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Official Review by Paul Swaney, Stadium Journey Co-Founder
John E. Worthen Arena is the home of the Ball State Cardinals, and found in the heart of the Ball State campus in Muncie, Indiana. Named for a former Ball State University President, the octagonal-shaped arena feels like big-time college basketball, without losing the small-town vibe.
It's hard to believe that it has been over 20 years since Rick Majerus led the Cardinals to the Sweet 16, and they were a consistent Cinderella program. That success certainly helped to lead to the new arena, and served as a great gift to the basketball program.
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 is a pretty good variety of food that you will find at Worthen Arena, although nothing that will completely knock your socks off. If you're hungry, you can choose from a hot dog ($2.50), chili dog ($2.50), Polish sausage ($3.50), nachos ($3), or stuffed pretzel ($3.50). The more expensive, but still very affordable, options include pizza slices by Papa John's ($4), "walking" taco ($4), or BBQ pork ($4).
There is a "Sweet Shoppe" concession within the concourse that offers sundaes for $4.50 or $6.50, depending on the size. You can also grab some cotton candy ($3), caramel corn ($3.50), or a funnel cake ($5).
Since Worthen Arena is located on campus, no alcohol is served. Instead you can choose from Pepsi products, with the large served in a souvenir cup for only $3.50. To hydrate, you can go for either Gatorade or water. To caffeinate, you can choose from Starbucks energy drinks, or the classic cup of coffee.
Overall, you will find anything that you need at affordable prices at Worthen Arena.
Ball State's Worthen Arena is a big beautiful arena. It feels cavernous, and even more so when the building is half empty (or is it half full?). The Cardinals have a large cheerleading squad, but who are they leading in cheer? The student section was especially weak, offering very little energy.
During television time outs, you will find the typical contests or dance displays by the cheerleaders. The scoreboard has no video screen, so there is nothing extraneous happening during the game or breaks. I'm sure this can be interpreted as either a positive or a negative, but I think it is accurate to say that the school is behind the times in that regard.
The Ball State mascot, Charlie the Cardinal, does a fantastic job of making his way through the crowd to interact with fans. He is especially good with the kids, and the ladies, who he greets with a peck on the hand.
Walk the concourse and you'll find inductees to the Ball State Athletics Hall of Fame commemorated on plaques on the inner wall. It's a nice way to peruse the past of great Cardinals athletes.
Within a mile of Worthen Arena, is a strip of bars and restaurants along University Avenue. Make sure you pass by Shafer Tower on your way through campus, a Ball State landmark.
There are several options in the area, but my recommendation goes to Scotty's at 1700 University Avenue. I generally prefer to try a non-chain bar or restaurant when I'm in a new town, but I have found Scotty's to have consistently good service and food. I also love their beer selection (30 beers on tap), and apparent affinity for local brews. Their menu is full of burgers, sandwiches, ribs, wings, salads, and appetizers. There are also plenty of TVs so you can stay up-to-date on the other games of interest.
This is the area where I felt most disappointed. First of all, basketball in the state of Indiana is usually very special, and you can get a feeling for the love of the game that permeates the people of this state. I just didn't get that same sort of heart-tugging love.
The brunt of the blame has to ride with the student section. Programs rise and fall on the enthusiasm of their young and vibrant fan base. In this case, the student section wasn't even full, and there seemed to be only mild interest from about everyone outside of the front row.
The pep band didn't do much to augment the energy level. With 28 members, I thought the band was too small for such a large space, and just didn't pack the punch necessary to wake up the fans.
Parking is free, and there is plenty of it. As I mentioned earlier, you could also walk from the bars and restaurants about a mile away if you needed to, so there are plenty of options here. Concourses are about as wide as you will experience anywhere, and there are TVs throughout. During my visit all of the screens were tuned to the Indianapolis Colts game (I should mention that one of the largest cheers from the crowd came when they announced over the PA that the Colts had won their game that Sunday).
Bathrooms are large, clean, and found frequently around the arena, so you shouldn't have to miss any of the basketball action by leaving your seat early to avoid lines.
The most expensive single game ticket will only cost you $12, and all other adult tickets are only $8. Anyone under the age of 18 gets half off and can have a seat for $4 (no ticket needed for children under 2 years of age). With free parking, and nothing on the menu that costs more than $4, you will find a Ball State basketball experience to be an outstanding value.
I experienced several friendly staff throughout the arena, a definite key to making the trip a fun and rewarding experience. Charlie the Cardinal, foremost amongst this group, really went above and beyond in making contact with the fans in the arena.
There is nothing spectacular about a trip to Worthen Arena, but everything is priced reasonably, and the venue itself is a great place to watch basketball. If you are in the area, it is definitely worth a trip to Ball State and Worthen Arena to see the Cardinals play some MAC basketball.
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4201 W Bethel Pike
Muncie, IN 47304