Category Archives: Stadiums and Arenas

Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln Nebraska

Three-And-A-Half New College Basketball Arenas

Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln NebraskaCollege football season is nearing its end, so that means it’s time for college sports fans to start thinking about the 2013-2014 basketball season.  There are three major new arenas this year, plus one that’s received a major renovation that makes it essentially new.

Pinnacle Bank Arena is the new home of the University of Nebraska basketball teams, as well as a major new entertainment venue for Lincoln, Nebraska.  The arena seats 15,000 for basketball and adds another 1,000 for concerts.  It cost $179 million to build the glitzy new building just west of the University of Nebraska campus.  The hotels closest to Pinnacle Bank Arena are a short distance southeast of the arena at the southern edge of the campus.  There’s another large cluster of places to stay about 2 miles northwest on West Cornhusker Highway.

The University of Maine basketball teams will play most of their games this year at the new Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.  It’s located about 10 miles south of the university’s campus in Orono.  You can find plenty of places to stay near Cross Insurance Center in Bangor and along I-95 between Bangor and Orono.  The arena can hold 5,800 for sports events.

SECU Arena is the name of the newest sports and entertainment venue in the Baltimore metropolitan area.  The arena is located on the campus of Towson University and becomes the new home for the university’s basketball, volleyball and gymnastics teams.  It seats 5,200 and is sure to host lots of non-university events (concerts and sports).  Towson is on the north side of the city of Baltimore and there are plenty of nearby places to stay in downtown Baltimore and around the Baltimore Beltway.

SMU's Moody ColiseumSouthern Methodist University’s Moody Coliseum has been around since 1956, but it won’t look anything like a 57-year-old arena when it reopens later this month.  $40 million has been spent on renovating the on-campus facility, giving it an external facelift and plenty of 21st century amenities inside.  SMU is in the University Park neighborhood a short distance north of downtown Dallas.  You’ll find places to stay near Moody Coliseum within a 3 mile radius, both north and south of the university, many of them congregated on or near the North Central Expressway.

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An Improved Dodger Stadium

dodger-stadium-2013While there are no new stadiums opening for the 2013 Major League Baseball season, one of the league’s older venues – Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles – received $100 million worth of upgrades during the off-season.  It’s an excellent example of how you can provide an improved experience for your fans (and, in this case, your players) without spending a billion dollars on a new stadium.

The new owners of the Dodgers spent $2 billion to buy the team last year and they obviously want a ballpark that matches that kind of expenditure.  One of the most notable changes for fans is the expansion of the concourses on most of the stadium levels.  A couple of rows of seats were removed to allow for wider concourses and the addition of standing-room “drink rails”.  Some concession stands were added and others were made larger – same for rest rooms.  There are a couple of new team stores for those fans who don’t already have enough Dodger Blue gear.

In the outfield there are a couple of new high-resolution video boards that resurrect the hexagon shape used when Dodger Stadium opened back in 1962.   If you visit the outfield pavilions, you’ll find new restrooms and picnic areas, too.

Some of the biggest changes won’t be seen by many fans.  In an amazingly speedy construction project, the field level seats were removed, lots of digging was done to expand the underground areas, much improved clubhouse facilities were added and the field level seats were reconstructed.  The Dodgers clubhouse space was doubled with lots more space for batting cages and weight rooms.  When you spend $2 billion to buy a team, you want your players to be happy, too.

If you’re planning a visit from out-of-town, TheRealPlaces.com has an easy-to-use guide to hotels near Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles – and all the other major league ballparks.

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2012 Major League Baseball Postseason

It took all 162 games of the regular season, but they’ve finally figured out the participants and schedule for the 2012 Major League Baseball Playoffs.  If you placed a bet before the season that the Baltimore Orioles (from 69-93 in 2011 to 93-69 in 2012), Washington Nationals (improving by 18 games to finish with the best record in baseball) and Oakland Athletics (from 74-88 to 94-68, surprising everybody by overtaking the Texas Rangers in the final week to win the AL West) would all make the playoffs, you should be significantly wealthier today than you were back in April.

This year the playoffs begin with the new one-game “Wild Card Playoff” in each league.  They’ll be played on Friday 10/5/12 with the Orioles traveling to play the Texas Rangers in the American League game and the St. Louis Cardinals going to Atlanta to play the Braves in the National League game.  The winners of those games will play their first League Divisional Series games at home on Sunday 10/7/12.  In the National League, the Wild Card winner will be playing the Nationals in the NLDS while the American League winner will host the New York Yankees.

The other best-of-5 LDS series start on Saturday (10/6/12).  Oakland plays at Detroit on Saturday and Sunday, with games 3, 4 and 5 scheduled for Oakland on October 9th-11th.  In the National League, Cincinnati plays at San Francisco on Saturday and Sunday then the Giants travel east to finish the series at the Reds home on the 9th through 11th.

The American League Championship Series begins on Saturday, 10/13/12 at the home ballpark of the team with the best regular season record.  The NLCS starts on Sunday, 10/14/12.  If they go the full seven games, the ALCS will end on Sunday October 21st and the NLCS on Monday October 22nd.  This year’s World Series begins in the National League champion’s stadium on Wednesday October 24th.  Game 7, if required, is scheduled for November 1st.

TheRealPlaces.com makes it easy to find hotels near wherever you’re going, including all 30 Major League ballparks and hundreds of other popular sports venues.

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NASCAR Goes Coast-to-Coast In June

With the conclusion of the big races of May, NASCAR gets down to the weekly business of trying to accumulate championship points with lots of races scheduled for June.  The guys – and one notable gal – of NASCAR will be putting in plenty of miles between races as they travel from Delaware to California and back to Kentucky.

The June 2012 NASCAR schedule starts with the FedEx 400 at Dover International Speedway on June 3rd.  Little Dover, Delaware triples (or quadruples) its population twice a year when the “Monster Mile” hosts NASCAR Sprint Cup events.  There’s also a Nationwide Series race at Dover, the 5-Hour Energy 200, on June 2nd.

For the June 10th Pocono 400, NASCAR’s teams will only have to go 180 miles north to Pocono Raceway near Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  Jeff Gordon will be defending his 2011 victory (when it was a 500 mile race and sponsored by 5-Hour Energy).  From there the big between-races mileage starts to pile up as they head to Michigan International Speedway in south central Michigan for the Quicken Loans 400 on June 17th.  Denny Hamlin was the winner at last year’s June visit to Michigan.

Then it’s really time to hit the road – and the road course – as they travel all the way west to Sonoma, California for the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway.  Things will slow down quite a bit as the drivers maneuver their way around the 2.52-mile road racing course on June 24th.  Kurt Busch was the winner of last year’s annual NASCAR visit to northern California.

It’s a long trip back east just in time to get one more race into the month of June: the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway on June 30th.  The track is located between I-71 and the Ohio River about mid-way between Cincinnati and Louisville.  Kyle Busch was also the 2011 winner here.

 

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Baseball and Beaches in Sarasota

The second stop on our recent trip through the southeastern United States was Sarasota, Florida.  The primary goal was to see some Spring Training baseball, while getting a look at one of the less-well-known parts of Florida.  It was a bit of a revelation.

Sarasota is on Florida’s Gulf coast, a few miles south of the more famous Tampa and St. Petersburg.  If you’re coming to the area to see pre-season baseball, Sarasota is centrally located for pretty easy access to multiple stadiums.  Sarasota’s own Spring Training facility is Ed Smith Stadium, used by the Baltimore Orioles to prepare for the regular season.  Quite a bit of money was spent by the city of Sarasota to upgrade the stadium recently and it shows.  It’s one of the nicest small baseball stadiums you’ll find anywhere.  Everything about it has a “major league” feel, just smaller.

Adjacent to Sarasota to the north is Bradenton, home of McKechnie Field where the Pittsburgh Pirates have been training for many years.  While Ed Smith Stadium is like a miniaturized major league ballpark, McKechnie Field has the look-and-feel of a minor league park with some of the feel of a county fair outside.  Not that any of that is a complaint, it’s still a comfortable place to watch a game.

Our base while in Sarasota was the Hampton Inn and Suites Sarasota-Bradenton Airport.  Externally, the hotel looks like a mid-20th-century work of cubist art.  Internally, everything was modern and comfortable.  Our only complaint is that the furnishings are a little on the sparse side.  An additional comfortable chair would be nice and it’s surprising to find hotel rooms without a mini-fridge these days.  But the location just outside the airport on University Parkway made it easy to find places to eat and get to any of our destinations in the region.

One of the biggest attractions in Sarasota (and practically within walking distance of the Hampton Inn and Suites) is the Ringling Museum of Art, created by circus guy John Ringling.  More than just a single museum, it’s a collection of attractions that includes a couple of circus-related museums, the art museum, the awe-inspiring Ca’ d’Zan Mansion (with more art), beautiful gardens and the Asolo Theater – which originally opened in Italy in 1798 and was transported to Sarasota by Mr. Ringling in the 1940’s.  Obviously the Ringling Museum is a place where you can spend an entire day or more.

The mainland cities of Sarasota and Bradenton are separated from the Gulf of Mexico by a series of barrier islands.  Travel across the John Ringling Causeway (his name is everywhere) west from downtown Sarasota and you’ll arrive at Lido Key, home of the popular St. Armand’s Circle shopping and restaurant area.  Go north from there and you’ll be traveling along the narrow Longboat Key toward Bradenton.  A separate bridge on the south side of town takes you to Siesta Key, considered one of the nicest beaches in the country.

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Big Month For Auto Racing Fans

May is traditionally the biggest month of the year for auto racing fans in the United States.  While much of the action will center around Indianapolis and Charlotte, a couple of tracks in Alabama and South Carolina will be in the spotlight early in the month.

The May NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule starts with the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama.  The 187-lap race starts at noon on May 6th.  The race weekend in Alabama also includes the Aaaron’s 312 Nationwide Series race on May 5th at 3pm.  The defending champion of the Aaron’s 499 is Jimmie Johnson.  The NASCAR guys return to Talladega for the Good Sam Club 500 on October 7th.

May’s second stop in the Sprint Cup series is at Darlington Raceway for the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at 6:30 pm on May 12th.  Last year’s winner – when the race was called the Showtime Southern 500 – was Regan Smith.  Darlington is in the northeast part of South Carolina, about 10 miles from I-95.

The stock cars spend the last two weeks of the month at Charlotte Motor Speedway.  Two special events are scheduled for May 19th, the Sprint Showdown and the Sprint All-Star Race.  On May 27th it’s time for the Coca-Cola 600, when Kevin Harvick will be looking to make it two years in a row.  The Nationwide Series also stops in Charlotte on May 26th for the History 300.

For open-wheel racing fans, May is always the biggest month of the year as the stars of Indy Car racing prep for the Indianapolis 500.  This years race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana starts at noon on May 27th.  Sadly, 2011 winner Dan Wheldon won’t be around to defend his title after his fatal accident in Las Vegas at the end of last year’s season.

2012 NCAA Basketball Tournament Hotels

We’re only month away from the start of the 2012 NCAA Basketball Tournament and that means it’s time for our annual guide to hotels at the NCAA tournament sites.  This year’s tournament starts March 13th in Dayton, Ohio and finishes with the championship game in New Orleans on April 2nd.

The “Final Four” will be played March 31st and April 2nd at the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans.  It’ll be the fifth time the tournament’s final games have been played at the Superdome (also the site of New Orleans Saints and Tulane Green Wave home games and the annual Sugar Bowl).

The regional finals will be held the weekend of March 22nd through March 25th in Boston, St. Louis, Atlanta and Phoenix.  The final four games of the East region are scheduled for Boston’s TD Garden on March 22nd and 24th.  The best of the Midwest will play at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis on Friday 3/23 and Sunday 3/25.  The South region finals will be hosted by the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on 3/23 and 3/25.  And games in the West region will finish at US Airways Center in Phoenix on Thursday March 22nd and Saturday March 24th.

Second and third round games will be played March 15th through March 18th at eight sites around the country (note that games played at each of these venues aren’t necessarily associated with the part of the country where they’re held – it’s entirely possible that you’ll seen two teams from the “West” region of the tournament playing in Pittsburgh):

“The Pit” at the University of New Mexico – Albuquerque – March 15th and 17th
CONSOL Energy Center – Pittsburgh – March 15th and 17th
Rose Garden – Portland, Oregon – March 15th and 17th
KFC Yum! Center – Louisville – March 15th and 17th
Nationwide Arena – Columbus, Ohio – March 16th and 18th
Greensboro Coliseum – Greensboro, NC – March 16th and 18th
Bridgestone Arena – Nashville – March 16th and 18th
CenturyLink Center – Omaha – March 16th and 18th

Once again, the first round of games (now called the “First Four”) will be played at the University of Dayton Arena on Tuesday March 13th and Wednesday March 14th.

If you live in the 400 mile Nashville to Louisville to Dayton to Columbus corridor, you have an opportunity to see a whole lot of great college basketball in March. And Pittsburgh is only a 3 hour drive east from Columbus.  Nice job spreading things out all over the country, Mr. NCAA!

Major Golf Tournament Hotels

The year has barely begun and the 2012 golf season is underway.  The top tournaments every year are the major championships hosted by the United States Golf Association (USGA) and Professional Golfers Association (PGA).  TheRealPlaces.com now has a guide to finding hotels near all upcoming major golf tournaments.

In 2012 the world’s best golfers will be visiting classic courses and top modern golfing venues.  The 2012 U.S. Open (for men) will be held at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.  It’ll be interesting to see how golfers respond to changes at Olympic – the speed and contours of the greens got out of control at the last Open held there in 1998.

The 2012 PGA Championship will be held at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, just outside of Charleston.  Golf courses don’t get much more visually interesting than the Ocean Course, a real links style layout right on the Atlantic beachfront.  Downtown Charleston is only about 15 miles away, so there shouldn’t be any problem finding a convenient place to stay if you’re going to the PGA.

It’s an even-numbered year, which means it’s time for another Ryder Cup competition.  The 2012 Ryder Cup matches between the United States and Europe will be conducted at Medinah Country Club in Illinois.  Medinah has previous been the site of three U.S. Opens and two PGA Championships (both won by Tiger Woods).  Medinah is only 25 miles from downtown Chicago.

The 2012 U.S. Women’s Open Golf Championship is returning to a “modern classic”: the River Course at Blackwolf Run in Kohler, Wisconsin.  The ladies also played there for their biggest title in 1998.