In 2014, Redbird Arena on the campus of Illinois State University turned 25 years old. On January 11th, 1989, Illinois State defeated Chicago State 71-70 to christen the on campus facility. On January 11th, 2014, the Redbirds took down another Chicago-based team, Loyola (IL), 59-50 to send the party guests home happy.
The Redbirds have a solid basketball history, but haven’t made the NCAA tournament since 1998. The crowds have decreased over the years from the packed houses that watched current head coach Dan Muller play for Kevin Stallings on back-to-back conference champions in the mid 90’s.
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The food and beverage options at Redbird Arena are fairly standard. The four main concession stands feature the basics: hot dogs, pretzels, nachos, candy, and soft drinks. The items are all priced in the range you would expect for the staples of stadium food. The one local product served at the main concession stands is Beer Nuts. No beer, though.
The main concourse at Redbird Arena does feature a handful of free standing carts. The most popular cart seemed to be for campus favorite, Avanti's. The affordable Italian restaurant has been located across Main Street from the Normal campus for decades. Avanti's sells their sub sandwiches, called Gondolas, at the arena. People love the bread and if you have a sandwich at the game, consider stopping in at the Avanti's location just south of Redbird Arena afterwards and get a couple loaves to go.
Other cart items available include Papa John's pizza, grilled sausages, and frozen yogurt. You might want to take cash with you if you're hitting up the specialty carts because it isn't clear if they take credit or debit cards. The permanent concession stands do take plastic.
The school has done a lot to enhance the game experience over the last several years. Much like most arenas these days, the marketing department has ramped up the contests and games during timeouts. While these things might not appeal to the basketball diehard, they keep the crowd from drifting and can help draw in families.
The pregame introduction of the Redbirds has been upgraded as well. The lights go out, a video showing the past and present of the basketball program is displayed, and music is played. It might not seem like much, but these are things that were ignored by Illinois State just 6-7 years ago.
I would like to see a scoreboard dedicated to point totals and fouls for the players currently in the game. That's just a personal preference, and is something I find myself looking for at times.
Redbird Arena is tucked in between Illinois State University's athletic complex, a residential area and a local junior high. There are not many (if any) drinking establishments within a short walk of the arena. The Main Street corridor close to the arena does feature plenty of food options. I mentioned Avanti's above. They might be your best, non-chain option right on Main Street.
The Uptown Normal area is a short car ride (or long walk across campus) away from Redbird Arena. Uptown Normal (don't call it downtown - they hate that) has been redeveloped and doesn't look much like the area did 20 years ago. This area is your best bet to find good food and beverage before or after the Redbirds play. Walking from Uptown Normal might not be a bad idea if you're attending a football game at Hancock Stadium on a sunny Saturday in the fall, but if you are heading to Redbird Arena during a polar vortex, I'd recommend driving.
Pub II at 102 N Linden in Normal has been a campus favorite since 1974. If you've ever met an Illinois State alum, chances are they spent a few nights at the bar and grill and will mention the cheese balls. Pub II was once named one of Playboy's 100 Best College Bars and they have been proudly touting that fact ever since.
Just a block south at 104 S.Linden is Lunker's. Established in 1999, if you go to Lunker's and don't get a gigantic fish sandwich, I don't think we can be friends. Their Facebook page lists all sorts of beer specials, but I was mesmerized by a picture of the sandwich and now I'm planning my next trip back to campus.
The Red Alert student section was ready to go well before tipoff against a highly ranked Wichita State team, and head coach Gregg Marshall was a target of the crowds' ire. That will happen when you're the top dog playing a conference road game.
It appeared to be a little confusing for some students because ISU sold what are normally the overflow student section seats to the general public. The students were let in early to get their places, but several kids in the upper deck were forced to move because they were sitting in someone's seat. You could tell that many students weren't thrilled when they had to move and find a different seat. I think the ticket department and ushers could have done a better job explaining to the kids where they would be able to go. This isn't normally a problem because the crowd does not regularly approach capacity anymore.
When Wichita State began to pull away in the second half, the fans grew restless. The cheerleaders threw mini basketballs to the crowd. At least two balls thrown to the student section made their way towards the Shockers' huddle during a timeout. The referees threatened the Redbirds with a technical foul. The mini basketball promotion might need to be saved for less heated games or a timeout when the Redbirds are winning.
Parking at Redbird Arena isn't bad, if you know where you're going. If you are making your first visit to the facility, you might have to drive around for a bit to find where you can go. The best value for parking (free) is found just south of Redbird Arena, parking in the south lot of Kingsley Junior High School (formerly Normal Community High School). Once you park in the free lot, you have to walk the length of a baseball diamond and football field. In normal weather, the walk isn't bad.
If you're headed to Normal, I'd suggest checking out the parking map at Go Redbirds before you get to campus. The pay lots for the 2013-2014 season are pretty far out. The school does operate a free shuttle from a campus parking lot, but I never like those because if I want to leave early or stick around late to sight see, I don't want to worry about missing a bus.
I'd put the restrooms at Redbird Arena up there with those at major conference facilities. I can only speak for the men's rooms, but there is plenty of space and plenty of fixtures.
Redbird Arena provides a good return on investment, especially during Missouri Valley Conference play. Lower bowl tickets are either $20 or $22, depending on the opponent. My experience has been that season tickets and student seating take up most of the lower bowl, except for holiday breaks when school is not in session.
Upper bowl tickets range from $12-$14 for adults and $6-$9 for children. There isn't a bad seat in the upper deck. You feel right on top of the action, without the seats being so steep that you feel like you could fall on top of the floor.
I paid $14 for a ticket in the seventh row of the upper bowl, $7.50 for a souvenir soda and pretzel, and I parked for free. Just over $20 to see Missouri Valley Conference basketball is a pretty good deal.
I'm awarding one extra point because the school, players, coaches, students and community realized they had a big opportunity and went out of their way to try and take advantage. Yes, they didn't win, but they all put up a good effort. I'm also going to award an extra point for the email I received after the game from Coach Muller. Yes, it was probably generated by somebody in the office and the coach never saw it, but it was a nice touch to acknowledge the crowd.
I'm awarding an extra point for the school keeping their connection with former #1 draft pick and the greatest player in program history, Doug Collins. The Redbirds play on Doug Collins Court and there is a statue outside Redbird Arena featuring Collins and his coach, Will Robinson. All programs need to know and celebrate their history while looking to the future.
Redbird Arena in Normal, Illinois is a glowing beacon of basketball in the center of the state. The Teflon-coated roof serves as the night light of Illinois State University when there's a game in the arena.
Outside the main entrance, fans will find a sculpture commemorating the teams of the early 70's that featured star guard Doug Collins, and the first African-American head coach in Division I college basketball, Will Robinson. The focus on these two figures continue inside as you will find banners hanging in honor of each, and the floor has been dubbed Doug Collins Court.
Redbird Arena is my home arena and the home of Illinois State Redbird basketball and volleyball. But I am going to try to be as unbiased as possible. At the concessions stand you are not really going to find anything besides your typical hot dog, Pepsi, and chips except for Beer Nuts which is a locally owned and operated company in Bloomington-Normal. A trip to Redbird Arena would not be complete with out trying them. The fans are always rowdy and clap for every basket, rebound, and steal. Parking is probably the most difficult for someone who does not know the area well. But there are several decent places around and the further away lots have shuttles leading to them. The most unique part of redbird arena would have to be the roof. Made of Teflon coated fiberglass it puts off a unique glow on game night. The arena seats 10,200 with seating in an upper and lower bowl. The arena is 12 sided and when it opened in 1989 it was the only cable dome in the world and the first non-circular cable-supported dome in the world. Anyone who is a fan of college basketball & the Missouri Valley Conference should make a trip out to Redbird Arena.
Approaching the campus of Illinois State University on game night, it is hard to miss the signature glow of Redbird Arena illuminating the night sky. The glow comes from the roof, made of teflon coated fiberglass fabric, the same material as the Metrodome in Minneapolis. Although, the roof is supported by cables, not air pressure, which greatly reduces the risk of collapse.
When you approach the arena’s main entrance you will be greeted by a statue of Doug Collins and Will Robinson between Redbird Arena and historic Horton Field House. The nearly 25 year old arena was, at the time of its opening, the first non-circular cable dome in the world and has served as the glowing Crown Jewel of the Illinois State Athletics Complex ever since.
102 N Linden St
Normal, IL 61761
126 E Beaufort St
Normal, IL 61761
107 E. Beaufort St
Normal, IL 61761
104 S Linden St
Normal, IL 61761
203 Susan Dr
Normal, IL 61704