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Official Review by Sean MacDonald, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Is there a school more American than The American University? The Eagles play in Washington D.C., are members of the Patriot League and their colors are red, white, and blue. But their arena does not continue the trend with its name, instead honoring local philanthropists and horse breeders, Howard and Sondra Bender, who were responsible for the building’s funding.
Opened in 1988 with a capacity of 4,500 for basketball, Bender Arena is part of Butler Pavilion, which includes an aquatic center, a fitness center, a mini-mall, and a large parking structure. In fact, you will drive by the main entrance as you enter the parking lot. Bender Arena has hosted 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 located on the main level is a cash-only operation, so come prepared. Mini-pizza is available for $4 with your choice of cheese or pepperoni, while a hot dog is $3 (add a buck for chili). Nachos with cheese are $4 while those with chili are the most expensive item at $5. Popcorn is also available for $3. If you are looking for more of a sugar rush, chocolate chip cookies are $2.50 while assorted candy and chips are $2.
Fountain sodas, bottled water, and Powerade are available for $3 each. "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.
If you want something more substantial, there is a Subway restaurant just across the street from the main entrance, as well as a Starbucks and a convenience store with sandwiches, wraps, and salads.
The concession line at halftime can sometimes take a long time, so depending on the size of the crowd on hand you may want to sacrifice the last couple of minutes of the first half if you're feeling hungry .
When you enter the arena proper, you will find yourself in a large space with some historical displays to your right and the concession stand to your left. The court actually sits atop the gym floor, so it can be removed for other events. There are four sections of seating - 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 higher up. 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 does affect your sightline.
Sideline seats are all stadium seating with armrests while end zone seats are 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 sideline tickets are checked by an usher. Note that you will be asked if you support the home or visiting team and assigned a section depending on your response. Visitors typically will be found in 116-117, right behind their team's bench, or in the end zone from section 118-120.
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. Scoreboards can be found behind the sideline opposite the main entrance and the visiting end zone, 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.
AU has both a dance team and a cheerleading squad that entertain fans during breaks in play and at halftime. 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.
There is also a new private sky box that holds up to 30 fans and provides a balcony view of the game and comes with free snacks and other refreshments. Catering can be provided upon request, including beer and wine service, so if you have a group, this might be the best option to really enjoy the evening.
While being located away from the hustle and bustle of downtown DC has its advantages, there is very little to do in the immediate neighborhood of American University. The temporary headquarters of the Department of Homeland Security is across the street, while the Embassy of Japan is a few blocks away, but that is all you will notice in the immediate vicinity.
The closest Metro station is Tenleytown-AU on the red line, which has a few bars and eateries, including the Tenley Bar & Grill, a new gastropub that has an all-night happy hour on Thursday if you are fortunate enough to see a game on that day. Just across the street is Kitty O'Sheas, an Irish Pub that is open late. From Tenleytown-AU, the Red Line will whisk you to Dupont Circle or right downtown, where there are many, many more options.
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 the U.S. capital city. Washington.org is a great place to start if you are looking to plan a long weekend in the area.
American reportedly has a fan base that supports their home team but attending in mid-December, I saw this no evidence of this. Of course, students are long gone for Christmas break but there were a good number of alumni in attendance on this day, and they stayed to watch their team get beat handily, a good sign for when classes are in session.
American University is located off of Massachusetts Avenue NW DC, removed from the heavy downtown traffic that you will typically find in the capital. The easiest way to get to Bender Arena is to drive and park in the seven-level garage that is attached.
Your other option would be to take the Metro and get on the red line to Tenleytown-AU, walking along Nebraska Avenue to Massachusetts Avenue, about a mile in total. Free shuttle buses ply this route as well, though check schedules before relying on this method of transportation.
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 window. Inside, 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 downstairs and through a hallway that houses the locker rooms 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 is 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 $20.50, a bit much for this level of basketball. Bargain hunters will be forced into the end zone seats ($11), a surprisingly large discrepancy for such a small arena. As parking is free in the attached garage and food options are reasonably priced, an Eagles game at Bender Arena is a decent value and worth a visit.
There are sculptures of a donkey and elephant, representing the two political parties, in the main lobby, just in case you forgot your were in Washington. Before entering the arena proper, check out AU's Sports Hall of Fame, with Kermit Washington (appropriately) the most famous name here. Inside, there are displays listing all players who have exceeded 1,000 points during their career at the university as well as career leaders in a number of categories.
Live in the area and never attended a game at Bender Arena? Do your patriotic duty and head out to American University to enjoy some mid-major basketball!
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?"
Member Review by bullock0404 on Feb 03, 2014
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.
4855 Massachusetts Ave NW
Washington, DC 20016
4611 41st St NW
Washington, DC 20016
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