King Center. The Dixie Sports Bar (the famous Dixie Brewery is only blocks away) offers a wide variety of drafts and craft beers, Big Easy Daiquiri’s offers up a terrific drink. On the upper level, there is a Rebound Lounge with a great view of the Superdome and the downtown New Orleans skyline. For dessert you need to head over to the Sweet Shack and sample the fried bread pudding and Beignets A La Mode… both New Orleans specialties.
The destruction brought by Katrina did have one silver lining, as it forced the arena to undergo massive renovations as a part of the city’s recovery efforts. The first step was to add a new LED center-hung video board in 2006. This was followed by a major renovation in 2013 to redesign the seating bowl with more than 2,800 club suites and 56 luxury suites. The total capacity was downsized to 16,867 seats, but it added several amenities to improve the fan experience. Among these amenities are an enlarged entry lobby and the addition of the Rebound Lounge on the balcony level. The concessions area was also an area of focus, as it lacked a locally sourced menu that visitors to New Orleans would expect.
Even with these upgrades, the Smoothie King Center does not have the level of amenities found in the more recently constructed arenas around the league. The concourses are very narrow compared to most arenas and the low ceilings give the area a very cramped feeling. Inside the seating bowl, there is a noticeable lack of electronics, as the video board is rather small and is supplemented by four small message boards in each corner of the playing area. There are no banners hanging from the rafters to celebrate any Jazz or Pelicans achievements or playing greats.
The Smoothie King Center is in the CBD (Central Business District) of downtown New Orleans. It is located across the street from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the home of the New Orleans Saints, the Sugar Bowl and several Super Bowl games. The area offers easy access to Bourbon Street, the Mississippi riverfront and nearly all the Big Easy’s top attractions. Most of the city’s largest hotels are within easy walking distance. The arena is also located close to the interchange of the city’s famous streetcar system, which makes having a car to get around unnecessary.
New Orleans is one of the premiere tourists and convention centers in the country. Its relatively compact boundaries make it very easy to enjoy its many attractions. Bourbon Street and the French Quarter are the first things to come to mind, but the city also has the Preservation Hall, the Audubon Zoo and Jackson Square. It is also home to the National World War II Museum, an outstanding facility that recognizes the Greatest Generation and its sacrifices.
New Orleans is also a foodie paradise, ranging from top of the line chef-driven restaurants to a simple shrimp/seafood shop or a Cajun cookery. The choices and options are boundless.
Typically, the sports teams in the Big Easy go on road trips during the annual Mardi Gras celebration. This is due to the many street closures and the large number of events occurring or staging within the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. There are also no hotel rooms available anywhere in the city during the event. Other than Mardi Gras, planning a visit to see a Pelicans game should be no problem.
The fan base in New Orleans remains the weak link in the Pelicans part of the bayou. New Orleans sports are dominated by the exploits of the very successful Saints and the Bayou Bengals up the road at LSU. Saints and Tigers paraphernalia are seen everywhere, no matter what time of year. The day we attended, the longest lines in the arena were to collect autographs from former Saints players. The minor league baseball New Orleans Baby Cakes recently relocated to Wichita from their longtime home at The Shrine on Airline due to dwindling attendance.
The Pelicans on court performance has done little to excite the fans, as they have achieved only one divisional title in their history. The fans have also seen the departure of stars such as Chris Paul and Anthony Davis through free agency. There is a great deal of excitement this 2019-2020 season with the arrival of #1 draft choice Zion Williamson from Duke.
Pelicans fans often congregate on Champions Square, a festival area used by both the Smoothie King Center and the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for some pregame entertainment. This entertainment usually includes a jazz band, food trucks and visits by Pierre the Pelican and the Pelicans cheerleaders.
You should have no problem reaching the Smoothie King Center from anywhere in the Greater New Orleans area. From I-10, take I-10 East to Exit 13B-A into the CBD. This exit will deliver you to US Business 90. Take Magnolia Street to Howard Avenue and Dave Dixon Drive. If you get lost, just head towards the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. It’s hard to miss, and it is right across the street from the Smoothie King Center. If you are staying in one of the major CBD hotels, it is an easy walk or streetcar ride to the arena. There is a Loyola-UPT Streetcar stop across Poydras Street from the Smoothie King Center.
Once inside the arena the flow along the concourses is very tight. This is despite the main entrance lobby being doubled in size as part of the 2013 renovations. The team store and many heavy traffic restaurants are located in this lobby rather than backing up traffic in the concourses. There are 19 women’s restrooms and 15 men’s restrooms scattered throughout the facility.
Return on Investment 4
The Pelicans are one of the few NBA teams to use Seat Geek as their primary ticket vendor. Ticket prices are amongst the lowest in the NBA with an average cost of $30. Parking is plentiful in the seven lots managed by the Smoothie King Center and costs $20. You can save even more money by purchasing an all-day pass for the street cars for $3. The concession prices are quite reasonable, and the concessions program does a great job in featuring the regional foods of New Orleans.
In addition to the Hornets/Pelicans games, the Smoothie King Center has hosted several major sports events. These include the NBA All Star Game (2008, 2014, 2017), the Women’s NCAA Basketball Final Four (2004, 2013, 2020), the ArenaBowl (2007, 2008, 2012), and several rounds of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. It has also been a frequent stop on the PBR Rodeo circuit.
The only retired number for the Pelicans is the number 7 worn by Pete Maravich. Even though he never played for the Hornets/Pelicans, he is revered by all as the father of professional basketball in Louisiana for his time with the Jazz and his college years at LSU.
A trip to New Orleans is always a fun proposition. If you are in the Big Easy, a trip to the Smoothie King Center will not do much damage to your wallet. The arrival of Zion Williamson bodes well for the franchise and may offer you a chance to see one of the possible future superstars of the NBA . You’ll also have the opportunity to enjoy one of the many Cajun dishes available through the food and beverage program.