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Official Review by Jason Bullock, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Opened in 1988 with a capacity of 4,500, Bender Arena is home to the American University Eagles. A member of the Patriot League since 2001, the Eagles have probably had more success with well-known coaches than players. Jim Lynam (12 years as a coach or GM in the NBA), Gary Williams (NCAA title at Maryland in 2002) and Jeff Jones (current head coach at Old Dominion) have all patrolled the sidelines at American University. The most famous player to suit up for the Eagles? Kermit Washington, who is most well-know for punching Rudy Tomjanovich during an NBA game in 1977. Eagle fans would prefer to remember the power forward as a second team All-American during the 1973 season.
Bender Arena has been home to the Patriot League basketball tournament three times and also is the home of the Eagles wrestling and volleyball teams.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There are not a lot of food options at Bender Arena, but what they do have is fairly priced. The one concession stand- well, more of a snack bar - is located on the main level when you enter the arena and is a cash-only operation, so come prepared. Mini-pizza is available for $4 with your choice of cheese, pepperoni or sausage. While you will never confuse it with a gourmet pizza, it is a decent snack. If pizza is not your thing, your only other protein option is a hot dog for $3. Nachos, pretzels and popcorn are also available for $3. If you are looking for more of a sugar rush, there is a temporary set up across from the concession stand that sells funnel cakes, fried oreos and ice cream and they are there for most games.
Fountain sodas and bottled water are available for $2 each, which is a bargain price compared to most sporting events. "Coke is it" at Bender Arena and you will notice that right away as the concession stand is painted red and has the famous logo all over it.
The line at halftime is really long, and you may have to miss part of the second half. You may want to sacrifice the last couple of minutes of the first half if you're feeling hungry. Plan accordingly.
Upon entering Bender Arena, it feels like a large high school gym. However, it is easy to quickly appreciate the intimacy the small arena has to offer. The sideline sections only have 13 rows, so you are never too far from the action and while the end zone seats contain almost twice as many rows, you still have a pretty good vantage point from any of those sections. If you are sitting in an end zone, I would recommend sitting up in a higher row, as there is a pretty good size gap from the front row to the baseline that could impede your sightline.
Sideline seats are all stadium seating with armrests while end zone seats are all bleacher style. All seats are assigned as there is no general admission, but you can pretty much move around anywhere you want in the end seats, while with sideline seats your tickets are checked by an usher.
Students and the pep band sit in sections 112-115 and are right on top of the action. Most of them remain standing for the entire game and the band does a good job of entertaining the crowd. Visitors typically will be found in 116-117, right behind their team's bench. Two large scoreboards can be found behind the sideline opposite the main entrance and one of the end zones, so no matter where you are sitting you have visibility. The boards show all the basics along with points and fouls for each player on the court. Game stats are also shown during breaks in play along with live and replay video of game play. These definitely add to the atmosphere of the game and I appreciate them as a fan.
AU has a dance team and a cheerleading squad that entertain fans during breaks in play and halftime. There are a few sponsored events involving fans, but just enough that it doesn't become annoying. The PA system sounds great from the sideline seats, but the announcements sound muffled when sitting in the end zone areas and you can not understand what is being said. You will see the AU Eagle mascot, Clawed, roaming the stands throughout the game and he is a big hit with the kids. He is constantly stopping and posing for pictures.
While being located away from the hustle and bustle of downtown DC has it's advantages, there is very little to do in the immediate neighborhood of American University. Fortunately, you are about 3 miles from the Georgetown section of DC and there are lots of entertainment, shopping, and dining options there. You are also not that far from downtown where there is more to do than you probably have time for. If you are in the area visiting, plan on taking some time to head to the museums, see the monuments or catch a show in our nation's capital. Washington.org is a great place to start if you are looking to plan a long weekend in the area.
American appears to have a fan base that supports their home team and the game I most recently attended had a good turnout. The student section was pretty full, which bodes well when you want some energy in the arena. While they do have some chants that appear to be choreographed - Yelling 'Sucks!' after opposing player introductions, or chanting 'You can't do that' after a foul by the visiting team - most of these don't find a lot of momentum and do not add a lot to the atmosphere.
The game I most recently attended was a league match-up and a tight contest. Very few fans left early and I also noted that during game play, the main concourse is pretty empty. Fans are in their seats engaged in the game and it is their primary focus. Pretty cool and a great way to show your team you are behind them.
The easiest way to get to Bender Arena is to drive and park in the seven-level garage that is attached. American University is located right off of Massachusetts Avenue NW DC, removed from the heavy downtown traffic that you will typically find in our nation's capital. However, leave yourself plenty of time to get to the game, as there is typically always construction or detours that could delay your drive in. Your other option would be to take the Metro (DC's subway system) and get on the red line to Tenleytown, which is about a mile walk to the arena.
The arena is part of a large complex that includes an aquatics center, campus store, fitness center and a mini-mall. If you park in the garage you will take the elevator to the 1st floor and you will find yourself steps away from the ticket gate. There are two lines, one for ticket holders and one for students and it moves pretty quickly. If you are sitting in sections 101-106, you will walk straight ahead and an usher will help you to your seat. If you are sitting in any other section, you will need to walk to your left or right and walk downstairs to get to your seats. There are plenty of helpful ushers that will give direction if you have any questions. For those needing assistance, an elevator is available to get you to the lower level.
The restrooms are located to the right of the snack bar. They are clean and spacious and while there is only one for each gender, they are pretty large and I never noticed a long line.
If you park in the garage, getting back to your car can be a little tedious as there are only one pair of elevators that take you there. Many fans were taking the steps and it is a quicker option than waiting for the elevator.
Tickets on either sideline will cost you $17. End zone seats are $10 and $7 for youth. Parking is free in the garage attached to the arena and while food options are limited, what they do have is fairly priced. An Eagles game at Bender Arena is a great value and a wise spend of your entertainment dollar.
There are not a whole lot of extras at Bender Arena, but I appreciate the fact that you can pay for an end zone ticket, but stand behind the railing located behind the sideline section and enjoy a great view of the game.
Live in the area and never attended a game at Bender? It's worth a visit and can be an entertaining way to spend a cold winter Saturday afternoon.
Member Review by gtcrawley
Bender Arena is home to American University's men's basketball team. If it were a home, and I were a Realtor, and I was trying to sell it to you, I'd use words like, "charming" and "cozy." But it isn't and I'm not, so I'll use other words, like "small" and "where's the food?"
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