After spending the summer closed while crews ripped out walls, applied fresh coats of paint, and added new concessions and entertainment options to the former Philips Arena, the newly rechristened State Farm Arena hosted its first Atlanta Hawks game against the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday evening, showing a sold-out crowd of basketball fans (16,705 of them, to be precise) what the $192.5 million renovation has to offer.
While the makeover lacks a lot of the novelty of the brand-new SunTrust Park and its next-door neighbor Mercedes-Benz Stadium, it does greatly enhance the nearly 20-year-old arena, first and foremost by removing many of the interior walls that shielded the court from view from the concessions areas. And remember how you used to not be able to circumnavigate the entire stadium due to the suite levels blocking your way? That’s gone too. You can now walk up and see the court from a ton of places throughout both levels of the stadium, great for standing-room only tickets and for checking on what’s happening while you run to the bathroom, grab a snack, or even while you’re getting your haircut, as one of the brand-new additions to to the arena—Killer Mike’s Swag Shop barbershop—also overlooks the court.
In the center of the court hangs a massive new video board, which has a slick LED screen that wraps all the way around, accented by new large video scoreboards in the corners of the arena. When the Hawks came out on the floor for their introductions, balls of flame shot into the air from pyrotechnics on the basketball hoops.
The concessions have been upgraded too, with the popular “fan-first” pricing that Mercedes-Benz Stadium pioneered. A refillable souvenir soda is the same price as MBS—$4, although the cups are smaller—and the arena features similar “refill-your-own” soda stations throughout the levels. You can get $3 hot dogs and $4 pizza slices, and the new premium offerings include local favorites like B’s Cracklin’ Barbecue, J.R. Crickets, an entire Giovanni Di Palma mega-area that includes Antico pizza and Gio’s Chicken, and Old Lady Gang. The much-talked-about Zac Brown’s Social Club is also enormous, with a huge chandelier-laden bar and take-away food area surrounded by a wall of the country superstar’s memorabilia.
I actually spotted B’s Cracklin’ owner Bryan Furman behind the counter for a moment, talking to the workers, which was a good sign, and the meat did taste similar to what I’ve found at his restaurant. The price tags are higher here—$16 for my pulled pork sandwich and seasoned steak fries. But it’s nice to see more sporting venues embracing local flavors.
So what about the basketball game itself? The game’s high turnout wasn’t really evident until the second half (people exploring the new amenities, perhaps?) but once the stadium was packed, the energy was higher than I’ve seen at a Hawks game in a long time, particularly as the team came back in the fourth quarter to defeat the Mavericks after being behind for the entire game. There were plenty of additional perks in celebration of the home opening—Zac Brown Band sang the national anthem, Future played short sets for halftime and after the game, free “Tomorrow Begins Today” t-shirts in every seat, and perhaps most cool, free LED light-up bracelets that didn’t seem like much until they began pulsing in time to the music. Each bracelet was synced to the arena audio and responded to musical cues, as well as sparking with a rapid-fire, multicolor blink whenever the Hawks scored a 3-pointer. The bracelets were clearly synced based on section and would occasionally glow a solid color to light the stadium up in red and white stripes. (You could tell someone had swapped seats or snagged a bracelet from the wrong section by the tiny dots of opposite colors.) I’m not sure if State Farm Arena will bust these bracelets out again for future games—I’ve reached out for comment—but they were incredibly fun.
As to be expected for a first game, State Farm Arena is still working out some of the kinks (a spokesperson confirmed to me that they are still “finishing some areas”), but overall it seems to be a solid response to what fans are asking for from their sporting arenas. Now if the Hawks could just bring home some more wins, Atlanta fans would be set.