Snapdragon Stadium Review: A GREAT New Home For The Aztecs

·9 min read

Snapdragon Stadium Review: A GREAT New Home For The Aztecs

The San Diego State Aztecs disappointed in their season opener, but Snapdragon Stadium ROCKS.

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Temperatures peaked at 108 degrees and new concessions stands struggled, but this stadium will serve SDSU very well.

San Diego, CA – Saturday, September 3 was a memorable day for Aztec Nation as San Diego State football played its first game in a brand new venue. The home team could not claim victory and it was the hottest day on record ever in San Diego for an official football match, including the NFL’s Chargers, and while some concessions stands were not fully prepared to handle the crowd of 34,046 fans, a dynamite new venue is here to serve Aztecs football for many years to come if you look past the anomalies.

As an SDSU alum, a sports writer, and an Aztecs football and basketball superfan, I took it upon myself to cut through the national media’s headlines and provide a first-hand chronicle of the Snapdragon experience.

GAME ONE EXPERIENCE

Arriving at Snapdragon, my son Quinn and I reached Friar’s Road two-and-a-half hours before kickoff. We paid in advance online to park in the orange lot. Even arriving early, it took us 15 minutes from stadium entrance to the lot.

We parked and then entered the largest tailgate scene I’ve ever seen at an Aztecs event. Both the orange and yellow lots were fully packed with San Diego State tents, campers, flags, and fans. Aztec Nation was out in full force.

Walking through the orange lot and over to the yellow lot, we stopped by the Sons of Montezuma tailgate tent to visit founder, content director, and podcaster Matteo Ortiz as he hosted his live game day podcast, along with co-host Dan Morton. The crew gave out merchandise and distributed shirts, flags, and NIL gear to dedicated fans. I needed something to beat the heat, so Matteo handed me an AleSmith Aztec Ale in a S.O.M. koozie and we talked football. Sons of Montezuma is a growing, iconic part of the Aztec Nation, and Matteo’s podcasts are superb, often featuring insightful player interviews.

May be an image of 10 people, people standing and outdoors
May be an image of 10 people, people standing and outdoors

Next, Quinn and I moved over to the festive Aztec Village just outside of the main entrance. DJs spun beats as affiliated companies held events for fans to enjoy, as well as food and drinks for everyone to sample. We visited the “Aztec Throne”, donning football helmets to do so, before entering the stadium entrance.

We entered the stadium quickly and easily with our electronic tickets. I won’t disclose what I paid for my section 110, Row 5 tickets, but I definitely did my part to help cover the $310,000,000 stadium bill. Inside, huge masses sought relief around mist stations and in the shade. It was 102 degrees.

Before the game, we ordered chicken and drinks at the Crack Shack. Two soft drinks (called “subscriptions”) cost $10 apiece. We also grabbed water and headed to our seats, just three rows from the field. It was unbelievably hot. At 12:15 PM, fifteen minutes before kickoff, a pair of F-17 Falcons flew overhead, followed by a short ceremony led by university president Adela De La Torre, who was subsequently booed, due to her cancellation of the Aztec Spirit Warrior. Microphones were not optimized, so fans noted speeches and later referee calls were not completely audible.

Until kickoff, most fans stayed beneath the upper deck in shaded areas, as it became pretty apparent the heat was not just a nuisance, but a critical situation. We saw people wheeled out on stretchers before the game started.

A Dos Equis indoor bar was built into the stadium, but fans needed a pricey club membership to attend. Word circulated that all enclosed restaurants, bars and lounges were VIP club membership only for the time being.

Aside from the stunning heat, the atmosphere just before kickoff was great.  The sound system for music rocked, the university band trumpeted, the marching band was in formation on the field, cheerleaders danced, and coaches and staff were game time ready.

After kickoff, on the very first play it was clear the Aztecs had issues to work out… but this is not a game recap.  By the end of the first quarter, the temperature had reached 108 degrees. Quinn and I had to step out of the sun every 25 minutes to avoid getting heat stroke and all shaded areas were jam packed with people who had the same idea.

By the second half, the whole stadium had run out of ice and water became scarce. When the third quarter rolled around, stadium employees obtained reserves and started handing out water for the sake of safety. More people were carted away on an ongoing basis, though.

With minutes left in the game, and with no illusions of an 18-point miracle comeback, we visited the SDSU Team Store, a nice air-conditioned merchandise center, for some Aztec gear. The shop was nice, but at full capacity. We then watched the end of the game before hitting the road. Getting from the lot to the interstate took 20 minutes.

The incredible hot weather was a freak event, as temperatures this time of year in San Diego are normally 20 degrees cooler (editor’s note: The high in San Diego one calendar year earlier was 75 degrees). In addition, most Aztecs home games start closer to 7:00 PM. Heat aside, this stadium rocks.

I have compiled a list of first-game anomalies, all of which are likely to be remedied in the near term. Next, I have detailed Snapdragon Stadium pros and cons and then will issue an overall grade.

GAME ONE ANOMALIES

  • 108 degree weather was highly unusual and close to unbearable.

  • Limited shaded area was concerning. In available spaces, people sat on the ground, in the stairwells, on planters, or each other.

  • Restroom faucets poured hot water.

  • There were not enough trash receptacles and mountains of water bottles, initially.

  • After the second half, there was no ice. Many attendees paid big bucks for drinks that were served warm.

  • Heat-related trauma rattled on-site first responders and paramedics.

  • Referees were mostly inaudible due to temporary microphone issues.

SNAPDRAGON STADIUM PROS

  • Stadium Size and Field Proximity – San Diego State will finally be able to sell out the stadium to create a fantastic gameday presence at home. There were over 34,000 individuals in attendance for the debut, which was an excellent start.

  • Great Selection of Stadium Concessions – Even if you didn’t pay thousands of dollars to enter the VIP venues, plenty of signature San Diego food stands offered excellent stadium fare, and every kind of beer imaginable is available.

  • Styling and Decor – Snapdragon Stadium is, when you get right down to it, pretty sexy. Styling, architecture, murals, lighting and signage has been done very well, and the stadium has signature San Diego curb appeal.

  • Great Student Section – Aztecs are notorious for partying and for nationally famous student fan base, The Show. Student sections have railings in front of each row of seats to prevent injury by falling and for safety during games.

  • Scoreboards and Ribbon Boards – Ever present are informative UHD screens. You’ll find two amazing scoreboards at the Southeast and Northwest corners; dazzling ribbon boards and numerous UHD TV’s below upper decks.

  • Sound System – The referee microphones were not fully operational during game one, but music in the stadium was super-high quality. There was no audible stadium echo and this will make for an awesome atmosphere.

  • Great Venue for Tailgating – There were so many tailgaters, it’s possible 25% never entered the stadium.

  • “Easter Eggs” Throughout The Stadium – You will find remnants of San Diego Stadium throughout Snapdragon: Art murals, famous phrases from Aztec greats, statues, and other unique San Diego mementos, all of which make exploring the stadium fun.

  • Prestige – After decades of being guests or co-inhabitants of other sports clubs’ venues, Snapdragon Stadium is built by SDSU, for SDSU, and owned by SDSU. Even the construction firm is run by SDSU alumni. This is the Aztecs’ domain, and it dignifies the 100-year-old football organization.

SNAPDRAGON STADIUM CON’S

  • Stadium Traffic – It will be critically important for San Diego State and the City of San Diego to recognize the importance of rapid entry and exit of the stadium, if necessary by increasing the number of entrances, along with the number of lanes on roadways feeding in and out of the stadium. This needs to be solved.

  • Ticket and Concessions Prices – Some people can overpay, grin and bear it, but Snapdragon is cost prohibitive for some fans and families. $15 beers should be reserved for SoFi Stadium up in Inglewood, not a college venue. $10 sodas are rarely found anywhere else, too, and the cost for food at Snapdragon is nuts. The SDSU team store also features t-shirts at $40 apiece, but none of this broaches ticket prices. Going to the first game at Snapdragon was like attending a New York Yankees playoff game.

  • Shade And Foul Weather Relief – Fans might go decades before enduring 108-degree weather again but, in case of a downpour, lightning, or another future heat wave, the stadium will face a similar problem of people clamoring for cover. Without enough cover, alterations must be considered.

  • Restrooms – The restrooms are, in some parts of the stadium, undersized for the number of people. This is problematic during high attendance situations.

  • Membership Required For Indoor Bars and Clubs – This isn’t unique to Snapdragon Stadium, but it’s displeasing. Big dollars have to be paid to be a club member, and for out-of-state Aztec alumni, that setup just doesn’t work.

  • Stadium Communications – General information for stadium goers needs to improve so fans can better understand logistics for attendance. Many fans paid for limited availability tickets before single game ticket information was fully published. Better communications will lead to better experiences.

STADIUM OVERALL GRADE

B+

This is an amazing stadium and it would be unreasonable to downgrade it for anomalous weather like the heat wave on display last Saturday, yet traffic, ticket and concessions prices, restrooms and weather relief impede a perfect score.

The Aztec Nation congratulates San Diego State on the on-time, on-budget completion of the fantastic new Mission Valley Snapdragon Stadium!

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