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Official Review by Tyler Green, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Paul S. McBrayer Arena is a unique venue in which to enjoy a college basketball game, boasting the world's largest wooden cross-arched roof. As the home of the Eastern Kentucky Colonels, McBrayer Arena provides a wide range of Ohio Valley Conference matchups. The Colonels' men's and women's basketball and volleyball teams have called these Richmond, Kentucky confines home since the 1963 season.
McBrayer Arena features a setup common to college football venues, with a horseshoe shape that seats 6,500. The wooden benches in this three-quarter bowl provide a classic college basketball feel, supplemented by seats with backs for higher-paying attendees.
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".
The concessions at McBrayer Arena feature standard fare at standard prices. Breaded chicken sandwiches, bratwursts, and personal pizzas are available for $4.50 a piece. A hot dog is $3.50 and bottle soda or water is $2.75. The venue offers Pepsi products at its concession stands.
Specialty items, such as local favorites or deluxe choices, are noticeably absent from the food choices. Only a glass of lemonade, which is priced at $4, could be considered slightly local, in association with Kentucky's mixed notoriety as a southern state.
The most effective piece of McBrayer Arena's atmosphere is its arched wooden roof, which raises the pep band and crowd reactions to an intimidating volume. The visit for this review occurred during an early season, Sunday afternoon, non-conference matchup, which drew only a marginal crowd. However, fan involvement was readily apparent after its amplification by this uniquely structured building. It is easy to imagine how deafening a crowd could be during an intense rivalry game.
With the arena's horseshoe shape, a large percentage of the fans are close to the floor, also adding to the atmosphere on the playing level. The lower sideline seats on both sides of the court contain backs, as well as the center seats on the southern, home side.
The university does its part to create a vibrant atmosphere to support their Colonels. The cheerleaders and mascot reside on the west end of the court, opposite the pep band and dance team on the east end. All four groups are active during the timeouts, with the cheerleaders and dancers taking the floor to keep the crowd enthused even during breaks in play. Free t-shirt and pizza promotions keep fans on their feet during at least part of game stoppages.
The pep band strongly plays a selection of popular tunes, is quick to play upon dead balls, and is positioned in the empty end zone, effectively maximizing its listening audience.
McBrayer Arena's surroundings are largely functional from the university standpoint, but are not as catering to a visiting fan's needs. The venue is situated in the university's sports complex, surrounded by tennis courts, the baseball stadium, and even the university's football stadium.
Driving to the arena via the Eastern Bypass from Interstate 75 takes visitors past a wide array of standard interstate food, including a Qdoba and Penn Station. Visiting fans wanting to explore the Eastern Kentucky campus just have to take a short walk north of the venue to experience the central campus.
Just north of campus on Main Street, or about a mile from McBrayer Arena, are several bars and grills. Jerzees, Madison Garden, and Paddy Wagon Irish Pub are all in this area and known as gathering places.
The fan support in McBrayer Arena is an area that leaves a lot to be desired. As previously mentioned, the crowd was nowhere near capacity for a Sunday afternoon game in November. There was no obvious student section and all of the spectators could have fit in approximately the lower 25% of the seats. However, the attendees were there with a purpose, and that was to support their Colonels.
Successful EKU offensive runs brought increased crowd support, but this was quick to die down during a timeout or counter by the opponent. The game showed signs of being a community activity, with a wide age range of spectators in attendance for this laidback sporting atmosphere.
McBrayer Arena is located on the southern end of the Eastern Kentucky University campus, just 1.5 miles off of I-75. It is remarkably accessible from Lexington, with a drive that can easily be completed in under 40 minutes.
Free parking is available immediately in front of the venue. From the south-facing front, ramps lead up to the arena's entrance. While the basketball floor remains at ground level, the main concourse is situated midway between the floor and ceiling. This lends itself to excellent handicapped seating in the corner landings on the concourse level.
There are five main entrances to the seats from the concourse, each of which offer large openings, creating a seamless viewing transition on the way to the bathrooms or concession stands. No seat is far from a bathroom or concession stand, but lines can quickly form during sold-out contests.
A general admission ticket for an EKU Colonels game is $8. Chairs with seatbacks are available for $15 and $10 for the lower and upper seating areas, respectively. However, the horseshoe shape and 6,500 person capacity means all the seats are close to the action and the enjoyment will not be less from an $8 seat compared a $15 seat. The $8 price is reasonable for the level of basketball on display. Also, the OVC has historically been respectable in postseason matchups with national opponents and these promising teams regularly display their skills in McBrayer Arena showdowns.
One bonus point for the banners in the east end zone. The men's basketball team claims 8 OVC Championships, 7 seasons of which resulted in NCAA Tournament appearances. There are also 5 women's OVC championship banners, as well as several volleyball banners from various leagues and tournaments.
Another bonus point for the unique structure. The college atmosphere is hard to beat with the horseshoe seating and brassy pep band playing under the arched wooden roof, which could draw visitors purely from an architectural point of view.
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