Burr Gymnasium is located at the northern tip of the campus of Howard University, and has been home to the Bison for 50 years. With a capacity of 2,700 fans, ‘The Burr’ is the smallest of the four arenas that are homes of Division I schools located in Washington DC, with Georgetown, George Washington and American being the others.
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".
Options are few here, but what I did find was tasty and reasonably priced. There is a small snack bar located in the concourse behind Section 8 that offers popcorn, chips, candy and a few drink options. If you're looking for something more filling, you'll find a larger concession stand behind section 17. The main offferings here are beef or turkey hot dogs ($3) and Italian sausage ($5). I tried the sausage with peppers and onions and it is a decent option. A nice portion of nachos for $5 is also available along with popcorn and chips. Pepsi products are served in bottles and are only $2 - a great price at any arena. A variety of candy bars are available for $1.25 to finish off your meal. I did not note an ATM on site, but major credit cards are accepted with a $5 minimum purchase. An additional note here - the staff at the main concession were all very pleasant and genuinely appeared to appreciate the business. Keep up the good work!
Upon entering the main concourse of Burr Gymnasium, it kind of brought me back to my high school years. White tile floors with matching cinder block walls give the concourse a very sterile feeling, and it doesn't really create a feeling of excitement for a fan. Fortunately, things change a bit once you get inside the arena.
One thing I noticed right away is a lack of ushers or staff to direct you to your seat. My ticket had a seat assignment, but it appears that you can pretty much sit wherever you want. There were a few seats that had a reserved sign on them, but other than those, it seems to be open season. If you must have your assigned seat and it is occupied, I'm sure you could find someone to assist you, but with the size of the arena, there are no bad seats, so just find yourself another. If you want to be close to the pep band and dancers, they occupy sections 10-12 behind one of the baskets.
There is a scoreboard at each end of the arena that gives you the basic information, plus the stats for each of the players on the floor. The only thing missing is the number of timeouts remaining, but that's a small detail and one I can do without. The speakers inside the arena all hang from the ceiling at center court. In a bigger gym, this might create an issue, but they are sufficient for the home of the Bison.
Now, on to what makes this a four-star rating - the soundtrack. Between the pep band and the DJ that is located at the opposite end of the arena, the sound of music is in the air from warm-ups all the way until the end of the game whenever there is a break in play. The band is an active one, dancing and swaying while they are playing, and when they are taking a break, the DJ (from Howard U's own WHBC) keeps the beats going. Accompanying the music are The Bisonettes, who also stay active throughout the game, but one thing about them puzzled me. There is plenty of room around both baselines, yet they stay in the stands the whole game. The only time they were on the floor was during a short halftime program. This group can move and deserves more than being relegated to the seats the entire game.
As the game progressed, I noted that the crowd got more involved in the music (warning - the music is LOUD). No 'Dance Cams' needed here - during each break you would see fans throughout the stands get up and express themselves through the art of dance. Young or old, big or small, single or group - it didn't matter, fans were having fun. Although I was enjoying the action on the court, it got to the point where I was looking forward to the timeouts so I could see and hear what was coming next. To me, this is what sports is about - fans coming together and having fun. Even though their team wasn't on the winning side of the score, the students and fans created a fun atmosphere that I really enjoyed.
In the immediate neighborhood, there's not much to do here, other than a few coffee shops and eateries. However, there is never a shortage of things to do in the nation's capital The stadium is located on campus in northwest Washington, D.C. A five minute drive south down 7th Street will bring you to the Chinatown district, where you can find plenty of bars, restaurants and shopping. A short walk from there will get you to the heart of D.C., with museums, monuments and the Capitol building. I recommend getting something to eat in the Chinatown area - Rocket Bar, Hooters or any of the neighborhood Chinese restaurants before or after the game.
The Howard fans are great - they are passionate about their team, they cheer, they dance and they stay until the end of the game, even during a potential blowout loss. The only problem is that there is not enough of them. At the game I recently attended in early 2013, I would estimate that there were 1,000 fans in the stands. The Bison have experienced their share of struggles, but I thought a Saturday afternoon game would be a better draw. I can only imagine the energy and excitement that would be created by a packed house at 'The Burr'.
The Metro (D.C.'s subway system) is the best option for attending a Bison game. The closest stop is Shaw-Howard U, on the Green Line. Prepare to walk a bit, as it is about one mile to the arena from here. Depending where you are coming from, this will cost you anywhere between $5-$9 a person, round-trip. Chinatown/Gallery Place, mentioned above, is a few stops away on the Green Line, so access is very easy if you are in that area.
If you prefer to try your luck at driving in, it may take you a while to find a space. I found no signs or guidance directing me to parking, so the options are street or garage parking. Garage parking can run from $15-$40, depending on what is going on in the city that day. If you're fortunate enough to find a metered space and you have a smartphone, download the Parkmobile app and pay for your parking that way. Otherwise, bring lots of quarters.
Getting in is pretty quick and simple, and there is sufficient space in the main concourse to keep people moving, even during halftime and post-game. You may find the dance team practicing in the concourse at the far end of the arena before the game, but that was the only time I had to break stride as I navigated around the arena. Restrooms are scarce, as there is only one of each located close to the small snack bar. With the small crowd in attendance, I didn't notice any long lines, but if you are at a well-attended event, be sure to time your breaks accordingly.
General admission tickets are $15, and you can get a 'reserved seat' for $20. With the size of the arena, save your $5 and find a seat that works for you - the highest seat is 13 rows from the court, so you are not going to find a bad seat. Overall, food prices are very fair and depending on your transportation/parking option, you are looking at about $25-$30 per person There are better investments of your sports dollar for men's basketball in DC, but if you haven't been to a Howard game, it's worth a visit.
There are a handful of 'hydration stations' located in the concourse that provide free filtered water to staff and fans. You will need your own bottle or cup, but I thought this was a neat touch.
During timeouts, the scoreboard clock counts down the seconds remaining in the break in play. This was something unique I have not noticed in other arenas, and it is worth noting.
I wanted to give another mention of the DJ and the pep band. The energy and positive atmosphere they create takes what could be considered by some as a slightly below-average experience to a higher level.
As mentioned above, you may find better options close by - but there was something about the intimacy of the small arena and the overall atmosphere that makes me want to return to 'The Burr' for another game.
It's no secret that Howard's athletics department has been struggling lately, both on the field and in terms of administration. But you wouldn't know that from seeing a game here. Even though relatively few in DC have even heard of Burr Gym, there is decent NCAA hoops being played here. Even better: it's free! At least sometimes.
Howard University's website says that admission to basketball games is $15. Frankly, that's too much, but I was willing to pay it once (and probably only once) to see what the Howard game day experience is like. But when I turned up, no one was selling tickets, and a janitor confirmed that entrance was indeed free.
If $15 it too much, $0 is too little. Howard isn't a March Madness contender, and the MEAC isn't a power conference, but they run things well enough that I wouldn't mind paying 10 bucks to see a game here. The PA announcer runs the show just as you'd expect at any mid-major program. A single, small concession stand offers waiter service for their limited menu. Burr Gym itself lacks some of the history and character that you might expect from a half-century old gym, but it's still a comfortable and very well-maintained place to see a game. Only a few hundred folks in the DC area know this, so crowds are small. The folks who turn out, though, care about the game. For the Monday evening December game I attended (against IUPUI), there was no band. I'd love to come back for a bigger game, though. Howard is a historically black university. HBCUs have a long, unique history of athletic traditions within the larger NCAA framework. Howard offers a glimpse into HBCU football traditions at their best, and I'd love to sample the basketball equivalent.
There's plenty of college basketball in DC, so perhaps it's not surprising the Howard is a bit overlooked. Still, it doesn't deserve to be overlooked to the extent that it is. It's not worth a special trip, but if you're a hoops fan in the DC area, you should check it out.
PROTIP: If you're coming by Metro, Columbia Heights Station on the Green Line is (counter-intuitively) the closest stop to the Burr. Getting off at Shaw-Howard University will add about 5 minutes to your walk. Of course, if it's nice enough, you can even walk from the National Mall in a little more than an hour.
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