Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Arizona Stadium's North End Zone: A Review

Posted By on Tue, Sep 3, 2013 at 3:00 PM

For most people, last Friday's UA football season opener against Northern Arizona was about seeing what the second season under Rich Rodriguez would bring for the Wildcats' long-suffering, Rose Bowl-less fan base. How would RichRod replace the versatile Matt Scott at quarterback? Would the defense continue to resemble a gold sifting pan with oversized holes?

In that respect, the 35-0 win over NAU went at least part of the way toward allaying some of these concerns, although not to the point that flights to and hotels in Pasadena for Jan. 1 are being booked. Yet.

For me, though, Friday night was much less about the on-field performance and far more about the gamenight experience. Namely, how would my butt and elbows enjoy the seatbacks and armrests that I paid extra for by upgrading to the new North End Zone seating.

The price tag for two seats in the lower half of Arizona Stadium's $72 million upgrade cost me $100 more than the just-fine seats in the northeast corner of the mezzanine I had in 2012 (despite getting two less uses of the seats this year, thanks to only six home games compared to eight last year), so I have been anxiously waiting for the chance to truly sample the merchandise.

And, despite the annoying-as-f*ck light rain that fell throughout the game — resulting in copious amounts of spilled food on the stairway just to my right — I give the overall enjoyment of the new seating situation an A-minus. But the seats themselves contributed to only a fraction of this rating.

I'd previously done a quick walkthru of the North End Zone project in August, but at that time only the seats were complete. The concession areas were still under construction, so I didn't know for certain what to expect. And boy was I surprised.

There's an expansive area for lines to build up as you wait for the main food/drink windows, where the standard plain hot dogs, nachos and sodas are complimented with a varied menu that includes several different weiner options (get your mind out of the gutter, people), including Sonoran and Chicago-style varieties. There's also sweet potato fries, if regular ol' freedom fries don't do it for you.

The real surprises came from the ancillary concessions, though. Around the corner from the main food spot is a Pinkberry frozen yogurt outfit, which appeared to do a brisk business Friday. Whether that was influenced by people trying to stay out of the rain or just because Tucsonans love them some fruit-covered frozen treats, I'm not sure. I was too in awe of what, after I first noticed it, I considered my own private mini-mart.

The Red-Blue Market, tucked into a little hole in the concrete foundation holding up the club-level suites and ultra-elite Sands Club that is the North End Zone's main cash cow, is like an oasis of simpletude in a desert of ballpark food. There's pre-packaged sandwiches, salads, sushi (!) and fruit and yogurt parfaits, not to mention a selection of fancy beverages like Fruit Water and coconut milk.

Until Friday I didn't know that some strawberries, granola and yogurt was all it took to make the World's First (and only) Alternative Marching Band sound interesting.

Add in the openness of the concourse and you've got yourself a nice, relaxing, all-inclusive game experience. The seats, themselves, are cool, too.

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