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Official Review by Steve Stoehr, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
With the recent success of the Harvard basketball program, the concept of Ivy League programs putting on quality sporting displays on the court no longer seems anathema to the established sports world. Brown University, however, is not party to that resurgence of Ivy success. You wouldn’t have known that on December 28, 2012 however, as Brown played a stellar game of basketball to beat cross-town rivals Providence College of the Big East by a score of 69-68 on the Williams Court of the Paul Bailey Pizzitola Memorial Sports Center in Providence.
The inexpensive opportunity to see quality college basketball – and an emotionally-charged upset in a rivalry game – is probably the most significant draw to the Pizzitola Center. The building is well-kept and well-designed, with the level of accommodation one would probably expect from a middling collegiate athletic program. Dedicated in 1989, the Pizzitola Center is a functional facility with some perks, but overall falls flat on individuality and charm.
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 Pizzitola Memorial Sports Center features a fairly vanilla concession spread, with a typical menu of pizza, burgers, hot dogs, popcorn, candy, and similar fare. The stand is usually located to the right of the facility's main doors, providing easy and recognizable access. However, for the game against Providence College, that stand was overtaken by visiting-team will call, so the stand was moved to a separate room. Also, a Frenchy's concession cart was set up outside the main doors, but that cart is usually reserved for football games. The major selling point for concessions at the Pizzitola Center is price; not a single item on the menu was over $5, and most were $4 or less.
For this particular visit, the facility was packed ahead of a match against a nationally-relevant team like Providence College, especially with intra-city rivalry involved. The crowd was loud, the place was packed, and there were even scalpers outside, so at first glance it looked like a top-rate atmosphere, especially for an arena with a capacity of about 2,800.
The air and feel quickly got stuffy, giving the impression that this wouldn't be a fun place to play for opposing teams - IF the arena were filled with home fans. As it stood, there were probably more away fans in the sold-out stands, and it made for a middling, confused atmosphere more than an electric one. According to arena staff, normal games only sell about half as many tickets, but the atmosphere tends to be less cramped and actually seems to improve a little, especially in favor of the home team and crowd.
In the VIP boxes, trophy cases full of century-old awards give an imposing feeling of history that doubtless leaves viewers in awe as well. However, the lack of a pep band, cheerleaders, and/or courtside seating gave off a high school feel to the game, and not in a good way.
Brown University's campus is located on the East Side of Providence, where the collegiate and twenty-something crowd tends to spend the most time. The athletic center itself is located in a residential area, surrounded by buildings owned by the University, and just a few short blocks away from bubbling hot spots like Wickenden Street, Angell Street, South Main, and South Water, areas collectively part of the "College Hill" neighborhood. There are definitely worse places to be before or after a sporting event.
As mentioned above, the fan support was fragmented due to an abundance of PC fans. This was to be expected, as PC is probably the city's favored school, and with the agreeable price of tickets, the game represented an eminently affordable option for many PC fans and alumni.
The general-admission student section was overrun with away fans, and as such, it never really got oppressively loud for either side, despite the fact that the arena was sold out. Even so, the Brown fans were a little disappointing; their school was hanging with (and eventually beat) a Big East program that they had no business playing so closely, and yet they were silent on away team free throws, and even at their most excited they failed to really shake the house.
Access to the Pizzitola Center is somewhat nightmarish. It's not hard to find; situated just about ten minutes off the highway at most, and directions to the facility are by no means complicated. However, the facility features only one on-site parking garage, and that's fit for only around 280 vehicles. Otherwise, fans are forced to forage and hunt for parking in the residential areas surrounding the gymnasium. It isn't unheard of to have to park blocks away and hoof it to the game, and parking is far from organized on the side streets.
Furthermore, the Pizzitola Center (and its surrounding buildings and location) doesn't just host basketball games, but also hockey, gymnastics, tennis, squash, wrestling, and volleyball, and it is right next to the football field. It isn't unusual at all for several events to be going on at once, making parking and navigation an absolute nightmare.
Tickets to a typical Brown basketball game are just $10 for non-students. For the game against Providence College, a nationally-recognized program competing in the Big East, the prices increased to just $12. Taking into account the low price of concessions and the proximity to Providence nightlife, attending a game at the Pizzitola Center is a pretty solid way for any basketball fan - or sports fan in general - to spend an evening.
There's not much else to the Pizzitola Center that hasn't already been said. It offers some intimacy and great affordability. Depending on game scheduling, it's actually possible to see more than just one sporting event at Pizzitola since several other sports also use the complex in the same seasons. Going to a hockey game next door before or after a basketball game wouldn't be unheard of.
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