Since 1983 when it first opened, Lawlor Events Center has been the rock of Nevada's basketball programs. The 11,536-seat oval arena at the corner of Virginia and 15th Streets witnessed the growth of Wolf Pack basketball from the Big Sky to the Big West to the Western Athletic and now the Mountain West Conference. It's played host to eight different conference championship-winning Nevada basketball teams, ten different conference basketball tournaments from 1986 to 2010, and a plethora of different musical acts and entertainment spectacles.
In the program's heyday of the mid- to late 2000s, the Wolf Pack went on a run of four straight NCAA Tournament appearances and seven straight seasons with 21 or more wins. That era also witnessed a slew of Nevada players get drafted by NBA teams. Since that time, area fans have eagerly awaited the Pack's return to national prominence. Eric Musselman has re-energized the program with high-profile recruits, and an exciting, fast-paced style of basketball bringing progressively bigger crowds to Lawlor. Fans visiting this 2016-2017 season will find the arena enhanced by a few highly visible new additions.
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".
A surprising variety of food and beverage items of decent qualities await fans at Lawlor Events Center, with fairly reasonable wait times and stands that accept all major credit cards. The only real criticism is a lack of signature items of truly outstanding quality.
Standard concession items include assorted hot dogs (regular, Polish, cheddar and spicy Chicago), nachos, pretzels, peanuts, Cracker Jacks, a small popcorn, kettle or caramel corn, churros, cotton candy, snowcones, ice cream bars and assorted boxes of candy ($4-$7), along with a refillable popcorn tub for $10 and select two-item combos of some of the above from $9 to $10. Selections expand as you move to the wheeled carts on the inner part of the concourse, like a "Healthy Options" menu featuring Moroccan meatballs, fish tacos, vegetarian chili, a chicken Caesar wrap and fruit skewers ($5-$8); a Mexican food cart with chips and queso ($4.75) or build-your-own burrito, burrito bowl or nachos for $10; a sandwich cart with select 6-inch subs for $7.50; a cart with hamburgers and a variety of condiments for $10; and a couple of dessert stands offering Dippin' Dots ice cream ($4.50 or $6.50), various caramel apples ($6-$9) and frozen, chocolate-dipped strawberries, bananas and cheesecake slices ($5-$8). All are of above average quality, and adequately priced by sporting event standards.
Drink selections are similarly expansive, with Pepsi (including Diet Pepsi, Mug Root Beer, Mountain Dew and Sierra Mist) available in canned ($3.50), bottled ($4.50) or fountain ($5 for a souvenir cup, $6 for a large cup) choices, and other options like bottled water, Starbucks coffee and hot chocolate ($4-$6) also available. Lawlor does, in fact serve alcohol, like aluminum bottles of Budweiser, Bud Lite and Coors Lite ($8), "premiums" such as Shock Top, Samuel Adams seasonals (both canned), New Belgium, Pyramid, Goose Island and Angry Orchard (poured into a 12-oz. plastic cup for $8.50), and select wines ($8.50 per cup), cocktails ($9 for a regular, $18 for a double) and margaritas ($9).
For value, nothing beats a refillable popcorn tub shared with friends, but we enjoyed the ultimate nachos ($10) at the cart outside section six.
Lawlor's recent additions represent a big step forward for a game day experience that was already pretty good, but a few key complaints still keep it from scoring higher in this area.
The arena's 11,536 seats are laid out in a slight oval configuration inside a circular building, with the court running perpendicular to that oval. The upper and lower halves of the seats are divided by an internal concourse, which is free for people to move around in during games, with the one exception being the center court area where TV cameras are placed. The vast majority of the seats are folding, blue plastic with shared armrests that might be a little snug for taller fans, while padded seats on the two sidelines round out the rest. The newest main attractions are a stunning set of four new center-hung HD video boards, a ribbon board with individual player stats below that, and a brand-new playing surface with an equally new design. The picture quality, while excellent on both new boards, has tiny text on the ribbon board that is hard to read in the uppermost reaches of the arena, and supplemental stats like rebounds, blocks, steals, assists and three-pointers are confined to older boards that are almost totally obscured by fold-out seats on the two baselines.
In-game promotions run the standard gamut of "tweet your seat" and "upgrade your seat" promotions, shooting contests during timeouts, and different interactive "cam" games (dance, flex, emoji and air guitar, to name a few), while the music is contemporary sporting event fare played at a reasonable volume on the arena's new sound system. The PA announcer adds to games without distracting from them, while the cheerleaders and mascots could benefit from a little more interactivity with fans. Nevada's pep band, the Howlers, is frequently the best bunch of student fans at games, in addition to playing a good selection of peppy tunes.
The optimum location to take in the game day scene is in section five at center court, but pretty much anywhere in the arena that isn't directly behind the TV cameras will afford you a good view. That includes the upper reaches, too, though the complaint with the ribbon board text is especially applicable there.
The arena is located at the north end of the University of Nevada campus in an area primarily comprised of newish buildings and residential homes. Its immediate surroundings are safe, and a have a few options for pre and postgame activities that get more varied the farther south you go towards downtown.
For lunch, one of the university neighborhood's newest additions is GourMelt off of Sierra Street at University Terrace, specializing in grilled cheese sandwich creations. For dinner or a drink, the area's most famous watering hole is arguably Red's Little Waldorf Saloon - "the Wal" to locals - and offers a wide assortment of bar and pub grub a short walk north and across Virginia Street from Lawlor. If you'd prefer to cast a wider net to the downtown area, Campo on Sierra next to the Truckee River is our pick.
The National Automobile Museum at Lake and Mill Streets showcases a cool assortment of more than 220 cars from the personal collection of former casino magnate Bill Harrah. West of that is the Riverwalk District and its charming collection of shops, restaurants and green spaces like Wingfield Park, where free outdoor concerts are often played. Casino shows change with the seasons, and they offer tourists an added layer of possible entertainment destinations. A hop in a car for a short drive south can take you to either Lake Tahoe or Virginia City for a day trip.
Suggestions on where to stay are plentiful, and depend almost entirely on how much you're willing to spend and the general area where you'd prefer to stay. A traveler on a small budget could make due with the University Inn across from Lawlor, but we think saving up for either the Peppermill about four miles south of the arena or Whitney Peak next to the Reno Arch will yield a better overall experience.
Though it won't be confused with New Mexico's Pit or Viejas Arena at San Diego State, Lawlor's fan support is passionate, engaged in the action, and on the upswing. The main exception to this is a lackluster student section.
Nevada's average attendance increased from 5,496 in the 2014-15 season to 6,554 in Eric Musselman's first year at the helm. This puts them slightly below the Mountain West's average attendance of 7,167 at that time, which is still the best among American college basketball's "non-power" conferences. They're squarely in the middle of a league with venues both highly attended (New Mexico, San Diego State and UNLV) and sparsely attended (San Jose State and Air Force), but are getting better each year.
Though typically not near the arena's full capacity, the crowds at Lawlor are loud, and engaged in what's transpiring on the court. They limit their movement during the action, and get especially loud when a series of calls doesn't go their way, which carries over to other moments when Nevada does something great. They could be even greater if the Blue Crew, Nevada's student section, were better at filling up their end of the arena, starting chants, and generating noise during important stretches - all of which they rarely do with any consistency.
Getting to Lawlor is straightforward and hassle-free to the necessary extent. Moving around inside, however, can be tricky under certain circumstances.
The Sierra Spirit bus offers an easy public transit option from the downtown area to Lawlor for 25 cents per person per ride on a round that takes about 30 minutes. Commercial flights into and out of the area go through Reno-Tahoe International Airport, a 15-minute car ride away.
The majority of free parking for games is located in surface lots north of Mackay Stadium next door. The Whalen parking structure just south of the new campus fitness center also has free spaces, but it's only available for games that fall on weekends, holidays or days when class isn't in session. If you can get there early enough and it's not during normal business hours, we suggest parking at the university post office.
Provided you aren't bringing in any unsealed containers of food or liquids, the security screenings at a typical home game are a breeze. We've used the entrances near the West Stadium parking structure, but odds are that none of them will give you any significant problems. The only people who currently have ticketless entry are the students who swipe their IDs to get in.
The arena's main concourse is where the only real criticism crops up, going from comfortably wide along the court's sidelines to downright claustrophobic behind the baskets. For games that are either highly attended or very close or both, having lots of people moving in one direction at once through those latter areas can be a problem. The lines at Lawlor's decently clean restrooms are usually fine, but can back up at busy times. Unfortunately, the main concourse isn't open to the court, and the closed-circuit TVs that used to be at every concession stand are no longer there. Thankfully, there are lots of accessible parking spots in the West Stadium garage, and accessible seating is located in each even-numbered section on the interior concourse.
For a program on the rise, the current price to enjoy a basketball game at Lawlor Events Center is just right, with a good number of different options to enjoy an outing there.
The majority of the lower bowl is unavailable for single game ticket sales, unless you decide to turn to the secondary market. In the upper bowl, single game tickets start at $16 for the plaza basket area (sections 12-16), $18 for plaza corner seats (sections 1, 9-11, 17-19, 23-25 and 35-36), $20 for plaza center seats (the uppermost reaches of sections 2-8 and 20-26), $30 for the center concourse (the lower half of those same sections) and $60 for lower basket seats (the lower bowl seats in sections 10-18, 28-29 and 35-36). Season tickets for the aforementioned sections range from $179 in the plaza basket area all the way up to $650 in the lower basket sections. For more attractive "premium" home games, these prices are subject to slight increases. We found the plaza center seats to be a good way to take in a single game, while a season ticket in the plaza basket area is an especially great value. Free parking is typically not a problem to find for most games, the cost of a trip on the Sierra Spirit bus is minimal, the programs are free, and a bottomless popcorn or plate of ultimate nachos with a bottled water will set you back $14.
Single game discounts of anywhere from $6 to $16 per ticket are available for groups of 20 or more people, depending on where you sit, and there are also bigger discounts available for youth, senior and military guests. Special season ticket discounts are available for University of Nevada staff ($20 off per season ticket for up to two people), four-packs ($596) in select sections for employees of Washoe County School District, the Nevada System of Higher Education and the State of Nevada, and for children eighth grade and younger (a Pup Club membership for $55 that includes free admission to home, regular season games for six different Wolf Pack sports along with several other perks).
We like the championship banners hanging from the rafters inside Lawlor, as well as the banners of great past players on the arena's main concourse. We also liked that the ribbon board that shows individual player stats has the watermarked logos of the two teams playing, though they could stand to be directly underneath their respective team scores rather than in opposite places. There's also a tribute to long-time booster Link Piazzo on the concourse, and the people at Nevada's athletic department were courteous and professional with us.
It's clear the Nevada Wolf Pack is on its way up in the college basketball world, and a game day at Lawlor Events Center is similarly above average. It's excellent in a few areas, mediocre in others, and only lacks that certain magic that consistently excellent programs carry over from year to year and decade to decade. A few more great seasons strung together could potentially vault a game at Lawlor from "above average" to "bucket list" destination.
Reno, Nevada’s Lawlor Events Center was built in 1983, at which time the Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team moved in from the Virginia Street Gym. Representing the Big Sky Conference, the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearances followed shortly after in 1984 and 1985. After a mostly forgettable run in the Big West in the 90s, the team migrated to the more competitive Western Athletic Conference in 2001.
It was here under the guidance of Trent Johnson and then Mark Fox that the program enjoyed its greatest run of national success, advancing to the Sweet Sixteen in 2004 and winning two other NCAA Tournament games during a run of four straight appearances. The Wolf Pack spent many weeks in the Top 25, won at least a share of five straight WAC titles, and a conference tournament title on their home floor in 2006. Nevada players were regularly selected in the NBA Draft, and forward Nick Fazekas joined five other college players as the only ones in history to finish their careers with at least 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds, shoot at least 50% from the field and 80% from the free throw line. Though sellouts were still hard to come by, the crowds were nonetheless large, boisterous and cheering for a great product on the court.
But that run of success could not be sustained forever. Repeated early entries to the draft often left Nevada coaches scrambling to pick up the pieces. Other high-profile recruits opted for bigger programs, and the ones who stayed often got into off-court trouble. As the losses began to pile up, attendance at Lawlor dwindled, and the Pack’s once-feared home court advantage was lost. A move to the much more cutthroat Mountain West Conference in 2012 further exacerbated the program’s lack of resources and support against the likes of San Diego State, New Mexico and in-state rival UNLV. The program didn’t capitalize on its success in the WAC, and would have to start from scratch to build themselves back up in their new home.
Enter journeyman head coach Eric Musselman. With a roster in transition and firmly looking to the future, some of that old optimism has started to return to Lawlor. Along with it have come modest gains in attendance – not at nearly the levels of the program’s heyday in the mid-2000s, but still on the upswing. It’s in this environment the Wolf Pack hope to return to their prior form, and add more championship banners to their home’s rafters.
1661 N Virginia St
Reno, NV 89503